Red Bull Didn’t Need to Use Art Filters to Make Felix Baumgartner Look Cool

Red Bull Didn’t Need to Use Art Filters to Make Felix Baumgartner Look Cool

I’ve been following the progress of the Red Bull Stratos project for several years, so I was thrilled to watch the livecast on YouTube of Felix Baumgartner’s historic jump on Sunday. I felt anxiety, inspiration, and astonishment as the capsule ascended and Felix so casually stepped off the platform into a 24 mile descent with only a parachute on his back. I wondered how many times he peed in the suit, but that is neither here nor there.

During the past year, I’ve really enjoyed seeing some of the incredible images that were created with various custom rigs that made documenting the project possible. But one thing bothered me, and that was the use of art filters on the images that Red Bull was distributing through its gallery. Because here’s the thing: Felix is a badass, and a good looking one at that. We don’t need some cinematic desaturation applied to the images to make them more iconic. Do we?

For example, look at this image taken just moments after he landed:

Source: Red Bull Stratos

I’ve spent a few years on earth, so I’m pretty familiar with the color of the sky, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this looks fairly color accurate for the middle of the day in the Southwest.

Here’s another photo from the same photographer at nearly the same time:

Source: Red Bull Stratos

I’m willing to accept that at a wide aperture, there was some vignetting on the image. But the color change is pretty extreme, and this isn’t a white balance issue. The image has been manipulated to give it this look-and-feel. Does it look like a film still from The Felix Baumgartner Story? Yeah, I thought so too.

Here’s another image from some training sessions:

Source: Red Bull Stratos

The color seems fairly accurate, but I suspect there has been some burning of the corners. Nothing egregious, mind you, and who knows what the color temperature of the indoors lights are. And here’s a closer “portrait”:

Source: Red Bull Stratos

As a portrait, I think it’s pretty damn awesome. But as a “journalistic” image (and perhaps I’m being overly prescriptive in assigning a genre of photography to these images), it’s too much.

But even if you think that these images are meant for PR, and not as a photojournalistic record of the jump and training that preceded it, where is the visual consistency? I like making my images look as cool as possible too, but jumping out of a metal capsule from 128,000 feet and breaking the speed of sound doesn’t need any manipulation.

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There are 10 comments for this article
  1. Eric at 5:05 pm

    I thought the same thing looking at the gallery yesterday, but then I also thought, oh yeah this is essentially a commercial event, I agree with the lack of consistency since that is sort of stark at face value, but i also feel like they were not posting cohesive galleries so much as random snapshots. It almost comes across like a scattershot Instagram gallery, but they also have a number of photographers working on the images, but that is not to say it’s okay to drop a consistent look. Then again, maybe they will post something more cohesive soon, that or they were more concerned with guy falling 20 miles than they were with consistent image of guy falling 20 something miles.

  2. Ryan at 5:11 pm

    I remember seeing the photographer on the ground when he landed and thinking what an awesome project that would be to photograph. I agree that some of the filters are heavy handed, and could have been done better. For instance, the first clearly edited photo you posted above of Felix celebrating is a great moment caught in a photo. I think the vig and sloppily darkened sky(like the haloing around his raised arm) just takes away from an already great photo.

  3. Arelle Hall at 5:23 pm

    Seriuosly! A guy jumps from the stratosphere and all you can talk about is the poetic license of the photagraphers? Who cares what filters were used in the pictures! They all look good. Maybe there’s a slight hint of jealousy from those that weren’t fortunate enough to be able to capture the moments themselves. But then again here in America…if we’re not as good as the competition then find something to complain about them with, right? Only in America can we be so selfish and insensitive.

  4. Bastian at 5:47 pm

    I really liked those images. The extended post-production might be off-limits for journalist photos, but those aren’t journalist photos. Those are straight forward PR photos and RedBull, a company, not a journalistic publication, has every right to edit and alter those images.
    Beside documentation, they serve just one purpose: Enhance the image of the brand RedBull.

  5. Matt Oldfield at 9:35 pm

    Of course it’s PR, and good stuff at that. Think astronauts, Tom Wolfe and ‘The Right Stuff’… Congrats to Baumgartner I say!

  6. Paul Lebel at 1:17 am

    “Who cares what filters were used in the pictures! They all look good” they do! And a photographer who doesn’t understand and respect how someone chose to represent that moment is likely shallow enough to believe that he or she isn’t manipulating the scene in the first place by even being there and aiming the camera (not to mention the lens mm when to snap the shutter etc).

  7. Logan MB at 11:54 am

    Arelle REALLY has a point Allen: how DARE you post on a site about photography – with “photo” in its very name – and talk about photographic aspects?

    OBVIOUSLY you are just jealous since you are talking so much smack about the actual event and the photographer’s talent + access. Wait, you didn’t say anything disrespectful about any of those things? Huh.

    Well, it STILL is pretty petty to write an editorial in the blog section of the site you co-founded that talks about “the poetic license of the photagraphers [sic].”

    My god, people. It is amazing what folks find to complain about. If you want to discuss merits of the original editorial, fine. But if you include your opinions of “America” and attempt mind-reading of the writer’s emotional intent, there is a very big chance you’ll come across looking like a fool.

    Personally, I wonder how much control the photographers had in the final say of photos – as others have mentioned, there was a very heavy PR aspect, and I wonder if the photographers had any control of the images (or their toning), or if it was designers and editors later in the chain who were seeking to hype the drama of the event.

    Anyone able to get in touch with photographers – and if they haven’t signed an NDA – ask how covering the event was handled?

  8. Shane Srogi at 12:04 pm

    Do the images tell a story? Does the processing get in the way of that? For me that’s what that matters. This is an interesting discussion, what will become acceptable photojournalistically when you can process images “in camera”. Where will images that have been processed be published? Is Red Bull’s Instagram feed obligated to follow the same rules as The New York Times?

  9. Sebi at 7:44 pm

    Good point, and well made. Please have the hedline reflect what you meant to say though. Right now it reads like Red Bull didn’t have to use filters and didn’t do so, because he is cool.

    Nitpicking aside, I would love to see more posts down these lines. Why not do one on Pete Souza and the White House photos he posts on Flickr? They seem largely untouched, but sometimes I would actually have made some minor tweaks myself.

  10. Mark Westcott at 9:13 pm

    I think we all need to chill out on the use of post processing in photography, and whether it negates the appreciation of a photograph. This is art people! Art is something created, so the tool used to create it A CAMERA is only one peice of the puzzle anyway. Photography has always been a created image art (even Ansel Adams manipulated his negatives) and not a representation of reality. This isn’t even possible anyway, as you can’t capture true reality. What you can capture is an image, which falls on a scale of what looks reality based vs that which doesn’t. To clarify: a seemingly real image can just be a trick of light.

    True some manipulation is looks gimmicky but it’s no less art because of it, but neither is a snapshot just cause it looks real.

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