Justified?

14th December 2012

I’m in the process of working through the section in DPP  ‘Reality and Truth’ and I’ve just had to alter two images.  The first is to remove dust motes and the other to repair lens flare and then reason is this justifiable.  I wrote the following to go into the exercise and decided that it would make an excellent entry for my Learning Log as well, why?  I believe that the question is important and that it will draw more attention to my critical thinking than being lost in an exercise within a project within a module.  So for those interested………

I’ve met photographers who’ve stated to me that they don’t believe in making any changes to the image they’ve made, and whatever they’ve got isn’t altered in any way, and that’s the way it should be for all images.  I’ve also read a thread where a student suggested that for an exercise where the images HAD to be as they came out of the camera, his interpretation was that because he was able to perform some processing alterations himself within the camera, whatever he produced was as the exercise specification asked for!

I don’t believe that either camp is correct.  It’s impossible to make an image that hasn’t been altered in some way, even before it leaves the camera.  In the days of film, the emulsion chosen for the job at hand was because of the properties of that emulsion with its regard to handling the light.  Every film manufacturer had ranges of film emulsions with different light handling properties and there were hundreds of different emulsions available to the photographer for different purposes.  In which case, it stands to reason, that the image had already been altered before it left the camera.  Digital cameras are no different.  Each manufacturer has a different sensor fitted to their models, and each model has a different algorithm for handling the data, RAW or .jpeg, so once again the image is altered before it even leaves the camera.

I think what a lot of photographers are mixing up is aesthetics with ethics.  Their aesthetic preferences, for the most part, want ‘natural’ images, but they consider it unethical, or in someway cheating, to alter what the camera presents as its version of a true rendition of the scene.  What they fail to take into account is that even by their simple choices of ISO, and picture style they’ve already made changes to what’s there, never mind what the camera itself actually does.

Alterations to images have always taken place, from the very first drawings in a cave where the rendition of a wild animal or human is, in some cases, only just recognisable.  It went much further in the 16th-17th century when portraits were deliberately altered to suit the artists’ preference or their patrons.  The famous cases of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves, and Queen Elizabeth I allegedly beheading an artist unfortunate enough to render her image as it really was.  So is it unethical to change images?  That’s a big can of worms and has to be boiled down to, what degree the individual is prepared to change an image, and to what degree will society at large accept changes to images, unless a full-scale debate on the huge subject of ethics in photography is to entered into, and I don’t have the time, space or in-depth knowledge to go there.

With regard to the images I’ve just processed, I don’t think anyone would comment on the removal of dust motes, but on the changes made to lens flare, it depends on how much of a purist the viewer is about what is acceptable.  Regardless of how skilled the software operator, the image was structurally altered.  The nature of the cloning process destroys whatever it covers and only a similarity of what was there can be left.  If that image is the only one made of that scene then I wouldn’t disagree with changing it as it hasn’t fundamentally changed anything important and I think decisions have to be made on a case by case basis, there is no blanket this is right and this is wrong.  On the other hand if there were other images of the scene without lens flare then there’s a different case for not doing it, …………it takes too b****y long!

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One Response to Justified?

  1. Catherine says:

    I’m very much in your camp on minimal changes. It’s a huge topic as you say though. I’m guessing that now you’ve written this and so thought in more depth around it all, you’ll be even more aware of the ethical/unethical issue in relation to some of the images you view.

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