Thursday, November 14, 2013

What Is "Pure Photography" - Or, Is Photoshop Bad?

Nikon recently announced their new Df camera, and created a buzz with their "pure photography" promo. Since then I've heard several discussions on what "pure photography" is.

Some people would define "pure photography" as straight photography, which is using the absolute minimum post-processing (whether film or digital) as practical. This is a philosophy that dates back over 125 years, and some very successful photographers have adhered to it.
A Light In The Dark - Tehachapi, California
Aside from converting to monochrome, only minor editing was done to this image.
Others will say that "pure photography" is vision, and point out that manipulation happens well before the shutter is even opened. Pure photography is making art.

On one hand you have a group that basically believes that Photoshop and digital manipulation in general is bad. On the other hand you have a group that embraces Photoshop and digital manipulation as long as it is a part of the photographer's vision and a part of the art process.
Inorganic Boy - Palmdale, California
This double exposure received some pretty significant post-processing.
I personally believe that to some degree both are correct. 

You must have vision in order to create successful photographs, and most often manipulation (whether digital or in the dark room) is required to fulfill that vision. Sometimes it is not required, but I find that is rarely the case. Besides, manipulation really does (or should) happen prior to opening the shutter, so why is it acceptable then but not after? 
One Circle - Tehachapi, California
Aside from a moderate increase in color saturation and contrast, this image was not significantly edited. 
Albert Einstein said, "Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one." What this means is that reality is whatever one makes it. You've probably heard that "photographs never lie" but actually photographs always lie (or, at least, they don't speak the truth). There is a bias in each image. So I find the idea of "pure photography" as straight photography a bit absurd.

At the same time, I feel that in the digital age manipulation has become so easy and/or accessible that it is often over done. Sometimes photographers manipulate so much that they no longer have a photograph, but a graphic design or digital animation. You can argue that graphic design is still art, which I agree with, but some honesty on the part of the artist would be nice. If you are a graphic designer, don't call yourself a photographer.
Double Negative - Tehachapi, California
This photograph was reversed into a "negative" image, converted to monochrome, and adjusted in some other ways using post-processing software.
Restraint is good. My opinion is that digital manipulation is great just as long as it is the minimum that the image requires to attain the photographer's vision. There is an obscure grey line between too much and just enough. As the saying goes, moderation is a truly wise ideal.

Like I said, the line between just enough and too much post-processing is obscure and grey. The answer won't be the same for everybody. It won't be the same for every image. You'll have to figure out for yourself what is right for you and the photograph in question. Let the artist in you decide.

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