Is it fair to pass off a digitally altered photograph as good photography?
Personally I started out saying: No.
In my opinion a good photograph started in the camera, it had to be good the way it was shot.
My introduction to photography was already pre-school years, watching my dad and occasionally having the incredible joy of attending photography salons with him. What an amazing world where people could change scenes using graduated filters to warm or cool skies, gelled flashes to cast a surreal light and motion triggers to catch wildlife. It must have been a thrill for them when they finally saw the product. Never would I have seen this as cheating, it was part of the process before the shutter was pressed. Over time these photographers in my mind deserved revered status.
My SLR reached the end of it’s life and for some time I watched the development of the DSLRs before finally buying one replacing my old film friend. My favourite Velvia film was not an option now and I felt a little lost for a while. It was still possible to slip something in front of the flash or use a filter of sorts but those dreamy colours were gone. For a while I had the photographic blahs.
The adventure of learning the tricks of digital photography started, spurred on by the craving for beautiful colours and the ability to control where the emphasis in every picture will fall. The DSLR’s on board computer can be set to compensate for different kinds of light or to adjust saturation. By playing with depth of field , good composition and selective focus I have control of how the eye will roam through a photo. Make this easier using a great lens and make sure that printing happens through a reliable lab who would give consistent results. None of this will be cheating it basically follws the old pathway and I will learn to love the results of these new skills!
But wait a minute…
The onboard computer? Yes, there is a decision taken between what happens when I push the shutter and the result I download. The camera gets to decide what the “best” result is! Top all this with the differences printing at Lab A versus Lab B and it becomes clear that whatever happens on sensor level is influenced by so much other factors that it is hard to argue that there is something like a pure picture.
The RAW straight out of camera. It is not really sharp and the colours are lack lustre but all the information is here to make magic happen.
The SOOC JPEG version as the camera adjusted it. Sharpness is improved but the colours are off.
My view of cheating with pictures radically changed and the joy factor escalated disproportionally when I entered the world of the digital darkroom.
Finally I could allow myself to excavate the hidden areas in my digital images. The camera now does come out in situations where I would have thought it would be hopeless to even try to get anything before and I can capture memories that would otherwise have been lost. Suddenly it is a thrill to walk out of a dark cathedral with almost black images on the LCD. I came to see it like a black layer mask in Photoshop…underneath lies something waiting to be uncovered.
Manipulating the RGBs brought back those beautiful Velvia colours, gradients and textures and different luminance masks suddenly opened a whole new world. It unleashed the hidden artist.
This is what I new was possible, what a joy to make it happen!
Suddenly it was OK to go and do digital enhancing. Sometimes just a bit, sometimes a lot.
Layered with gradients, colour fills and “Isobel”, one of Kim Klassen’s textures.
My photography journey now is two tiered between the camera and the computer and whenever I can, I do my own printing.
So, is it fair to pass off a digitally altered photograph as good photography?
Absolutely, it is what I now call “Artistic Photography”.