Calling the picture of a hero a “dud” is close to blasphemy. And yet I will risk the wrath of all the Porter-babes today and pick apart a picture of the hardest soldier the SAS has ever seen. Mind you – absolutely no blame can be laid at A___’s door. It is not his fault when the choices of the picture editors will be proven to be faulty. It isn’t even the photographer’s fault, that I am compelled to pronounce this image a dud. Unless it is him/her who is responsible for the post-production. But we come to that later, let’s have a look at the image first.
What I have chosen today is a promo picture for the Sky 1’s dramatisation of Chris Ryan’s Strike Back. A___ plays John Porter, a fallen hero, a wronged soldier, who sets out on a journey of redemption after having been scape-goated on a mission-turned-catastrophe. With that in mind, the scene as depicted in today’s *spooof* is entirely appropriate: John Porter is shown on a dirt track, somewhere in the middle of nowhere. He is dressed in army fatigues, carrying a large gun. He is alone – an important bit of characterisation as it might not only reflect a particular scene in the films (although there is no such scene where this image came from), but also shows him as a bit of a loner. This is a man who works on his own. He is perfectly capable of taking care of things alone. Heck, he probably could save the world singlehandedly, such a mighty clever warrior is he. The fact that he has been photographed from about knee-height is no coincidence: We are meant to look up to this man. He is a hero, whom we should worship while we have thrown ourselves in the dust at his feet. A subtle interpretation of what Porter *really* is – all conveyed simply in the perspective.
And supported by the look look on his face: It speaks of determination and confidence. He stares straight at the camera = the viewer, i.e. he does not have to hide himself, he is not afraid of anyone. That is also signified by his right hand which is not on the trigger of his gun but holding on lightly to the sight finder – he evidently does not expect any serious opposition on his walk and is thus not on the defensive. His posture is erect yet energetic – his shoulders are relaxed and he is walking without haste, which gives the impression that he has just finished (part of) a job. The fact that his face is grimy with dirt and sweat and traces of blood tells us that he is just back from a “job”. Maybe the “job” that is burning in the background left?
Porter may have ended the “job” by turning the trouble into (smoking) rubble. However, for the discerning viewer the real trouble now only starts. Because the various elements of the image do not quite add up. What we are being presented with is the work of a graphic designer who has put the image together in Photoshop. This is not *a* photograph that was shot on location, while the film was being made. My hunch is that the image consists of four independently created parts: first of all there is the full-length shot of Porter, then there is the general landscape/dirt road background, plus the sky, and the smoke. The latter is probably completely artificially created in Photoshop (That can be done relatively easily with a few nice Photoshop filters, starting out with a some digitally-drawn doodles that then get put through filters like Gaussian Blur, Distort or Twirl etc.) and then dropped into the finished image.
The main background and the sky are of course “real” photographs. But they are two separate ones. Some of that is conjecture on my part in the sense that I “know” that the film was shot on location in Namibia. As luck would have it, I have been to Namibia. And I simply do not believe that you get such massive cloudy skies in a country that largely consists of desert. The sky, I believe, is a separate photograph, that has been fitted onto the picture of the dirt track in order to give a bit more visual interest to the whole image. (A practice, btw, that is very common in promo photography! There are entire image banks of cloud formation skies for photoshop pros to use. A sky for any occasion, so to speak…)
My hunch is supported by the fact that the lighting in background and sky do not match up properly. How come there is no shade in the scenery when the sky is full of clouds? Well, there might be a big gap in the clouds just behind the photographer that lights up the scenery. Very well. But a closer look at the angle of the light reveals that there must have been two suns in the sky: The clouds are lit up from the right (observe how there are darker patches on the clouds where the sun does not reach – by and large on the left of the clouds). The scenery, however, seems to be lit up from fairly straight above (again, look at the shadows on the stones in the foreground.)
This discrepancy may actually be very slight and indiscernible to the untrained eye. But let’s now have a look at the man in the centre of the image. *dun dun duuuun* Porter is catching the light from the left, clearly indicated by his shadow on the road as well as the highlights on his skin on the left (our pov). A third sun? Well,*that* one was rather low in the sky, then, judging by the shadow on the road. Or rather high, judging by the shadow under his right jaw (our pov). Sun number four! Confused? How many suns are we counting yet? – Well, the image of Porter is a studio shot with flash that was supposed to mimic sunlight. The shadow on the road is also a Photoshop creation, added in order to anchor the subject in the image. But it doesn’t add up. I think the image as a whole could’ve been much more convincing if the designer had simply flipped the picture of the sky to make the light on the clouds and the light on Porter match up.
Yes, I know – I am niggling pedantically. And what does it matter when the image is actually quite an eye-catcher. The composition is very pleasing – a classic rule-of-thirds image with the horizon line roughly one third up from the bottom. The asymmetrical composition of the background thus adds interest while drawing the gaze of the viewer to the torso and head of the figure in the centre. Porter’s upper body stands out against the sky and commands all the attention – the telegraph pole on the left is conveniently blurred/smoked out to not distract from him, either. Moreover, the lines of the road, vanishing into the distance, nicely lead the gaze into the centre of the image, to the subject. As do the two trees on either side of Porter and the telegraph line on the left.
While my examination of the image components may be rather technical and certainly pedantic, I am sure that even the untrained viewer would have noticed that there is something wrong with the image in its entirety. Perhaps you couldn’t put your finger on it, or maybe you would have noticed that the background of the image looks slightly washed out while the colours on Porter are fairly strong. Altogether the background looks slightly blurry whereas Porter is sharp down to the last pixel. Try as hard as Photoshop might – but the human brain does still register the little hints that somehow it doesn’t quite fit together…
It’s all a bit of a puzzle, isn’t it? One of the reasons why I have rambled on here is that I am on a mission. I am the Porter of the Anti-Photoshop League. I am just very aware of the visual lies that we are being presented with – as consumers of the media. We are fed images every day, on TV, on the web, in magazines and newspapers. And I would like everyone to be aware of the subversive subtleties of advertising images. They are used to manipulate us into believing and buying. None of the images you see in advertising are “real” – they consist of many components, have been colour-enhanced, lit from 27 different angles, have been deconstructed, cropped, flipped, filtered, and distorted. Unfortunately you cannot believe your own eyes anymore. Photography is not synonymous with “documentary” anymore.
Mind you, I’d “buy” Porter any day. The world needs heros – both in reality as well as in fiction. Something to give us hope and to ease our minds. And to give us a bit of eye-candy in the face of the evil world. Cue…
If you know where I can get one, drop me a line.