With so many advances in technology over the years, it’s become easier than ever for photographers to influence how their images are portrayed as a final product. In today’s digital age, photographers have total control, from the moment they press the shutter, to that time when they upload the pictures to their website or have them printed for a client. Some photographers merely adjust the lighting or the colors to better reflect how the scene actually appeared when they were taking the picture. Others will touch up the subject, especially in portraits, removing unwanted blemishes or distracting objects. Some take it a step further and get a little more creative, deepening the blue in the sky, pumping up the contrast, or purposely blurring the background more than the camera originally captured. It’s not too uncommon to see HDR (High Dynamic Range) images plastered all over a photographer’s website.
When laypeople are asked to name their favorite photographers from the past, those that shot nearly all of their images with film, the usual suspects are listed: Ansel Adams, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Helmut Newton, Dorothea Lange, etc.. What most people don’t realize about film photographers, is that similar manipulation of their images took place. It’s how they were manipulated that differs. Today, photographers use software like Photoshop to alter their images from the original that comes out of the camera. Years ago, those same alterations were done in the darkroom, “dodging and burning” with chemicals, to achieve their desired effect. You don’t hear to many people making comments about those older pics with, “that photo was definitely darkroomed”. Yet, you can’t look at a picture taken today without someone lamenting, “I bet that was Photoshopped”. Truth be told, all photos that are published have been “Photoshopped” in some fashion or another.
The word “photography” comes from the Greek words “photos” and “graphé”, together meaning “drawing with light”. Taken literally, photography is the act of using light to create an image. But, what is meant by “drawing”? When one hears the word “draw”, one usually thinks of sketches or similar types of works of art. And that is what this all boils down to. Photography was meant to be an art. If photography was meant to be constrained to only portraying a scene exactly as the eye sees it, it wouldn’t be called photography. It would be called something more like “copygraphy” (which, incidentally, is an actual word, which means “to copy a letter with a hectograph”). The argument that photography is no longer photography when an image is altered with HDR, or other digital means, is akin to the days when abstract art was not considered art at all. Picasso created portraits where women’s ears were placed where a nose should be. Today, nobody argues that Picasso was not an artist. Hopefully, years from now, the same will hold true of the photographers of today and the images they’ve created.