I’ve had some discussions recently over authenticity in photographs. What I mean by this is true-to-life representations in photos.
It’s a common misconception is that “straight-off-the-camera” equals an exact representation of what the eye would have seen. Not so for anyone that’s ever done any amount of photography.
It’s become ever more noticeable with the screen on the back of my iPhone that shows an instant picture of what the camera has taken, or not taken, as is more often the case.
My Photographic Experiences
My first half decent camera was a Canon Ixus with a film cartridge. It was selectable 3 different modes for different aspect ratios. Occasionally I’d get true to life photos off it, but a great deal of the time the shots would be overexposed, underexposed, sun-hazed or blurry (and probably a bunch of other problems I don’t know the technical terms for). Also I found who processed the film and what photographic paper they used made a difference. My general experience was the Fuji stuff didn’t give as nice photos, and Kodak was the best. In the end all my film was posted to the same lab who always used Kodak paper and gave the best shots. They were also relatively inexpensive, so a bonus.
Since then I’ve had two Canon digitals and a Nikon digital, all of which I call were “hand cameras”, that is it’s lightweight and fits in the palm of your hand. Each of these cameras had similar issues for getting an accurate representation of real life. Best results have been and probably always will be in good daylight, without too much direct sunlight. I’m now using my iPhone 4s, because it’s with me all the time anyway.
I would love to have a ultra-portable camera that worked in all light conditions, and produced an accurate representation every time I snap a shot. But my experience is that it’s actually relatively rarely that the camera doesn’t lie. The cost and the scale of equipment needed to get accurate photos every time is beyond me. I don’t want to carry a bag of lenses and a tripod with me everywhere I go – tens of kilos of equipment. And I don’t have the money to spend £3000-£5000 necessary to get a pro/semi-pro kit.
It’s quite exasperating speaking to someone who has decided that Photoshop is evil, period. People are entitled to hold their opinions, even in the face of expertise which says otherwise, up to them. Personally Photoshop has enabled me to make my photos more not less true to life and brought life to photos that would otherwise have been discarded.
Someone described Photoshop as a modern day darkroom, and that’s pretty much how I see it.
Sure I’ve seen the plastic barbie-doll shots that have been obliterated of anything authentic. I’m sure there a whole industry of technicians that edit shots of women to make them look “beautiful”. There was a big deal about it recently in popular media in the US, a model came clean about her husband Photoshopping her photos.
Just because a tool can be used for “bad” purposes doesn’t mean that it’s “bad” per se. Any technology can be used as well as abused. Einstein’s theory of relativity wasn’t developed for making weapons, but was used for that purpose.
Also another someone said it’s art, and my art is my art, and it’s f*** all to do with someone else how I do it. I think that’s also a good route to go.
The above contact sheet is one of the first panorama that I published on the DonCharisma.org blog. I was relatively inexperienced when I shooting it. Direct sunlight causing backlighting in the shot is a common problem. Exposure is done semi-automatically on the iPhone, so hard to avoid this problem. One has to use a quick shutter speed because of the amount of light coming into the camera. This means silhouetting often occurs, and this isn’t what the subject (the Buddha) looked like to me. Nothing like it in fact. The alternative with a longer shutter speed is a completely washed out image which doesn’t look anything like the real thing either.
My Panorama software PTGui does some fixing of exposures (see photo IMG_0989 Panorama.jpg raw out of the software). But actually backlit images are permanently “damaged”, it’s incredibly hard to get the shot back to “real life” even with Photoshop. I’ve tried very hard to fix these issues, but the colours never look quite right and they are always grainy.
The final photo IMG_0989 Panorama_cropped.jpg is the best that I could do at the time. Essentially I’ve taken photos that were headed for the recycle bin and made them into something that’s pretty nice to look at. More than that in fact I’ve taken a shot that wasn’t technically possible with my equipment from my vantage point. For me this is alchemy not evil.
My Conclusions – Alchemy not Evil
To say “it’s been Photoshopped” and mean that it’s categorically fake, is a tad naive, bordering on uninformed and touching on ignorant. Photoshop and tools like it are a blessing to photographers, and able amateurs, just the same as the technologies employed in dark rooms.
Straight-off-the-camera has nothing to do with authenticity, all one is exposing is the deficiencies in the camera, it’s technology and the skill of the photographer. Post production is entirely necessary unless one has very deep pockets for pro equipment and enough money to pay a “caddy” to carry it everywhere – Not me.
Polite critics can be a bonus, they can inspire thought and sometimes change. However I think the critic has to approach the situation with the same open mind, otherwise I loose interest very quickly in any extended dialogue. Overly opinionated people who are stuck in their ideas probably better talking to themselves anyway 🙂
As I’ve said already, for me Photoshop is alchemy not evil. Photoshop is my favourite tool for performing this alchemy, but beauty will always be in the eye of the beholder.
Notes for commenters:
Comments are invited. BUT you are reminded that this is a public blog and you are also reminded to think before you press the “post comment” button.
Good manners are a mark of a charismatic person – so please keep comments civil, non-argumentative, constructive and related, or they will be moderated. If you feel you can’t comply, press the “unfollow” button and/or refrain from commenting.
I read ALL comments but can’t always reply. I will comment if I think there’s something that I can add to what you’ve said. I do delete without notice comments that don’t follow rules above. For persistent offenders I will ignore you permanently and/or report you.
Most decent people already know how to behave respectfully. Thank you for your co-operation on the above.
Warm regards, Don Charisma