A Look at the Uncanny Valley

In the world of photography, artists pursue the ideal of creating hyper-realistic images which look almost surreal – high contrast HDR images, panoramic images which can be viewed on curved screens to create a sense of immersion, and fast-shutter images, like city illustrations, which capture explosions, water spillages and other “in the moment” happenings which look almost impossible when frozen in time.
Other artists, however, create illustrations that strive to be photo-realistic, and they’re almost there. You can find paintings which are almost indistinguishable from photographs, and 3D models of people so realistic that you can’t tell that they’re computer generated until you see them animated – and even then it’s something minor like lipsynch which gives them away. We are approaching the uncanny valley.

The Uncanny Valley

The Uncanny Valley

What is The Uncanny Valley

The uncanny valley is the point at which something that is a replica looks too much like the real thing. When robots were first being built, engineers made them look humanoid – giving them arms and legs, and even a robotic form of a face, because they thought that made people feel more comfortable around them.
As design has become more sophisticated, and replicas have become more realistic, the caring, empathic relationship that people have with the “look alikes” has evaporated. If something looks almost 100% real, but isn’t perfect, the resemblance is “uncanny”.
While the uncanny valley refers mostly to replicas of humans, the same can be said for illustrations – abstract paintings, line drawings and oil on canvas are all things that critics can appreciate, and that stand alone as their own form of art. An “almost photo-realistic” painting that doesn’t quite achieve that goal is usually dismissed as being a good try. The artist gets no points for creativity because they were simply re-creating what they saw.
Now that we’ve reached the uncanny valley, maybe it’s time for more innovation – especially in the world of computer generated art. We can build any virtual world we want – so why replicate the real one?

Tips for Taking Great Portrait Photos

When most people think of portrait photography, they think of unflattering passport photos taken in photo booths, and ugly school photos taken against sickly green backdrops. As well as for taking good landscape photos, or attractive illustrated map, there is an art to taking good portrait photographs, but once you learn the secret you will be able to take impressive looking, flattering portraits.

Portrait Photography from Cyclic by CheriJ

Portrait Photography from Cyclic by CheriJ

Use Exposure Compensation

When you are taking a portrait photograph, it’s common for the photo to come out under-exposed – especially if you are shooting a fair-skinned person, or if there is a lot of white in the scene. It doesn’t require HDR Photography, just use your camera’s exposure compensation feature to correct this issue.

Choose a Wide Aperture

Set your aperture to f2.8/f5.6 when taking portrait photographs. This setting captures a shallow depth of field, ensuring that your subject will be in focus while the background will be slightly blurred, making the photograph stand out. If you want a truly professional looking photograph, swap your lens for a specialist portrait lens which supports apertures of f1.2/f2.8.

Manage Your Shutter Speed

If you are shooting in aperture priority mode, the camera will automatically manage the shutter speed for you. If you are shooting in manual mode, then you should choose your shutter speed carefully. It is similar to like show motion in Cartoons Illustrations. Pick a shutter speed that is higher than the effective focal length you have chosen. If your focal length is 200mm, then your shutter speed should be 1/250 sec.
When shooting in aperture priority mode, you can increase your shutter speed simply by raising your ISO setting.

Use a Tripod

Even with a fast shutter speed, camera shake can be a serious problem. Using a tripod to keep your camera steady should alleviate this problem. If you have the option, use a remote control rather than the button on the camera, to take your photos.

Photo Illustration in Journalism

Photo illustration is considered to be something of a dirty word in the journalistic space. While “new media” journalists, bloggers and some of the more progressive magazines love the concept, many traditional newsroom workers feel that it is deceptive, cheap and a step backwards in reporting.
Why is it that photo illustration is so unpopular while it uses even in illustrated art books? Well, many journalists feel that it is misleading to the viewer. To them, editing a photograph in a tool such as PhotoShop to turn it into something that it is not is “taking the easy way out”. They believe that it takes away from honest reporting and that, if the manipulations are not disclosed, it is a form of deception.

Abstract vs Real

One of the biggest dangers of Photo Illustration is that it is all too easy to make something that looks incredibly realistic, and to the passing viewer the image may look like a genuine piece of reporting. When you can add or remove people from images, take one person’s head and put it on another’s body, add fake tears or fake scars, or change other parts of an image in a way that makes it almost impossible to tell that the image has been modified, that is a lot of power to have.
Abstract photo illustrations of the kind used on cartoons propaganda posters, recruiting adverts and billboards are one thing, but Photoshoping celebrities to make them look thinner or more attractive, or changing someone’s height or appearance to make them look more authoritative is, in some minds, morally a different issue.
Many journalists feel that if the illustrations are clearly marked as having been modified, then their use would be acceptable. As long as the pictures are being passed off as real, however, then viewers are being mislead. It’s no big deal if someone has a few spots removed from their nose, but the technology available today allows for much more impressive, and dangerous, blurings of the lines between reality and imagination.