My friend and editor Chris Robinson of Outdoor Photographer Magazine did a post on manipulation a few weeks ago to which I addressed a few thoughts of my own. Here is what I had to say:
It’s kind of funny that this post has come to the surface at this moment in time. My opinion has recently changed on this discussion due to a whole slew of new clients. And here is my thinking and the thinking of many of the editors I currently work with.
If it is created in camera and the history to that single capture can be traced, the sky is the limit to how you obtained that RAW file. Filters, flash, lenses of choice, pretty much whatever you deemed you needed at that moment in time to create that photograph, is okay. The initial image should make its statement from the beginning. No crops outside of the camera. Then from a processing perspective, adjustments are allowed to make your image presentable from your view point, but nothing should be added or taken away from that original composition with the exception of dust.
Some editors are even asking that you skip using Photoshop to make adjustments altogether and only utilize Lightroom/Camera Raw. I think that this might be a little extreme, but maybe they have personally been burned too many times and they have decided that drawing the line in the sand weeds out those who try to cover their tracks.
Digital cameras are designed to produce exposure and rendering in the middle of the field to all parties. This is definitely a design decision by the manufacturers and a realistic approach to the photographic process. Not everyone wants to shoot Velvia, nor does everyone want to shoot Portra. So if someone says that they don’t process their image, they obviously don’t know what they are doing or are flat out lying.
In this discussion though, the word manipulation is going to come up. And I am finding this word miss used in the photography industry more and more these days. Manipulation reflects a change in that original capture, and not one of minor adjustment. I think the definition of manipulation is when HDRs, multiple capture merges, and adds and subtractions occur to an image. This symbolizes the “untruth” in photography to me, and it is becoming a main reason for so many people always questioning the validity of any beautiful image released to the world. The word manipulate is a very bad swear word in the world of photography and the beginners need to add it or subtract it from their vocabulary accordingly.
Now I know that there are many who would argue HDR is not manipulation. I know this because this used to be my fight. My change is simple, clients like National Geographic, Powder Magazine, Bike Magazine, Sierra Club, and Audubon, Etc., do not accept this work. Thus, in an effort to never send something that deviates from my clients’ requests, I have decided to work wholeheartedly for the in-camera response. And I have to tell you that it has made me a much better photographer because of it.
Photography is a hard medium and artistic expression to really define. It captures reality to some extent, but it truly doesn’t go to the point of painting, nor to the point of what we witness seeing through our own eyes with everyday life. It is a sort of skewed reality. We adjust what our viewer sees from the point at which we pick a lens that is not 50mm. And even then, we can change our view point from there on what we decide to highlight in our composition. This whole discussion is an argument of grey areas, of reactionary dualities and ironies. And in as much an artistic personal expression as the medium itself. Though, I do find that standing behind the justification that it is art and I can do what ever I want, not quite as valid now.
Don’t get me wrong either. I still think HDR is cool. Merging exposures is a great way to solve light issues that were never solvable before and to those using them more power to you. I have decided to let go of it and purely create with my black box to what is standing before me in any given situation. Again, partially, because of my client base requests and partly because my life in the office has become simpler because of it.
Yes, I do process my images. I add contrast, color changes, saturation adjustments, curves, levels, dodges and burns, vignettes, highlight adjustments, shadow adjustments, global and selective tweaks. My RAW does show exactly what I was thinking, just on a much more muted palette and that is okay. It is not missing the star trails, or the tree in the corner that I just left in because I was too lazy to move the camera figuring I could crop it out later. Do I have those HDRs, merges, and Content Aware moves? Yes I do. And this is my final point, I tell those interested in using them that the image was worked that way. If they decide to use it at that point, THEY MADE THAT DECISION, not me.
What is your point of view on this topic? Let us know.