To manipulate or not


I can’t speak for all photographers on this issue, only myself.  The tldr: version – I don’t like it.  I especially don’t like it when photographs are manipulated digitally to appear something they are not. 

Photographic manipulation is such a wide field of possibilities, so perhaps it would be easier to discuss if I break it down into the common sense categories that I use. 

  1. Traditional darkroom type editing – bumping contrast, fixing highlight issues, cropping, color correction, and other exposure type things. 
  2. The “That’s not possible” type editing – stitched photographs, panoramic photographs, and HDR (high dynamic range) that combines multiple photographs for the best possible exposure.
  3. The Fakes – adding reflections, adding textures, adding pieces of other photographs, sticking the totally fake digital photo corners on them, etc. 
  4. Art manipulations – collage style photographs that are clearly manipulated and don’t care if you know it.

1. Traditional editing is usually done for one purpose – to produce a good print.   While you can produce some photoshop-style images in the darkroom, that sort of process calls for precision, dedication, and ruining of your film.   I have great respect for those who chose to manipulate their film the hard way – and they generally don’t try to pass it off as unmanipulated.

2. I have mixed feelings about this.  On one hand, some photographs are obviously manipulated – the average person does not have a panoramic camera.  While on an instinctual level I know it’s manipulated, it doesn’t stick out and bother me as much.  Stitched photographs, if done well, are the same way.  Sometimes the digital confines requires stitching to get the size pic you need (I think I could print a billboard off my RAW files, so that argument isn’t as important these days.)

HDR is a different issue altogether.  I look at an HDR picture, and it screams FAKE at me.  There’s no way in hades that someone managed to correctly expose both the sky and the shadows in a bright sunny day pic.  Sure, it’s a beautiful picture, but it bothers me.  The only HDR pics I’ve seen that didn’t bother me as much were interior shots that gave the normally hot windows some detail in the highlights.

3.  I think the guttural reaction I have to manipulated photographs is a sense of dishonesty about them.  Call me a purist, but if you truly want a photograph with interesting brush strokes on it, do it old style and actually put those brush strokes on it with an alternative process.  I saw the most horrible photograph the other day while browsing the web – a quite pretty close up of a flower that was utterly ruined by the addition of wide brush strokes on the edges.  I could only focus on the brush strokes that I knew had to be fake – no alt process I’m aware of produces color pics with applied emulsion (ok, gum bicrocromates have some color, but its a visible difference.)   That same site had a pic with the fake photo corners – they had been stretched to fit the photograph and were pathetically abnormal.

If you wanted to add a color tone to your pics, add texture, paste in more stuff, and so on, that’s fine.  Just don’t act like it’s a clean, unmanipulated photograph.   Truth in photograph is pretty much a myth, but don’t make it so darned blatant.    

Ok, so that’s a nice rant there about photography – what does that really mean when you apply it to mine? 

  • I will not manipulate my photographs beyond traditional methods.  I can and will crop them, fix their color to what I remember the object as, adjust the contrast, and even at times darken or lighten a pic to get the effect I want.   Basically, what you see is what you get.  If I chose to manipulate my work in a collage method, I will either make it so obvious you can’t miss it, or title it as such.   While I may use a digital camera, that does not mean I go nuts trying to digitally alter my photographs.  

The whole point of my photographs is to show you, the viewer, what I see.  Manipulating my photographs would ruin that and makes them utterly dishonest.


2 thoughts on “To manipulate or not

  1. Interesting point. I tend to agree with you more than not. I have a photoshop program on my computer, but rarely use it. I like to present my photographs in the manner they were captured. If they’re not good enough for my liking – then I need to take the time to get better! Great shot, too!

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