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Tuesday, July 3, 2007

What Makes a Real Photographer?

An interesting situation came up during my class for photographers recently. One photographer was showing her new work to the group, and we all loved one of her photos in particular. Then she admitted that she had Photoshopped the exact part we all loved so much.

It occurred to me that since Photoshop has become ubiquitous in our industry no one thinks twice about tweaking his or her images. If it’s contrast or sharpness I suppose that’s a minor thing, but when actual composition is changed with technology shouldn’t there be a disclaimer to that effect?

If I was a photo editor looking at a portfolio with several Photoshopped images (assuming I either couldn’t tell, or wasn’t savvy enough to realize it), and I assigned that photographer, how would I deal with the final untouched product, as it would not reflect the work I had seen?

Since magazines usually want raw files (they do their own retouching, and don’t want anything major done to a photographer’s files without prior approval), there would be no way to hide the difference. Anyone with technical prowess can now create a fantastic portfolio that has no basis in reality. So anyone can be a fantastic photographer.

What happens to reality then?

If every photo you take is tweaked (facial blemishes erased, awkward backgrounds changed, etc.) how can we trust not only what we are seeing, but also the ability of the photographer themselves?

It is supposedly common knowledge that in photojournalism, in news photography, one never works on their image. But then how do we explain the most recent incidents at the Toledo Blade, The New York Times and People magazine, where images were altered by either the photographer, or in the case of People, the director of photography. If this happens in the realm of sacred news reporting, why can’t magazine photographers (portraitists, still life shooters, etc.) feel they can make any changes they want to their own images?

Again I ask, what happens to reality?

We know by now that magazines alter images all the time—they clean up faces, make celebrities thinner, change clothing color, silhouette backgrounds, etc. But if individual photographers are now doing these things in order to present their work in what they think is it’s best light, there is no reality. Everyone will be made to look “perfect,” every moment will be cleaned up (after all, reality is messy and unpredictable), and we will continue to speed towards a time where no one sees themselves in the world anymore, because real people and real situations are never perfect.

What makes a true photographer is the ability to solve the creative problem of making an image compelling. If you can be a lousy shooter, figuring it can all be fixed in Photoshop, then who really is a photographer anymore? Digg it Facebook MySpace Slashdot Technorati Stumbleupon Twitter


Blogger Julia Z said...

How was the situation received in class by the fellow photographers?

February 04, 2008  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have never heard of photographers giving RAW files to the magazine. In that case, the magazine would be responsible for the color balance, contrast, and overall look of the image instead of the photographer and would be taking all creative control of the final product from the photographer. What magazines request RAW?

March 26, 2009  
Blogger Stella Kramer said...

Everyone was surprised. None of us expected to hear the image had been created in Photoshop.

April 04, 2009  
Blogger giodb said...

I ask another question : Is a Annie Leibovitz considered a photographer? Is Gursky? etc... That's called photography so they are photographers. I do not agree, but that what photography is about now. I call them Collage artists that use photography for their artistic means. I love their work by the way, and I think is great that photography expands it's means of expression by expanding the possibility of its use. I just think that for the photographers of reality the times are very hard. We will have to put a note saying " all of the pictures of this book/article/website weren't setup or digitally modified. Everything in the picture was actually there and nothing was taken out..." as nobody is putting the note "photoshop composed picture not corresponding to reality"

April 17, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just happened across this post and wanted to offer my opinion:

By choosing angles, content, exposure, depth of field, and by lighting a scene, aren't you already manipulating the "reality" of the situation before you even expose a frame??? That reality is changed even further during processing. Two photographers can shoot the same subject at the same time and end up with two very different versions of that reality. Photoshop is just another tool used to express the artists intent. The artists process is meaningless. In the end, the only thing that matters is your emotional connection to the picture in front of you.

Of course, I'm referring to photography as an art form. Photojournalism is a whole other animal.

April 17, 2009  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'after all, reality is messy and unpredictable' that is it! It is called business, nothing personal. You cannot make money for reality, can you? There has to be a news angle, worthiness content message, an advertiser to please... the consumer who has to be fooled into buying something. What a photographer needs is big balls and no debt, like that they can standup for their own and just say 'no'. The industry needs to take a good hard look at the 'clubs' that host photographers, for a membership fee, fill them with the hopes of winning their awards and thus putting their name in the limelight... Go where the photographers go to hangout 'network' and there you will find, mostly primarily money making bullshitters (ie society owners in business of handing out Qualifications with applicable fees, regardless if the panel was submitted ontime and within the given rules of industry standard. How can photographers expect to remain real with their work facing all this?

April 18, 2009  
Blogger Andrew Webb said...

You say that "anyone with technical prowess can create a fantastic portfolio", and I must disagree. If that were true, we retouchers would reign and photographers would all go out of business. Timing, composition, knowledge of the subject, an eye for the compelling, the unusual, the moving--without these things, folks with "technical prowess" can do nothing anyone would consider "fantastic".

Andrew Webb

April 19, 2009  
Anonymous Jenny said...

Such a great which One photographer was showing her new work to the group, and we all loved one of her photos in particular. Then she admitted that she had Photoshopped the exact part we all loved so much. Thanks for sharing this article.

March 11, 2012  

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