There is a great deal of debate about the Tennis Balls photo, and comparison of that versus the Last Photo, the one of Madeleine at the children’s pool.
Let me start by saying there are two variations of the Tennis Balls photo. The first is not cropped, and it looks like this.
This is not a good quality photograph. There is a lot of empty tennis court, overpowering the much smaller image of Madeleine, when the child should have been the dominant part of the image. More importantly, the brightness and contrast are very poor.
The second is the cropped version. Much of the tennis court has been removed, and Madeleine is now centre stage. In terms of composition, this is much better. Here it is.
The issue with the cropped version is that the colours look very artificial. Madeleine’s skin colour has changed a lot, and the tennis balls look like they glow in the dark.
On to basic photo editing software. I happen to use a free package called GIMP, that I picked up why my version of Adobe Photoshop died. The actual package is not important. I do very simple things with it, like making a dull picture have a bit more contrast, making a dark photo a little brighter, and (keep this a secret) taking out the odd old-age-wrinkle here and there to knock a few years off.
All of the half-decent packages, including GIMP, can show you how the colour components are spread out, and you can manipulate each. For example, in the non-cropped version, you can tone down the green a bit, and up the blue and red to correct the colour balance.
I don’t want to bore you with the Red-Green-Blue components. I’d just like to look at how these come together. This is the intensity or brightness. Let me stack these one above the other so hopefully you can see both at the same. You should be able to expand both if this view does not fit your screen.
So here are both photos, alongside their brightness spectrum.
The non-cropped version looks quite dark to the naked eye. The is confirmed in the brightness spectrum, where everything is below the mid-point. This photo is too dark.
The brightness spectrum is also very bunched this time. In a photo with a lot of contrast, you would see the spectrum extending from the low end, through the middle, to the high end. This photo also appears to lack contrast.
Now have a look at the spectrum for the cropped version. It is all shunted up to the high end of the spectrum. That means it is a lot brighter, but it still lacks contrast. The act of moving everything from below middle to up high makes the photo look artificial.
So, what do we have? Well, what we have is a poor quality photo at the start – the non-cropped one. After putting that through a poor quality editing process, what we have is one that in technical terms can only be described as bad.
How can one compare a bad result, the cropped Tennis Balls photo with a high-resolution, good quality Last Photo? The simple answer is one can’t.