I’ve been uploading some of my images from a recent trip to Iceland. Now the landscape in Iceland looks pretty unreal, and I might be quite well known for a little fiddling with my photos! So I surprised myself when I started getting a little erked when asked:
Q: Was that rainbow really there?
A: Er yes!
Q: Was the snow really blue?
A: It’s not snow it’s ice and yes it’s very blue.
Q: Have you Potoshopped that sun in?
A: No I held a polariser tight up to the lens as it didn’t fit and fired the shutter.
What surprised me was not the fact that people suspected I’d fiddled but the fact that I got annoyed that they asked me when I hadn’t. What is wrong with me? Why did it matter? Should it matter?
I think it mattered to me because I wanted to show people how different from reality the landscape appeared to me, I wanted them to look in awe at what I had seen with my own eyes. I had witnessed something unbelievable and nobody believed me! That is one thing we have lost with the widespread use of Photoshop, the ability to convince someone of the reality of something by using photography. Something that photography had earned a reputation for before it was so easy to jiggle things around. It’s the first time it mattered to me and I almost started to sympathise with the anti Photoshop brigade for a split second. I realised that it was like being accused of cheating, that’s why I didn’t like it, I don’t usually mind because I cheat all the time! (in photography).
Prior to Photoshop and digitisation, however, people didn’t get all fired up because a photographer used velvia and their colours were all souped up.
Was Richard Avedon cheating when he sent this to the printer?
This could be done with fewer hours in Photoshop than darkroom time, the results would have been similar. Avedon was legendary for the amount of resources used in the quest for one perfect print often shooting 100 frames for one final photograph before having his printer change the most minuscule details of a print.
Even post digitisation photographers change the white balance in the camera to make sunsets look more vibrant, they use long lenses to make stuff seem closer to the camera, they use shutter speed to create blur or freeze action. In fact everything the photographer does is about creating an illusion.
All those who can’t use a computer or get their heads around Photoshop will be crying by now: “Those decisions are made in the camera, not the computer!”
The digital camera is a computer! The only difference is that the changes you can make are limited.
They will cry: “It takes skill to get it right in the camera.” True and sometimes getting it right means more time out in the field or in the studio getting lots more lovely images. Getting it right in camera can mean more time feeling the sunshine and the breeze, getting all excited about that shot – witch is much more fun in my opinion than fiddling in photoshop. However it also takes several years for anyone to really master Photoshop and technically there is much more to learn.
Photography is art, no one accuses Leonardo da Vinci for making the Mona Lisa more beautiful than his model. Why then is it such a big deal for a photographer to do the same?
Arguably there are instances when photography should not include image editing, photojournalism for example. In this case if a news image is manipulated; the news organization is responsible for reporting the manipulation to viewers. Historical instances of just how much this really matters to people include:
Robert Capa’s photo of a soldier taken during the Spanish Civil War taken September 5, 1936, which appeared in LIFE Magazine, July 1937.
The falling soldier photograph is captioned: “ROBERT CAPA’S CAMERA CATCHES A SPANISH SOLDIER THE INSTANT HE IS DROPPED BY A BULLET THROUGH THE HEAD IN FRONT OF CORDOBA.”
In 1975 Phillip Knightley alleged that the photo had been staged. He claimed Capa’s fellow journalist O.D. Gallagher shared a hotel room in 1936, and that Capa had confessed staging the photo, it mattered, it mattered because people felt cheated because they had been emotionally moved by what they thought was reality. This is an extreme example to make the point that if a photography claims to represent reality then that’s what it should do.
In my opinion though, anything else is fair game.
My conclusion, well I will certainly continue to enjoy using Photoshop to create my own reality, to take two or three images in camera with an idea of how I am going to put them together in Photoshop later. I will stretch, squash and completely rearrange to my heart’s content. Will I confess? Only to tell you how I do it in the odd tutorial otherwise I’ll keep you guessing, you will accuse me of fiddling with everything anyway even when I don’t! I have just got to learn not to give a ****!