From the archives, vol. 8: The camera as paintbrush

From the archives, vol. 8

I’ve been using Lightroom 4.1 to re-process some of my older photos – including the images in this post – and this, along with a recent article I read, had me once again thinking about photo manipulation…

Everyone defines photography in their own way. For me, photography is about what I can create with my camera. My computer helps refine that creation, but it does not significantly add to or alter that creation. I could spend hours, or even days in front of the computer combining elements, rearranging them, distorting them, altering their colors, basically bending reality to my will. What I wind up with might be beautiful. But would it be a photograph? I’m not sure there’s a correct answer. Certainly, different people will answer that question in different ways. My answer would be no.

The joy of photography – for me – is being out in the field, searching for interesting light and subjects, and working to create a unique image that communicates what I’m feeling about that subject at that particular moment in time. That is why I head out in all sorts of inclement weather, why I subject myself to heat, cold, rain, mosquitoes, and long hikes that leave me dragging at the end of the day – it’s the challenge and thrill of creating something unique, using my camera as my paintbrush, that is my passion and motivation.

One thing I often hear repeated by those who are in favor of the anything goes style of manipulation is that they’re not interested in a documentary style of photography. Fair enough. I have found myself moving further and further from a strictly documentary style, though I do tend to bounce back and forth stylistically. However, I object to the notion that one must rely on photo manipulation to break free of typical documentary photographs. All of the images in this post were created in-camera, with minimal post-processing work. All of the processing work was limited to global and local adjustments to white balance, exposure, contrast, and saturation. That’s it. In other words, the same types of adjustments someone might have made in a darkroom 40 years ago. I don’t believe any of these photos could be referred to as “documentary,” certainly not in the strictest sense. There is an element of abstraction or impressionism in almost all of them, and they represent my interpretation of the subjects and scenes photographed.

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