Digital Manipulation Philosophy

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by charles barcellona (, Sep 28, 2003.

  1. Ok... a few threads down, I was taken with an image of a sunbather,
    and suggested, lightly so, that it would be an interesting picture if
    the chair were photoshop'd out, and the shadow arranged to suggest the
    person was "floating". Now, I wasn't saying, or suggesting that the
    image would be better, more valid or whatever, just interesting. Be
    it as it may, I have been looking at a lot of Jerry Uelsmann's work
    lately. Those not so enlightened ought to see his work, all done in
    wet darkrooms. He is the master of manipulation.

    This led to a brief discussion, some suggesting that:

    "then it would be a fake. This attitude makes me hate digital..."


    "I think it's ok to have digital manipulations but you must state it
    CLEARLY when you show the picture in public e.g photonet. "

    To this I add, why in the world would I want to annouce that I
    manipulated an image? Isn't the image good enough, or bad enough to
    stand on its own. Why is DIGITAL manipulation worse than wet or
    optical manipulation?

    My case being that the reality is always subject to the presentation
    and perception. To what degree do we then allow technical correction,
    after which point it becomes artistic manipulation?

    Is a K2 filter ok, but a 25A manipulation. Is 6 minutes of
    development ok, but 7 manipulation? If I darken the sky
    digitally, is it verboten, while doing the same via filter, or burning
    acceptable? How about the removal of unwanted "distractions" in an
    image. Been done in the wet darkroom. Do I need announce it? How
    about the inclusion of elements into a picture? I won a photo contest
    where I double exposed the moon shot with a 500mm lens onto the sky of
    a street scene taken with a 38mm lens (6x6 format folks). Nobody
    every questioned it, it was thought good, acceptable and probably to
    some a bit artsy. I did that in the camera, but what if I did it
    digitally - does that make the result less valid?

    Sorry to open a potential can of worms here.. but some of those
    responses got me seriously thinking.

    Many thanks!~
  2. i say do what you feel you gotta do, as far as 'art' photography is concerned. that stuff is a huge no-no in the photojournalism world however.....
  3. >>> How the artist presents the view ie technique/media/medium...may be interestign but at best is secondary to the statement the artist is making or sharing with an audience <<<

    My point exactly Peter. You stated it better than I.

    A friend told me earlier, to paraphrase WJClinton, and say "Its the IMAGE stupid!". Maybe more people would get it that way.
  4. This question is going to create a mess of a discussion because you avoid DEFINING terms. You are agruing (this is OK, that is manipulation) - against whom? <br>
    Basically, you can do whatever you wish and play according to your own rules.<br>
    If you accept someone else's rules, those are the boundaries. The discussion is impossible as long as you accept them. Someone will wish to redefind the boundaries next moment, though.<br>
    And one more possibility is to take borderline cases and explore limits<p>
    That summarizes all possible (and empty) discussion. In practice, invent your own rules and play the game as long as you like it. Then change your rules, and keep yourself amused. When encountering someone else's - follow those (if you wish your images to be accepted to contests, published as news, or advertisements, or sold as wedding photos) - you do not, you get kicked.
  5. As far as my commercial digital work goes, I don't do anything on the computer that I couldn't do in the darkroom.
  6. leave it to the philosopher to make things even more vague
  7. Journalism is journalism. What Uelsmann does isn't foisted off on anyone as reality. It's only HIS vision of a world he creates. Back in the 1960's nobody envisioned Photoshop. What Uelsmann did with his Bronica, followed by 3 enlargers in his darkroom, was new and unique. He mixed this with paper negative techniques for partial negative/positive images. I met him, was in his darkroom, and he expained to me what he was doing and how he accomplished it. He was an artist who chose photographic processes as his medium. The actual techniques he used are rather simple and easy to master. The ability to come up with the right images and combine them the way he does? A whole other ball of wax! Just look at some of the crap that gets ink jetted out of computers these days. 'Nuff said!
  8. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    Just look at some of the crap that gets ink jetted out of computers these days.
    No different than the crap you will see if you work in a minilab (I don't but my friends do.) It doesn't matter what the medium is.
  9. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    FWIW, all my images are creations of my own mind and have nothing to do with reality. This applies to the vast majority that have only been manipulated in the traditional darkroom sense and the work of the last few years that have been manipulated on the computer.

    There's a big difference between photographs and reality, no matter what way you look at it.
  10. Digital photography just can not have any integrity as a documentary medium as it stands. It has all the integrity of the artist's brush. Its use in photojournalism without the backup of negatives will give the image no more or less integrity than the journalist's words. People are coming to trust printed or published images as much as they trust cartoons, paintings or poetry.
  11. james, u make no sense at all...
  12. Jeff, I'd like to see one of your photographs that was purely a creation of your own mind.

  13. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator Staff Member

    Girl at the Water Cooler, Copyright 2002 Jeff Spirer
  14. Heh. Well, I'd still think it had a starting point with real objects. ;)

    Or did you paint all that stuff? In which case, it's not really a photograph anymore.
  15. I think it depends on what you want with the photograph.

    Documentary photographers in particular, but all photographers tend think that whatever fashion of photography they do is the only valid one. It would only be fake if you were trying to represent what you saw.

    And because we have different kinds of photographers here, I most certainly do think it is important to list out what kind of manipulations were done. A documentarian might not appreciate the photograph as much if it is manipulated. This is fine, we're going to appreciate what we are interested in the most.

    However, if the image never was about discribing what was in the scene, then their is absolutely no reason tht it would be fake... it was never meant to be real to start with.

    In one extreme is advertising. I work for an ad agency as a photographer and graphic artist. We take objects from one frame, place them in another, take objects from product promotion materials, stock photography, and the whole thing is fabricated to look absolutely perfect to sell the product. That is our intent, and I am not going to apologize for it being fake so long as it isn't severely falsely projecting the product to be something it is not. White lies though are certainly acceptable... and if you don't like that, complain to whoever is in charge of capitalism.

    Ahhhh... that word "Intent". Reminds me of college, and the intense fear of being asked "what's your intent anyway? i find this image entirely pointless. it's too muddled. you need to be clearer" eeeeep!

    Anyway, oh yes, intent. Every photographer needs one, it sets values and limitations on your work so that it isn't just all helter skelter. You don't need a super-rigid one, but whatever you do, don't deny others work just because it doesn't fit your own.

    To the person who complained about digital imaging quality- I am at the point now where in most cases, given good material you cannot tell what I have done. Recently I have removed straws from drinks and put them elsewhere, added shadows and glare and my co-workers who are most certainly trained eyes could not see what I had done when I asked if the general area looked funny. Just like anything, you have to be good at it. We printed it out on a fujitrans, I promiss you that you couldn't tell the difference, under a loupe, it has the same non-uniform grain as any other optical print.

    Also- just so you all know... in the "industry" you try to edit as little as possible. It is much cheaper, easier and more reliable to set up a few props properly than add/remove them in Photoshop. For my personal work, I prefer not to get into thinking "oh, I can photoshop it out" and I rarely even consider finished images that I couldn't print in the darkroom. I think there is something to photographing life as it is atleast in form, but still, I do "assist" the composition through selective color adjustments, but that's nothing new and I don't consider changing an orange wall to a slightly more yellow orange wall a manipulation but rather a correction.
  16. You can do whatever you want to your image and display it in public. But when viewers question you if PS was used if they detected gross manipulation, you jolly well own up if you did so and if your intention was not to lie/manipulate the audience. This way, you play within the rules . That's what I was saying in that previous thread and Charle's above quote of mine. I don't mean you need to state it CLEARLY the image was manipulated at first (i.e if noone ask).

    In the "cloned clouds doomed thread", those clowns did not own up even when questioned and evidence shown to them. That, is lying and is not acceptable in a public forum, IMO of course.

    SO, go on and make the chair disappear in A.K's picture if you need to express it that way, but be prepared to take the flak when the traditionalist comes your way.

    Damn, I think I have to agree with Bender on this one though..;)
  17. mike dixon

    mike dixon Moderator

    What if I show a "straight" photo that completely misrepresents the "truth" of a situation?

    The idea that manipulation is only a product of the computer or the darkroom is horribly naive.
  18. Mike, you mean like a certain crop or a certain composition? But really, what is the truth? Who defines where the truth lies.

    The photographer defines the truth?

    Perhaps we need a larger viewfinder then...
  19. mike dixon

    mike dixon Moderator

    Composition, perspective, subject, plane and depth of focus, timing, . . . there are dozens of ways for a skilled photographer to alter the message of the photo without doing any kind of post-exposure manipulation.
  20. The magic of photography, the REAL THRILL of it, is that it all happens in a fraction of a second in that litlle box. A negative that needs extra attention in the dark room is, to me, slightly less than one that is just perfect straight away. Painting, leaving stuff out, adding stuff with double exposures, PS; all very nice and convenient but a different thing altogether. Just a necessity if i have to deliver results, but not something i'm particularly proud of.
  21. Mike, I think what Travis is referring to is a case where the photographers specifically claimed they had "found" a certain arrangement of objects and their photograph was a faithful depiction of that arrangement in a single exposure, when in fact it was a photo made from multiple images.
  22. fg


    I am a commercial advertising photographer always requested to produce images
    with high impact. Art directors don't care of the approach and we take in post-
    production and we simply do whatever it takes to make the client pay big bucks for
    our productions. To have great images that really stand out, more than often, we
    "radically enhance" our images in Photoshop. And I mean "radically"! Still, our images
    still look like photograph and are considered as such.
  23. fg


    I am a commercial advertising photographer always requested to produce images
    with high impact. Art directors don't care of the approach and we take in post-
    production and we simply do whatever it takes to make the client pay big bucks for
    our productions. To have great images that really stand out, more than often, we
    "radically enhance" our images in Photoshop. And I mean "radically"! Still, our images
    still look like photograph and are considered as such...
  24. The real philosopher here is Grant. He said it all in one

    IMO, all photography begins with manipulation, even
    photojournalism. If we select B&W film and a 28mm lens we are
    minipulating because the eye doesn't see that way. Often we
    select such a lens to emphasize one thing and de-emphasize
    another. In short, we can manipulate an emotional reaction
    through the choices we make. The photographer decides. That
    is acceptable as being real rather than fantasy because the
    photographer didn't alter reality, just placed emphasis on an
    element for communicating a point of view or projecting an
    emotional insight.

    Commercial photography really falls into two catagories. Pure
    fantasy is accepted (legally) because it falls into the realm of
    commonly recognized hyperbole. Impact or communication of an
    abstract concept is the objective, not a strict representaion of
    truth. Despite what may believed, product representation is
    heavily scrutinized for legality. Every major ad or TV commercial
    is submitted to legal review by the client's legal council and also
    has to pass through Network legal Beagles. Long gone are the
    days of putting fillers in soup bowls to make it look as if there
    were more noodles than there really are. Some years ago the
    people shooting a Volvo commercial reinforced the roof on the
    sly, they were found out and Volvo paid a heavy price in terms of
    their reputation as a safe car. Heads rolled on that one.

    Art photography is what you want it to be. Grant nailed it.

    For the record, I've never cared for Jerry Uelsmann's work.
    Painters have done the same thing so much better. The fact that
    he does it all in the darkroom is meaningless to me.
  25. Mike Dixon it right, of course. And it all (again) is image image image image. It matters not a hill of beans how you got there. The image either works, or it does not.

    Travis... I really dont see why someone needs to fess up if asked. Again, its like asking "did you use a Leica?" or "was that shot on Tri-X?", or (for the painter) "Did you use a Grumbacher #7 Special for the clouds?". If the photographer (or paint on canvas artist) is a poor artisan, than it will show, if not, it won't, but either way its about the image.

    More input... this from another friend - "You're not a REAL photographer if you use photoshop". To that I respond, I guess all the wet plate / contact printing guys and gals are saying the same thing to those of us using "film".
  26. Charles, if someone asked me if I'd used a Leica for the image, and assuming I did, it'll be crazy of me to say I used a Nikon for the image. What for? Or I can keep quiet about my gear, which is still reasonable I guess.

    As long as you don't lie about things you present, it's perfectly ok to shut up or give the truth. IMO, of course.
  27. I think anyone can produce whatever they want in the world of art, whatever the medium. However, photography also has a documentary side to it, moreso than other artforms. More and more, I find that when I photograph a building I like, people are telling me that I should clone this or that out of the picture. It's like people are gradually losing not only the ability to distinguish between reality and idealised images, but the very desire to even make this distinction as well. If I photograph a building, I want to see it as it is, not as it should be in an idealized world. If I view someone else's photograph of something that exists in the real world, I want and expect to see it as it is, not as the photographer would like it to be. Similarly, if I watch a movie that I know has major components of the scene added in by digital imaging methods, I feel like I'm just watching a very sophisticated cartoon, even though the digitized elements may look very realistic. This is one reason why I think that, as production of everything visual moves more and more to digital methods, those that are done using traditional, analog methods will take on more importance and more value.
  28. BTW, this is the same as a piece of fine furniture handmade with only traditional tools has more value and is more desirable than an otherwise identical piece made using machines.
  29. I think the other thing you need to ask yourself is, why is it so important to know if an image is manipulated or not? What is stopping you from accepting it as it is presented.

    There must be a reason why people ask. It is really up to the presented to choose his response to such queries. Nothing in an image is right or wrong or absolute.
  30. the real art and life of it lies in the seeing....everything else is just extra baggage.....
  31. You guys are cracking me up.

    The very unique strength of photography is its descriptive visual power of the real physical world. You can focus on its limitations in portraying that reality, but by what other means can you better depict a given physical reality at a point in time?

    People keep photographs of their loved ones. Police use mug shots. Evidence enough that photographs have a connection to reality.
  32. Every photographer at some stage will have to answer this question and decide one way or another - its an age old dilemma. H.C.B. (to the best of my knowledge) did not manipulate his pictures at all or not very much. For W.E. Smith - one of the greatest photographer of all times - the picture was completed in the lab. He would LOVE photoshop if he was still alive.
  33. Charles

    Everything is acceptable art wise, for sure, but I think there is still a difference between photography that has (at least it used to have) a direct relation to the real world via the immutable laws of optics, and painting which can represent anything imagined or real. The difficulty of making nature conform to your whims was what always set photography apart as an art form in my opinion and actually to some degree what makes it interesting. But this is of course only my opinion. Of course there are plenty of good "photographs" that stand on their own merits and these are haevily manipulated. But the picture I commented on was quite clearly presented as a documentary shot in which it represented in some form the reality that was there: to manipulate the shot in the way you suggested seems to me gratuitous and uninteresting. As others have said there is the "pure art" approach and the "photography as some kind of documentary" approach. I am a follower of the latter sort as this is what interests me about it.
  34. So where do you draw the line? I think for commercial/paid work
    everything photoshop is fair game-It's their money, give them
    what they want. I must say though, for personal work I'm very
    impressed with everybody who can work without limitations. It
    must be comforting to know you can adjust everything, on every
    frame, at any time. But the very best time to get it right? That (for
    myself, at least) would be when you click the shutter. With the
    relative convenience of gross manipulation available to most
    photographers today, has it made better photographers? I don't
    think so. Arbitrariness is the pillow that smothers creativity, and
    what's better do you think- improving a mediocre frame on the
    computer at home, or picking up your camera and going back to
    try and get it right? How can you internalize mistakes if you don't
    make any? How can you grow if you don't make mistakes? By
    the very use of a camera for creative output you are agreeing to
    parameters, both physical and artistic. At the end of the day
    whether you know what you're doing or not is going to show in
    your work. Photoshop won't save you if you don't, and won't
    hinder you if you do.

  35. Gene Smith did manipulate, if you consider burning, dodging, and brightening highlights with potassium ferracyanide as "manipulation". I suppose it is, but nowhere near the level of adding or subtracting people from the picture, or replacing one background with another. Most of his work was done at a time when lenses and films were much slower than what we have today, and some of the graininess and contrast were artifacts of the tools and process available at the time. If you push process Tri-X 2 stops and want highlight detail AND shadow detail you'd better learn how to burn and dodge and brighten the highlight areas of the shadow parts of the photo.

    This "manipulation" is simply to compensate for the shortcomings of the tools and process. It was an attempt to portray reality as closely as possible. Today we have films with much higher speed and longer tonal scale than was available in the 1950's.
  36. HCB has admitted to "staging" events - is this any less an offense?
  37. the real art and life of it lies in the seeing....everything else is just extra baggage..... I'm going with Grant on this one.
  38. HCB has admitted to "staging" events - is this any less an offense?

    Yes, because his events did actually happen.
  39. Come on, lets be honest,who wants to sit in front of a computer screen all day adding one image to another. Boring or what! Seems a lot more fun , to me, to go out and find a decent photo in the first place. Okay, we manipulate the image to get the best out of it...but that's always been the story.
  40. Robin, sounds like they happened twice to me. Once was "for real", the other was a 100 percent manipulation of the scene to emulate the first experience as best as could be remembered, OR - OR - as the photographer wanted to portray it.

    To that point I add: The indispensable doll parts, usually a head only, or body missing a leg or arm, thrown to the mud by photographers in Vietnam during the 60's/70's war. The "pathos inducing doll shot" got to be cliche after a while. It NEARLY got to the point where you thought you were seeing the same doll over and over. Perhaps we were.
  41. Charles

    I think we both know that there are profound differences between the "Photoshop will make my picture good and interesting" and the "purist approach" for photos. The edges can be argued away as they can with all matters of taste and art. The first one is a valid "pure art" approach which is fine, but the second is the more typical approach favored by the majority of photographers, I suspect, amateur or professional - photography shows something direct about the world itself in a direct way. This seems to me to be the unique domain of photography and to me the interesting part of it. There is no point in arguing which is right or better - in the end one has to decide what is your own philosophy. Personally most of the time I don't much care for the first-mentioned approach.
  42. mike dixon

    mike dixon Moderator

    I don't care to argue with someone about what level of
    manipulation should be allowed in their photography. I will
    argue with those who assert that their images show a more
    truthful "reality" because they limit their manipulations to
    dodging, burning, adjusting contrast (and other basic darkroom
    techniques); selecting an angle of view thru lens choice and
    cropping; selecting a perspective from which to shoot; selecting
    the direction to point the camera; selecting the degree to which
    items will be in or out of focus; determining the contrast, tonal
    characteristics, size of grain (or dye clouds), and color palette
    through choice of film and processing; selecting which small
    fragment of time to record; and selecting which image to show.
    Even images which don't make use of post-exposure
    manipulation are about as faithful to "reality" as a made-for-TV
    movie "based on true events."
  43. Mike , so in your opinion, everything shot through a camera should be close to "untrue"?

    No offense, but Im trying to understand your last statement.
  44. mike dixon

    mike dixon Moderator

    No, not "should be untrue," but "is not neccessarily an accurate, unbiased, or even representative version of reality." A fundamental aspect of photography is that it represents a viewpoint. Even if the photographer makes a good-faith effort to fairly depict a scene, the photos will still reflect the biases of that photographer.
    A photograph isn't what was photographed. It's something else. It's a new fact." --Garry Winogrand
  45. Mike

    Despite what you say I doubt you really dispute what I have said. To say your photos bear no resemblance to any reality is absurd from what I have seen of most of your pics. Also since no brain and eye see the same anyway we are back where we started as who knows what each of us sees when we see the world? Anyway, I guess from Charles' question I take it that you would cheerfully digitally manipulate the hell out of your shots if you wanted to. That's fine: there is no arguing about taste, but it is not my philosophy of photography (not that you should care).
  46. Well you can see what a mess manipulation can start when you are in the publishing industry. A magazine like Sports Illustrated may not be held to the same rigorous standards as the NY Times but they were very concerned that a single manipulated photo "erodes the credibility of the magazine at a time when public trust in journalism is at an all-time low."
    Photo Manipulation Highlights Internal Feud At ‘SI’
    I think that manipulations erode the credibility of photography and photographers in general.
  47. there is no truth. there is only you, and what you make the truth.
  48. </I>italics off.<P>

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