So Google has updated its Photos app, and one of the most peculiar new features is a slider called "Deep blue." It’s one small part of a vastly expanded suite of color adjustments added to Google’s built-in photo editor, and at first I couldn’t understand what it was for. It did nothing when I swung it back and forth on my indoor shots of avocados and headphones. But then I tried it on a photo with some sky in it and wow!
What Google’s put together is essentially a vibrance slider dedicated to the color blue. If you have a daytime sky, even a wintry one like in my photo below, this thing will saturate the blue to a rich, summery shade in a hurry. Same goes for any waterscapes or other blue-rich pictures in your collection that could do with a boost.
I’ve messed around with the "Deep blue" setting on most of my outdoor shots, and it frankly works too well. There’s no real cost to using it, the image quality isn’t degraded and the rest of my colors are left untouched (obviously there’s some fringing and imperfections in the sample photo I provide, but that’s why it’s a slider and not a binary toggle). The temptation is to just give each image a perfect sky, but then what’s the point of taking a photo if I’m going to turn it into some idealized simulacrum through Google’s infinitely powerful tools?
With so many filters available from so many sources — Google Photos, VSCO, Instagram, Twitter, Flickr, and practically every other photo app in existence — it takes real discipline for me to just leave an image alone. When I do, it’s unsatisfying at the moment when I have cravings to tinker, but it always ends up more rewarding in hindsight, giving me the most realistic recreation of what was actually happening. You appreciate and value memories more once they start fading.
Realism takes a backseat to prettiness in most people’s imaging preferences, and Google is serving that demand
This is what troubles me about where Google’s going: perfect photos result in imperfect memories. Ever since the launch of Google+ and its "auto awesome" photo functions, Google has been pursuing all sorts of software-based ways to optimize and prettify mobile photographs. I think the company’s made amazing strides toward that goal, and I’m now in geeky love with the Pixel XL because of its sophisticated computational camera system that lets me take sharper and more detailed photos with the help of a ton of complex mathematics.
But realism isn’t Google’s priority. Google knows most of us would rather have things looking pretty than realistic, and it’s producing tools to achieve that. This "Deep blue" slider is just another incremental step to really lovely and cheery pictures coming out of every phone. That’s fine, that’s cool, but I think I’ll exercise my discipline and leave at least a few of my photos looking as bleak as the real world is.