The Straight Skinny

An excerpt from the Winter 2007 issue of the Michael Clark Photography Newsletter:

The more I look at recent photography trends the more I see Photoshop becoming an accepted reality in the photography market. I’m not saying Photoshop is bad or that manipulating your images is impure or anything. I see more and more images in magazines, ads and even newspapers that have been helped out in one way or another. The fact is that every image, digital or film, is manipulated in some way, shape or form. With film the film itself magically altered reality with deeply saturated colors and stark contrast built in. With digital the photographer basically takes a RAW image file and tries to make it look as the original scene did – albeit with a little more drama and warmer skin tones than really existed. And if that isn’t good enough then the image gets photoshop’ed (verb tense) to help it out. Is this a good thing? Is it sacrilege? Some photojournalists might think so but they do it too even though they would argue they don’t.

The truth is all photographs are skewed – images reveal the photographer’s view point just as much as a writer can imbue an article or a book with their own ideals. I can crop out the trash and poverty in an impoverished region or city and make it seem like paradise or I can focus on the poverty and change the entire message of the photograph. Photographs are like seeing the world through a keyhole. They only tell part of the story as everyone knows. But they can also bring worldwide attention to both good and bad in a way that few other mediums can.

Digital photography and the many methods we have of “developing” digital images has leveled the playing field to some degree so that everyone with the knowledge and a decent computer can alter their images to improve them – to make them more interesting and more arresting. When you get down to it, photographers are artists. And every artist loves to have a new tool to work with so they can create something they’ve never seen before. Photographers have had Photoshop for some time but the combination of Photoshop, digital cameras and the plethora of plug-ins and image manipulations tools are too tempting to ignore. In the end, it is all about the image. Save for the photojournalist – who should keep an image as it was shot for credibility sake – the rest of us are creative artists and any tools we can use to produce better work are an advantage.

The flip side of this is that images can be manipulated to look a million times better than they started out. I’ve looked at a few of the before and after images shot for huge commercial jobs and some of the before shots look like my Grandmother could have shot them with her point and shoot. It just goes to show you there are many ways to get a final image and many photographers aren’t doing all the work in-camera anymore.

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