From the archives, vol. 45
Here’s a secret for you – this image almost wound up in the dumpster on several occasions. I could never seem to process it in a way that brought out the subtle light and colors that I saw at the time. That’s the thing about cameras – as good as they’ve become, they still don’t “see” like the human eye can. That’s one of the reasons we post-process, to enhance what was captured, in order to bring the image more in line with the actual scene. That’s why the “purist” notion of no “manipulation” is so silly. What comes out of the camera is often not a pure, accurate representation of what we photographed, because of the current limits of imaging technology. That doesn’t even take into consideration the times when we’re creating an image that’s an artistic interpretation of a scene, rather than a documentary style image, which for me is most of the time. In those instances post-processing is a valuable and necessary part of the process of fulfilling one’s creative vision and creating a pleasing image. As I’ve stated before, this is nothing new. Film shooters “manipulated” their images using darkroom techniques. If you doubt this, I suggest taking a look at this post by Chase Jarvis. Today we have a digital darkroom in the form of Photoshop, Lightroom, and all the other various programs and plugins that are available. If you think Ansel Adams wouldn’t have used Photoshop, then you don’t really understand how he, and most other film photographers worked.
Every image that’s ever been created is a manipulation. How you choose to frame a scene, what you leave in, what you leave out, that’s manipulation. You’re deciding what the viewer sees, and what they don’t see. Ever make an image of a beautiful patch of flowers next to garbage can, or some other unsightly object? If you framed those flowers in a way that left the unsightly object out of the image, that’s manipulation. You’ve altered the true nature of that scene, for artistic reasons. The focal length you choose, the f-stop you choose, depth of field, focus point, white balance – all manipulations, all things that have the potential to alter reality in some way. Or at least the amount of reality one can hope to capture when photographing a three dimensional object with a tool that can only render in two dimensions… which is itself a sort of manipulation. You manipulate an image dozens, if not hundreds of ways, before you ever press the shutter. Even if you shoot jpegs rather than RAW with post-processing, with the camera at it’s default settings, there’s manipulation going on. The camera itself is choosing the levels of contrast, saturation, white balance, sharpness, etc, and cameras from different manufacturers will each render the same scene in a slightly different way… so you still won’t be achieving a “pure” result.
Besides, I’m not all that interested in reality. Don’t just show me something beautiful, show me why it’s beautiful to you. Use your artistic and technical skills, and any other tools available to communicate through your image the feelings and emotions that are evoked in you by the scene you’re capturing. Create an image that communicates something essential about your subject, something a mere snapshot could never communicate. In other words, don’t worry about purity or accuracy – make some art.