Oh, where was I? Yes, I was trying to dispel some myths about digital photography. Let me continue with a few more I heard at the panel discussion. These attacks on digital photography, by the way, are not based on first-hand experiences of the medium but rather on uninformed conversations about a medium. The belief must be, “if it is repeated enough times, people will believe them.” Of course, it worked for them! Let’s get on with it.
It’s too sharp!
Oh, my! Sorry for using a good lens. I was surprised to hear this comment from a photographer of stature, again based on a total lack of understanding of the digital medium. Luckily, another panelist spoke to this point in an indirect way. Thank you, Mr. Benjamin. Let us think about the “too sharp” criticism, is it the sharpness that is in question or is it the careless application of digital sharpening? A photographer who knows digital photography would have spoken to the latter. Now, if you compare the photographs taken decades ago to those taken today you will see definite differences in sharpness, contrast, color rendering, distortions of several sorts, etc. Today’s cameras, lenses, film, developing, paper, and yes, digital sensors are far better than what we used to have 30 years ago or more. I will not apologize for having a better-designed lens or a more capable camera. The same superior results are visible in slides, prints, and digital images, we are all better for these changes and we should stop blaming anything for it. If a careless person over sharpens the digital output, may his knife be dull forever!
It is manipulated, digital that is
Well, show me an un-manipulated photograph and we’ll call it a realistic sculpture (see Ron Mueck’s work among others that you will find by searching for “realistic sculpture”). Photography, at its very core, is a series of manipulations of reality. It takes a three-dimensional world and flattens it to two dimensions, thus manipulating perspective. Using different focal length lenses we can, and we do, change the type and amount of this manipulation. A photograph is recorded on a medium, film or digital. The choice of film with its response characteristics manipulates reality, Velvia 50 or 100, Provia or Superia, Kodachrome or Ektachrome, Agfachrome or Anscochrome. And of course, we must not forget the venerable fine art photography medium “black and white” which really manipulates reality by discarding color altogether, (we don’t need no stinkin’ color.) And where you have your film developed and the control conditions manipulate it, differentiating your roll from mine. When it comes to photographic prints, the avenues of manipulation are even more and varied. We dodge, burn-in, in varying amounts to boot. We breathe on the print while being developed to accelerate the development of that localized area, use two-developer processes with or without water bath in between; use or skip acid fix; turn the lights on for solarization, and the manipulations continue. This all happens for a good reason: the photographer has the image in her or his mind and is trying to communicate that to the viewer. More power to them!
People who argue on the basis of “manipulation” against digital photography are probably expressing their envy of the “manipulation” tools that digital photographers use and the clean smelling environment in which they can do their work. Incidentally, most of the so-called “manipulation” tools in digital photography come straight from the darkroom. I have stressed this point in my presentations on the digital workflow that those who are good at darkroom workflow will understand “digital manipulation” better. It is a better dodging, burning, localized processing, spotting tool than the wet darkroom counterparts.
No, friends, we cannot have, and will never have “un-manipulated photographs”. This is a dead horse and please stop beating it.
May you have the best medium!