I was admiring a photo on Instagram the other day and tried to imagine how the photographer was talented enough to capture an entire family in silhouette in front of the most amazing sunset. Honestly, those photos make me doubt my photography skills a bit even though those type of images are not my style. It turned out the photographer was talented enough to capture the family in one take but the sunset was an overlay she added later. In other words, the photo, like many you see today, was an enhanced image and therefore an inaccurate view of reality.
Many times even those amazing sun flares we photographers swoon over are, in fact, fake and were never even in the original, out of camera, image. It is unfortunate that I know find myself looking at a photo, admiring it and the wondering “I wonder if that sunflare or those bubbles were actually there or if the photographer added them in Photoshop.”
Yes, I edit my photos, such as lowering highlights or adding some color, which is often needed in the RAW format I shoot in, but, no, I don’t add skies or elements that weren’t there in the first place. I won’t say I never have done this, because I have, once or twice. In fact, I recently edited a child out of a photo because he wasn’t mine and the image was stronger without him. I immediately felt guilty at having changed the reality of the moment and essentially erasing a person because they didn’t fit my idea of how I wanted to remember that moment.
The problem with all this editing and adding elements that were never there is photographers have only added to the world’s already warped idea of perfection. Little girls and boys today grow up believing they have to look a certain way because that’s how the women and men in the magazines look. If only all young girls and boys, and even women and men, understood that photos in the magazines are often manipulated to the point that who you see on the page is not who you would see if you were to bump into these women and men on the street.
I can’t even imagine how difficult life is for the person in the photograph because they are expected to always look like the woman or man the photo editor created.
Many photo editors are insanely talented and true artists. Their work and their ability to transform the photos a photographer has taken is to be commended. What I hope many will remember is that their final creation is not always reality.
I edit my photos by enhancing colors or converting to black and white and darkening and brightening shadows to bring my vision into focus. I very rarely remove or add elements (people, pets, bubbles, sunsets) that were or were not there. If I do I feel uneasy, as I mentioned above.
It isn’t that I believe my more minimalist style of editing makes me better than photographers and photo editors who take editing to the extreme. Not at all. It’s simply my style of photography. I believe both styles are art.
I choose to keep my images as true to reality as I can. Maybe that’s because I understand how harmful an altered perception of reality can be to our society as a whole, not only the youth. Maybe it’s also because I was trained as a journalist to report the truth, the good and bad, because by doing that you present an accurate account for historical purposes. I know that many reading this may scoff at the idea of journalists today being accurate in their reporting and I’ll leave my comments on that for another day because that is an entire blog post in itself.
Even though I prefer my images to be more documentary, I can’t deny the art behind the heavily edited or manipulated image, so I hope it doesn’t sound like I am condemning those images. Manipulating and changing a photograph can help the artist create their vision and I recognize and absolutely understand that. I do, however, see the unfortunate side affect of the viewer believing the image is real and I think that if a photograph has been manipulated that much the photographer or photo editor should be willing to say they manipulated the image.
The camera is much more than a recording apparatus, it is a medium via which messages reach us from another world.
This post is part of 99 days of blogging with Melissa Firman