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Author Topic: Push-button photography  (Read 4257 times)
luxborealis
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« on: December 31, 2013, 03:19:18 PM »
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Beware...diatribe ahead...

I originally wrote this as part of a response to an earlier post by "dhancock", but I felt that rather than highjacking his post regarding an image he made, this deserves it's own thread

I think we all appreciate it when a photographer is open and honest about how they achieve their result but dhancock's description of "I played around on HDR Darkroom until I came up with something pleasing" somewhat spoiled the show for me. I realize it's unfair to expect every photographer to "previsualize" every photograph - that is to have a clear view in one's mind of the final image when the exposure is made - and know how to achieve that result instantly in the darkroom or on a computer, and I undestand the importance of experimentation as well, and I also get that maybe I'm dwelling too much on semantics...but I suspect Daniel was doing more than simply "playing around" to get some random pleasing result.

I guess my concern arises out of what has become push-button photography in the sense that if one plays around long enough, something great will come of it even if one doesn't have a clue about what one is doing (like a roomful of monkeys typing Shakespeare). I've seen it happen, especially with all the presets and apps now available. And maybe this is why art critics are so critical of photography - photographs can be the result of random acts with no intention on the part of the photographer. Too many photographs are the result of button-pushing and not artistic or documentary decision-making, intent or forethought.

Cameras now shoot perfectly exposed and focused photos especially with the various "Scene modes" that make technical decisions for the photographer. Push-button apps now take those images and make them magically more alluring to fit a current trend, colour palette or "look". So, there is no longer any  "intention" by the artist like there is in putting carefully crafted words on paper or notes on staff paper or paint on canvas or paper. Shoot enough frames (or point a camera randomly) and sit at a computer long enough pushing buttons and one will produce something worth framing or publishing. Granted with some modern art, one must wonder if there was intent on the part of the artist or just random playing!

Perhaps the only pre-conceived decision someone with a camera has now is being at the right place, at the right time and choosing a focal length and a composition that "work". But even these can now be overcome with digital cameras that hold thousands of images - just keep shooting, zoom in zoom out, shoot, shoot, shoot - something will come of. Imagine hiking up mountains with only 20 sheets of film for a few days, or going on a trip with only two or three rolls of film. Have we lost the uniqueness of photography under a tidal wave of souped-up snapshots?

Believe me, Daniel, this comment is not directed at you, but rather to the photography community at large. You just happened to use a set of words that I'm hearing far too often now amongst "photographers" - so don't feel I'm dumping on you because I'm not. As 2013 comes to a close, I'm just being crotchety about the direction photography seems to be going. All the best and keep sharing!
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Terry McDonald
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #1 on: December 31, 2013, 03:43:48 PM »
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For better or worse, and for what it is worth, I freely admit I am closer to "playing around" in post processing than pre-visualizing. I am much more selective in the capture phase though (I guess that is a remnant of my film days), and take something because it "speaks to me," although, at that moment, I am not exactly sure what it is saying. I often discover it in the post processing phase, playing around, until it again speaks to me, this time "loud and clear." But I sympathize with your view.
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luxborealis
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« Reply #2 on: December 31, 2013, 03:48:33 PM »
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I agree, Slobodan. I am experimenting far more with both seeing and processing with digital than I was with film - as I think many of us are. But when you are playing around, do you have a notion of the direction you are headed, or are you just pushing all available buttons in the hopes of just landing the plane? I suspect more of the former given your helpful comments and photos on this forum.
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Terry McDonald
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #3 on: December 31, 2013, 05:20:32 PM »
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... when you are playing around, do you have a notion of the direction you are headed, or are you just pushing all available buttons in the hopes of just landing the plane?...

Now, these days, I do have some notion where I am going. But that notion today is a result of accumulated experience from yesterday, when it was more of a happy accident and fooling around. Through experiment and playing comes the realization of what is it that I like, and then it becomes the "notion" of where I'd like to go in the future (otherwise known as "style," if I am not mistaken).

For instance, one of the first "happy accidents" was when I was using Canon's own RAW converter, Digital Photo Professional (DPP). Again, if I am not mistaken, DPP was (is?) the only converter that had a linear function, i.e., non-gamma corrected (and no, it was not the same as the Linear Tone Curve in Lightroom). Using it resulted in a distinctive look, rather unusable for normal processing, but giving a hint of an alternative esthetic approach. It was also a revelation to see what is lurking in a file, waiting to be discovered and freed, even if in a "happy accident." I later tried to replicate it in Lightroom 3, generating my own preset, which I called "gritty" or what some others call "grungy" look, or "Faux HDR."

Another example (below). Did I pre-visualize the use of a tungsten white balance and the rest of post-processing "tricks" when I took this Manhattan photo? No. But when I woke up and looked through the rainy window, and saw a gray, gloomy sky, the feeling was the same as I hope I ultimately conveyed in the final photo: blue (figuratively speaking).
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James Clark
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« Reply #4 on: December 31, 2013, 05:45:04 PM »
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I like what Slobodon is saying, and I work in much the same way.  Sort of.  I think Wink

When I shoot I generally previsualize for composition and "feel" and then in postprocessing I use the variety of tools available to me to manipulate light, shadow, sharpness and detail to convey the idea that I saw in the composition phase, but I'm usually not shooting landscape work with a final, finished product in mind exactly.

That said, there are many times when my original intent with the photo gets supplanted by something that occurs to me when the processing is already started, and an idea is keyed by something in the original composition that I might have missed, or that was seemingly unimportant, at the time of capture but becomes more important within the limited framework of the image itself when the image itself is removed from the picture-taking environment/moment.
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Alan Klein
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« Reply #5 on: December 31, 2013, 07:34:52 PM »
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You can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear.
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Isaac
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« Reply #6 on: January 01, 2014, 02:20:23 AM »
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You can when the sow was made of silk.
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Isaac
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« Reply #7 on: January 01, 2014, 02:22:28 AM »
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Now, these days, I do have some notion where I am going. But that notion today is a result of accumulated experience from yesterday, when it was more of a happy accident and fooling around. Through experiment and playing comes the realization of what is it that I like, and then it becomes the "notion" of where I'd like to go in the future (otherwise known as "style," if I am not mistaken).

OMG! Someone developing their Art!
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950
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« Reply #8 on: January 03, 2014, 09:55:42 AM »
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Great discussion topic, love the term "push-button"!

And after all, does vinyl really sound better than a digital mix?
Can't tell you how many times that I've seen kids take a photo on their phone, run it through various apps and Wah-La! "That looks so cool! You should be a photographer!"
Cracks me up every time. I've shot high school football for a few years now, and what I find interesting is that the parents love the traditional photograph, but the kids want theirs digitally modified somehow and consider that the "great shot". Hey- if it's not run through some app or look unique, it's just not cool!
Trend? Sign of the times? I'm just getting old?
I do look at subjects differently, consider software while composing, and keep in mind how that image can be manipulated.

Was the person that strayed from the written instructions on how to process film and start playing with dodge and burn the inventor of darkroomshop?   

Love the discussions, photos, and knowledge on this site, I thank each of you.
Ken


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churly
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« Reply #9 on: January 03, 2014, 10:05:19 AM »
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Terry - Apologies for the slow reply.  I had to give your post some thought before I could respond.  Here's my view for what it's worth.

T - "I played around on HDR Darkroom until I came up with something pleasing" somewhat spoiled the show for me

I think that the process of creating an image is a personal matter (and often more important than the final result).  You can personally place value on specific approaches to the process for whatever reason but that doesn't change the final result that then has to speak to others.  In addition, all viewers see images through their own personal filters, so universal appeal of the final result is unlikely.   "Playing around" may suggest a certain amount of trial and error but we all know that experience with any tool is generally leads to more effective application of the tool.  From a parametric view point, scene modes and presets simply narrow down the potential arrangement of the various parameters.  Clearly some arrangements are more effective than others and that is evident to the software developers.  That said, I very rarely use either of those tools but that is a matter of my personal process.  My end result has no more  value than that reached by using the tools (except to me).

T - Perhaps the only pre-conceived decision someone with a camera has now is being at the right place, at the right time and choosing a focal length and a composition that "work". But even these can now be overcome with digital cameras that hold thousands of images - just keep shooting, zoom in zoom out, shoot, shoot, shoot - something will come of. Imagine hiking up mountains with only 20 sheets of film for a few days, or going on a trip with only two or three rolls of film. Have we lost the uniqueness of photography under a tidal wave of souped-up snapshots?


But you do still have to be at the right place at the right time and to make those choices about composition.  Whether you engage in contemplative "slow" photography or in "try it all" jackrabbit photography is again about personal process.  Maybe there is some intrinsic value in doing things the old and hard way (most folks that enjoy baking bread claim that there is), but I am yet to be convinced by the results.  Sure we are drowning in images of all sorts but I don't think photography has been unique for a long time.  We can all have our personal views on what we think is a good image but those views are far from universal.  It is a waste of time and energy to lament the fact that our personal view doesn't match that of others.  This forum is a clear demonstration of that, although some members are pretty persistent in their efforts to convince others that their view is the right view. So be it.

T - I'm just being crotchety about the direction photography seems to be going.

Yes, the 'craft' of photography is changing but that doesn't keep you from continuing you own personal process of making images.  The choices you make may or may not make you competitive in the professional world of selling images but the truth is that that happens in almost anything we do.  In my own personal case as a research scientist and professor, I'm not very happy about having to direct research based on where one can find funding to keep laboratories and graduate students funded rather than where the research takes you, but that is the way of it.

Take heart!  The light is coming back.  Also, remember as Slobodan points out, experience is a major ingredient in making the process work.  I don't think push-buttons have come close to replacing experience.

« Last Edit: January 03, 2014, 01:52:26 PM by churly » Logged

Chuck Hurich
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« Reply #10 on: January 03, 2014, 11:01:41 AM »
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I think what we are witnessing in this transition from film to digital is the shifting of our skills (craft) from being front-loaded to back-loaded. It has been dictated by the limitations of the medium. In the past, with film, we had to prepare many things right before we click the shutter. Why? Simply because we had no choice, we had a limited number of shots with us (especially true with large format) and we knew that in the processing stage we had much less options. If you were shooting transparencies, there wasn't any processing stage at all (bar push-pull processing within a limited range, and even that was not possible with all films, e.g., Kodachrome). What you did before pressing the shutter was it.

Enter digital. The choices and options in the latter stages, in post-processing, vastly outnumber what we had in the past, both in type and scope. Thus our focus, attention, knowledge, as photographers, shifted toward the end of the process. All I have to do today is to capture a moment and get a decent file. Sometimes I have to bracket, but even that is not always necessary with certain modern cameras. Which brings us to an interesting phenomenon how our required skills change even within the digital realm. Yesterday, you could not call yourself a competent photographer if your skill set did not include bracketing and subsequent exposure blending in post. Today, for the newest generation of photographers, which is starting with, say, D800 et al, the need to bracket is perplexing. So, who is a better photographer? We bracket, because we have to (limitations of the medium), not because it is somehow a badge of honor of a competent photographer. The kids today will just "push buttons" to extract all the info they need from a single shot. Our skill was in bracketing, their in "pushing buttons." Is our "trick" (what we like to call skill) inherently better than their "trick" (what we like to call "playing around")?
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Slobodan

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Isaac
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« Reply #11 on: January 03, 2014, 01:37:42 PM »
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I realize it's unfair to expect every photographer to "previsualize" every photograph - that is to have a clear view in one's mind of the final image when the exposure is made - and know how to achieve that result instantly in the darkroom or on a computer...

Might you be in danger of making a fetish of a technique?


Too many photographs are the result of button-pushing and not artistic or documentary decision-making, intent or forethought.

If you cannot see any difference in the final body of work then I think the value you place on "artistic or documentary decision-making, intent or forethought" is illusory.


Have we lost the uniqueness of photography under a tidal wave of souped-up snapshots? ... As 2013 comes to a close, I'm just being crotchety about the direction photography seems to be going.

Quote
"So much of what photographic enthusiasts thought made up a ‘good photograph’ was bound into technical considerations (and art-world photographers still generally defend their identity and distinction from the mass through a display of technical virtuosity carried to a standardised and thus absurd extreme). ... I should probably confess to using a digital camera with traditional dials for setting aperture, shutter speed and exposure compensation. I still like the restrictions imposed by a fixed lens. So some of those old bodily, behavioural and technical habits survive, and may mark me out as a specialist (or an eccentric). But perhaps they are no more than signs of mental rigidity on my part, of holding onto the illusion of the exceptional, aesthetic and autonomous self."
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Alan Klein
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« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2014, 03:40:01 PM »
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Interesting and light-hearted short on status quo and imagination.  Do you shoot inside-the-box, or outside?

\http://play.simpletruths.com/movie/paper-airplane
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Tony Jay
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« Reply #13 on: January 04, 2014, 08:35:30 PM »
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Terry, you do pose an interesting question regarding the relative merits of photography (read image-capture) as opposed to post-processing.

For what it is worth I regard both in-camera skill and post-processing skill as indispensable to the modern craft of photography.
However, the two are not interchangeable.
The term "workflow" so beloved in digital photography implies directionality.
The term "post-processing" also implies processing "after a prior event".
(I know that everyone reading this thread will be aware of the meaning of these definitions, however, in the context of the conversation they deserve highlighting.)
The camera has to be the start of the process (notwithstanding role of pre-visualisation and intent on the part of the photographer) and the skills of the photographer are at the fore.

In the last year or so I have had a lot of contact with individuals who shoot with equipment capable of shooting fantastic images who for several reasons are unable to produce noteworthy images. Sometimes the issue is an inability to control the exposure that the camera shoots at, sometimes an inability to compose an image, and not infrequently both issues are present.
Now, I am not casting aspersions at these individuals, since one one of my favourite sayings regarding photography is "It is easy to shoot rubbish, shooting well requires a bit more effort" and it was coined as a result of my own experiences with a camera.
I have only been shooting seriously for about eight years now.
Currently, in my Lightroom catalog, I only have a fraction of a percent of images shot in 2006, 2007, and 2008, remaining. Those deleted images were really not up to snuff. Since then the percentage of keepers has risen but the improvement has been hard won.
Currently, now that I have really good grip on the abilities of my equipment, any rubbish that I shoot is purely a result of my lack of attention to detail, poor shooting technique, or suboptimal framing.

Interestingly, recently on a trip to Botswana I happened to meet up with a Pro from Canada who had just finished leading an expedition to various locations in Namibia, and, who was in Botswana shooting for his own pleasure as well as scouting for future destinations for expeditions. We ended up shooting together for several days in the Okavango Delta. What was noteworthy was that we were shooting with very similar equipment and shooting essentially identical subject matter nearly all the time. Our ratio of noteworthy images shot to total captures was remarkably similar, but even more interesting was the differences in what we shot despite shooting with the same equipment and having the same shooting perspective. Comparing images we were equally impressed with the "moments" that the other had managed to capture. Nonetheless, only a few percent of the total images shot were top drawer and about 30% of the total images I shot on that entire trip were deleted the same day that they were shot. That percentage will climb too, once, in months to come, I review those images again. (I do appreciate that there are major differences between the bird and wildlife photography that we were engaged in compared to the, somewhat more reflective, process of landscape photography.)

As mentioned, I do value post-processing skills very highly, and most of my skills were developed trying, largely unsuccessfully, to turn poorly captured images into something passable. Currently, I find that if an image really does required extreme manipulation, it is really a reflection on the failure of my in-camera photographic skills. Much more usually, if I am struggling with an image in post-processing the problem has been what do to rather than anything tricky in the actual post-processing, once I have made up my mind what to do.
When I have a well captured image together with a solid idea of what needs to be done (revisualisation definitely plays a part) these days I can make an image really pop.

All my post-processing skills have been hard won. A lot of trial-and-error (mostly error) has been necessary to get a solid grip on the process. Experimentation has been absolutely key in the process. Sometimes, to even call what I was doing as "doodling", would not have been out of place.

Some may be feeling that this post is a bit longwinded but the mini-biography describing my own photographic journey incorporated several distinct stages that were dictated by my skills and abilities at the time. The equipment I shoot with has also influenced, at least to some degree, what has been possible. I remember been severely limited in my bird photography with a Canon 40D, despite having a Canon 500mm f4.0 and a tele-extender because of the noise issue when cranking up ISO. Focusing was also an issue. Fast forward to now, same lenses but now with a Canon 5D mark III ISO is essentially a non-issue in the range that I need, autofocus is a dream, and DR is much improved.

Nowadays, because I have a very good idea of what my camera/lens combination will produce, pre-visualisation is correspondingly much easier and the post-processing also becomes subsequently much easier. That was not always so.
In addition, despite the ability to pre-visualise, it not infrequently happens that once I have an image up on my monitor I find it telling me a much different story. In this regard I personally feel it is better to let the image communicate if you will rather than me imposing my preconceptions.

I went back to the post that stimulated this thread, and then subsequently to Daniel Hancock's website. In truth, he was playing around with that image because, it seems, he was getting to grips with a new version of HDR software. Having seen at least some his work I don't think that those images have come as a result of random doodling, either with a camera or post-processing software. However, I bet that sometime in his photographic journey he learn't an awful lot from doodling, both with camera and software.

As already alluded to, image making is a very personal process, and, the process of becoming a good image-maker is likewise a very personal one. I cannot be critical of anyone who engages in activities that will improve them as image-makers. The equipment we use, software included here, is rather sophisticated. Who amongst us completely understands, much less uses, every feature of their camera systems or software? The only way to learn those features is to play, to experiment.

However, it is VERY unlikely that many (any!) of us can consistently produce high quality images in a random "push button" type manner.
I am sure that most of us have had serendipitous experiences, particularly with camera in-hand, but also with post-processing software, that cannot be attributed to our skill. Nonetheless, these are the exception not the rule.

Merely, as suggested earlier, owning the best in camera equipment and software cannot substitute for ability and know-how. Consistent results mandate it. Monkeys randomly typing on typewriters have never managed to produce War and Peace. Yes!

Tony Jay
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #14 on: January 04, 2014, 09:08:08 PM »
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... Monkeys randomly typing on typewriters have never managed to produce War and Peace. Yes!

You, however, are getting quite close, no? Grin
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Slobodan

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Tony Jay
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« Reply #15 on: January 04, 2014, 09:15:46 PM »
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Actually, I was gunning for the Lord of the Rings!

Tony Jay
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Isaac
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« Reply #16 on: January 04, 2014, 10:46:22 PM »
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Like the re-telling of The Hobbit - a novelette stretched to epic proportions :-)
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Tony Jay
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« Reply #17 on: January 04, 2014, 11:14:15 PM »
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Aaabsoluutely!
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ripgriffith
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« Reply #18 on: January 05, 2014, 01:35:21 AM »
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Like the re-telling of The Hobbit - a novelette stretched to epic proportions :-)
I'm not sure which was post-processed the most: the novelette or the film.
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Tony Jay
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« Reply #19 on: January 05, 2014, 01:38:51 AM »
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I'm not sure which was post-processed the most: the novelette or the film.
Brilliant - I did need a chuckle!

Tony Jay
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