What’s A “Special Effect”?

These days you could consider any image as a special effect, what with the massive amount of processing that goes on inside the camera prior to it being written on the memory card. But that’s pretty much assumed and not even considered “special” anymore.

Special effects are taking an image and altering it beyond our normal perception and sometimes recognition by using techniques during capture—with various Scene modes or “art” filters or lenses and filters—or more likely what comes after when we plug the image into software. We can change it in seemingly endless ways, depending on our mood, whim, or intention, with the push of a button or swipe of a slider. The “app” market is awash with so many options that we have become somewhat jaded. But in the background there’s an amazing amount of computation that goes on to make what we consider an everyday image change into something that years back would have been considered a radical change and require a time-consuming process to boot.

The lens side of the perceptual image shift has been with us for many, many years, and there’s not much new under the sun there, but those who have worked with integral lens cameras and who have gotten into those that take interchangeable lenses will find much to explore, one being the tilt-shift type, such as the Bower lens reviewed in this issue. What is fairly new are Live View models, which as implied by their name let you work with a larger viewfinder than the eyepiece route and give you a preview of the effect being applied before you take the picture. That really makes composing with special optics, Scene modes, and even something as run-of-the-mill as white balance an entirely different experience.

Clearly, the main route for special effects is via software, and even though many of us think we’ve seen it all the changes in new products continue to startle even the most experienced image processor. And while there are always more presets available—indeed, many companies cannot imagine justifying a new version without at least 24 new presets in the mix—the real magic comes in the preset variations and the ability to “build your own” and save them for use later. What the companies do is offer recipes but then give you a whole shelf full of spices to help you flavor your own dish.

But does this incredible processing power help us make better pictures? Does it encourage, and some might say force, us to think we always need to add a special effect to validate an image? Think on it as you do your work.

This being the last issue of 2013 I, and the entire staff, want to take the opportunity to wish you and yours a great holiday season and all the best for 2014. We thank you for your continued support of our efforts and look forward to an exciting year.

tdibiase2000's picture

Hi there--I'm new to the Shutterbug site...just wondered how the stars under the gallery pics are established. Are the photos continuously rated by editors or are they a function of viewer "views/comments". What turns the stars yellow, etc?