Yesterday we visited a small local craft fayre. There was a variety of goods on offer, including some very attractive pottery, some wonderful coastal paintings and some photography.
I was drawn to a stall selling cards of flower and wildlife images, with close ups of flowers very similar to ones I have taken. On the stall there was a notice saying that none of the pictures had been digitally enhanced, no Photoshop had been used in the making of these pictures. I checked with the photographer if this included Lightroom and it did, the photos were, he said, straight out of the camera. There was an implied inference of moral high ground here.
I suppose it all comes down to why you are taking pictures in the first place. To capture the moment? To preserve the beauty of the scene? To record the facts as they are? Or to make art? I'm not suggesting any of these are mutually exclusive, rather that they are a variety of lenses through which we can view our photographic images.
This is a photograph I took of a deckchair at Shanklin earlier in the week. I took it because it epitomised the seaside of my childhood - I haven't seen a deckchair with a canopy in years - yet unenhanced it doesn't quite capture what I felt to be the vibrancy of the scene.
I feel this second version is a far truer capture of what I was experiencing when I took the photograph. I was experiencing a vibrant seaside resort in full swing on a sunny day in August not a faded out of season vibe. So I cropped the photo a little, bumped up the contrast, clarity and vibrance and enhanced the blue in the picture. I have chosen this example as it is easy to spot the difference between the two pictures. Often the digital enhancements I make are much more subtle, barely visible at all.
For me there is something about honesty here. If I am viewing a photograph in a guidebook or botanical guide, I want to be able to identify the plant or see the view as pictured. I don't want the removal of unsightly pylons to make the scene seem other than it really is. If, however, I am looking to hang a picture on my wall or buy it on a card I want it to look as good as it can, whilst preserving the essence of the subject. I don't for example see anything very wrong in bumping up the vibrancy of the blue on a sea scape, especially if you have seen the sea just that colour blue on a previous occasion. Nor do it see enhancing the colour of a flower to highlight its vibrancy an unforgivable sin, merely exaggerating its jewel-like appearance to give increased pleasure.
This is a photograph of a waterlily straight from the camera. Below is the digitally enhanced version. In addition to the usual adjustments to clarity and contrast etc I have taken down the exposure a little, cropped the image to give greater focus on the lily, and removed a small insect from a petal and a distracting blemish from a leaf - is this version less 'essence of lily' than the other? Not to my mind.
The old adage 'the camera doesn't lie' is of course the biggest lie of all. As a photographer you select the angle and perspective from which you take the photographs, you chose what to include and exclude. In post-processing you enter your digital darkroom to develop your photograph in the way which most resonates with your experience of the view or object that you have taken. It has always been thus.
The advent of Photoshop has however allowed the possibility of new dimensions to our photograpy by adding textures and blending photographs together. I have recently started a new Photoshop course called Fine-Art Grunge which takes photography to a whole new level. This is not about capturing the reality of what we see but rather using individual photographs as tools or matter to create art. I am still very much at the beginning of this journey but am loving it!
I took these photos in the silversmith's in Newport on Friday, they make the most amazing silver spoons. I used the photos I took to play with some of my techniques from the new course - here are the results.
This is a fairly minor adjustment with only a couple of layers - I got braver!
And the final one where I went a bit OTT with the number of layers and textures
Lots to learn on this course so watch this space!
In conclusion I believe that all forms of photography are valid and that none has moral superiority over another. We all have our individual realities and if several of us were asked to write a description of the same photograph we would all write something slightly different, highlighting the different features that spoke to us as individuals. The truth is perhaps that we all see life, pictures, and anything else you care to mention, through the lens of our own interests and experiences so that the viewing of the picture is a dynamic experience. Long live diversity!
I would love to hear your views on this topic so do leave a comment and get the debate going.