It’s “Guest Blog Wednesday” featuring Peter Eastway!

What Is Photographic Reality?


I’ve just returned from an expedition to Antarctica where the landscapes and wildlife simply blew my mind. Towering snow-covered peaks dropping vertically into tormented, white-capped seas; tens of thousands of penguins crowded onto small islets surrounded by icebergs; and the deepest, richest ultramarine blue you can imagine locked under tons of glacial snow. It was a reality far stronger than anything I have seen before.


The passengers on board had a wide variety of backgrounds, from photographers to artists, naturalists to scientists, doctors to lawyers. On the voyage south, I showed them my photography. The images were taken with a camera, but created in Photoshop. Some passengers loved them. Others did not, concerned that my photographs were not true reflections of reality. Indeed, they asked if they were really ‘photographs’.

Here’s an example of what I showed them

Most readers of this blog will be pretty comfortable with what can be achieved in Photoshop. We think nothing of adding in a new sky or taking out an unwanted lamp post, yet this is probably the exception rather than the rule. Most of my images only had subtle adjustments using curves or hue/saturation, but they were applied in a way that transformed the original capture. The base subject matter was the same, but light and colour were applied to create added drama, atmosphere and impact.

Is this wrong?

It seems that many people who are not photographers are concerned about how easily we can change a camera’s definition of reality. Why this is a concern intrigues me. I mean, photographers have been dropping in better skies and removing unwanted lamp posts for over one hundred years. Frank Hurley is famous for his black and white Antarctica photographs taken in the early 1900s on glass plates, but few know that he was also the master of double exposures and image manipulation far more extensive than the examples of my work shown on board ship.

Frank Hurley created his images in a darkroom, away from prying eyes, and people didn’t know that changes had been made. Few understood the process and most just accepted the images as they were. Today, those same processes when done with Photoshop are being questioned by the masses who now understand how easy it is to manipulate a photograph. To manipulate reality.

In some contexts, it’s important to know this is a straight shot; in an art context whether it is or isn’t doesn’t really come into it.

For a news, documentary or nature photographer, this is an important issue. If we tell people our photographs are true records, then it isn’t right to move things around or change the reality that was recorded because people have an expectation that what they are seeing is real. I could understand the naturalists on board ship worrying that I might exercise digital skulduggery.

But I wasn’t making penguins fly or giving an orca three eyes. All I was doing was recreating what I experienced.

So what is photographic reality? Is the exposure we make in our camera more ‘accurate’ than an image we have worked upon in Photoshop?

The ice is amazing, but the straight capture in flat light struggles to show the texture which can be clearly seen with the naked eye. A little invisible Photoshop helps.

I can remember clearly the aquamarine blues of the icebergs as we cruised around them in our zodiacs, looking for the best angles, yet these same colours were not seen in my raw files using the default settings. My memory of what I saw is different to the electronically captured image recorded by my camera, but by increasing the contrast in my files using Photoshop I was able to better reproduce what I saw. Is this okay? Is it still reality?

Some passengers were doubtful, yet if I changed their cameras to capture a higher contrast JPEG, they felt this would be acceptable because the image came directly from the camera. Does this mean the camera manufacturers are the arbiters of ‘correct reality’?

As photographers, we know the limitations of our cameras. Issues like dynamic range and colour spaces have a huge impact on the camera’s ability to accurately record a scene. We also know that different cameras record tones and colour differently – just compare the high quality captures of the current generation of digital cameras with older cameras and you’ll know what I mean.

And non-photographers are forgetting or don’t know that in the days of film a photo lab carefully adjusted the density and colour balance of their negatives before producing a print.

The deep blues below the surface of the water were wonderful to behold – no colour adjustment needed for this photo, just an increase in contrast to bring out the blues.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and because everyone knows how powerful Photoshop and other editing programs can be, there is a fear that any use of Photoshop in some way affects the reality of the image. The problem is that they don’t really know how much Photoshop manipulation is okay. When do you cross the line between reality and interpretation? Most people can’t answer this question, so they say if the image comes directly out of the camera, then it must be okay.

The mountains in Antarctica are high. Very high, but if you use a wide-angle lens they lose height in the resulting photograph. I find that a little upward stretching in Photoshop can better show exactly how high the mountains appear when you’re standing there, but this would be unacceptable. So what happens if I attach Canon’s 17mm TSE perspective control lens, shift the lens down and point it upwards. Now my mountains are towering over my head and the effect is optical. Is this okay?

South Georgia Island is amazing, but I needed to use the Canon 17mm TSE shift lens to accentuate the height of the peaks.

Of course not! One form of distortion is just as bad as another, yet the very act of taking a photograph distorts reality. Your choice of lens focal length, which direction you point your camera and when you choose to press the shutter button all distort reality because we limit the record to 1/125 of a second.

Photography is not a perfect representation of reality, rather a means of communication or a form of expression.

Today, Photoshop is such an integral part of photography that I can no longer separate the processes. Capture and post-production are two parts of a single process that turns an idea into a photograph. And personally I think post-production is essential because no matter how good cameras become, they can’t create. Someone needs to point the camera and press the shutter, and after capture, that same someone can choose to enhance or modify the result in any way he or she pleases. It is a choice.

I like to think of my post-production technique as being ‘invisible Photoshop’. The trained eye will know the image has been enhanced, but it should not be obvious exactly how or where. It should bear a strong resemblance to reality, strong enough to fool people into believing it is reality.

How much post-production you apply to your images depends on the context in which you wish to show them. For news and nature photography, less Photoshop is allowed, but for art or pictorial photography, why should there be any limits?

Wildlife photographs of these orca are true in all senses, except the colour has been enhanced a little closer to what I remember.

There are always debates in photography and I find it interesting that now it is the non-photographers who are the most conservative. Yet it is far too late to be concerned because photography has never been a true representation of reality anyway!

Peter Eastway is an Australian professional photographer, an AIPP Grand Master of Photography, and the co-publisher of several Australian photography magazines including Better Photography, Better Photoshop Techniques and Better Digital Camera. You can see his portfolio at and more about his Photoshop technique at

  1. I love what you have done. good philosophical reasoning on the issue.

    I spent 1957 in Antarctica during the International Geophysical Year. I have recently digitized my hundreds of faded Ektachrome slides from the trip. You have inspired me to get to work on them and really bring them back to life.

    By the way, the photos of ice I see in Antarctica are quite different from what I saw when I was there. The ice is now often rounded by melting. I saw none of that in 1957.

  2. Thank you so much Peter for your honest approach to what seems is going to be a constant battle. You nailed it on the head when you said; “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing…” Refreshing.

  3. I think you have expressed your self well on this hot topic. I think certain types of photographers are bound by ethics and standards in thier respective titles but there is that imaginary line to not cross. Enhancing color seems to be ok about anywhere but I think all photographers who submit materials for publication or even contest should disclaim alteration and where taken. Honesty is always the best policy. I know it must be a proud acomplishment to shoot the Antartic! Great job.

  4. I like those non-photographer people: I even have some as friends. But to have an open conversation regarding photoshop and its relationship with photography–impossible. Quite disappointing really, especially when an image and the post processing of the image can mean so much to me emotionally, and I cannot share my excitement with them without ridicule and negative criticism.

  5. Fantastic guest blog. You totally hit the nail on the head and I totally agree with you in your views about photography/photoshop and your approach to post production and “altering” photographs and through them altering reality. Great read.


  6. I’ve blogged several times on the same subject. Intent is one of the biggest arbiters of what is and isn’t real. The photojournalist wants the scrap of debris left in the scene, the artist doesn’t. If the intent is to “portray the reality of the moment” you live under one set of rules. If the intent is to “express the reality of the moment” it’s a completely different sets of “rules”.

    Nice discussion of the ying and yang of what makes an image real.

  7. Nice guest blog. A topic that always has been having lot of debate. I think a little Hue saturation and color edit works good. If you not changing too much in the image from what you have clicked, I really feel it’s okay.

    Everyone does it. Scott Kelby, has a book in PS tricks and editing photographs as well :)

  8. I’ve read Trey Ratcliff use the same arguement about his HDR photos. He makes them because that is how he remembered/saw the scene. In his case I can only say he should have gone to SpecSavers, but I fundamentally agree. For art you can go as wild as you like, you are basically trying to cause a reaction and make yourself or someone feel something about the image.
    I think a lot of the objections come for a belief that somehow it’s cheating and you can produce a great image with little skill. While it’s certainly true you can improve a flawed shot fairly easily by “photoshopping” it I think being able to do post production like this greatly increases the range and quality of images that can be made and basically raises the bar.
    So rather than reducing the skill required to produce the best images it means photographers have to master a whole new range of skills.

  9. Great guest blog. Great food for thought as well. I totally loved the slideshow. It made me go from “nice picture” to “uh oh, I think you messed it up” to “SWEET” when I saw the end result. :-)

    In the end I just love to look at pretty pictures. Sometimes I know it may not be the ‘true reality’, but sometimes I just want to believe it is.

  10. Anything beyond a pinhole camera (and probably that as well) involves manipulation of some sort. This argument goes nowhere but in circles…every digital capture is manipulated by a computer…the camera!

    Might be fun to discuss and debate but …what is the point?

    Great guest post and love your work…fantastic!!!

  11. Wonderful post! I think there is still a serious stigma attached to ‘photoshopping’, non-photog people see it as forgery, fraud, etc., while we photographers see it merely as an extension of the camera. By the way, does anybody else find it hilarious that people criticize photoshop by saying anyone can do it, but then if you sit them down in front of it they have a complete mental breakdown trying to do the smallest tasks.

  12. Photography is also an art form. So why is it acceptable for painters like Picasso to run away with reality, and not for photographers? I use Viveza 2 to spice up the colours and skies because the usually look a bit dull. With my eyes I see a clear blue sky with bright white contrasting clouds, so why shouldn’t I have this in my photos? It seems weird to me to have a problem with this….

    Perhaps the difficulty people are having with photoshop has to do with the public discussion of image manipulation in the publishing world? With the perfect looking models on every magazie cover.

  13. ” strong enough to fool people into believing it is reality.”

    I think that statement is the underlying stigma attached to “photoshopping”. People are afraid of being fools and being fooled. Most of us fear what we do not understand, to the non-photographer or photoshop pro, it is witchcraft! We would have been burned at the stake once upon a time.

    Strange though how many clients I do work for that bring in photos for restoration or “enhancement” that believe PS is the best thing ever. I never hear any of these complaints from them.

    A comment that always sticks in my head from a Photography / Camera reviewer that I have come to dislike in recent times… ” crap in.. crap out, you can’t polish a turd” referring to if it’s a bad photo to start with it will still be crap no matter how much PS (polish) you apply.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Peter.

  14. So true…a common problem for all digital photographers…and that is the term i like to use for my self….”Digital Photographer”….It seems that people can’t understand,even if you try to explain it with words that you use for a 5 years old child, that photoshop is the dark room of new age…and i can’t remember a photographer in the history of Wordwide photography,without a dark room….I got tired to explain any time i shot HDR, and answer questions like “Photoshop?”…………”Superficial knowledge is worst than ingorance” a greek philosopher said…..

    Thank you Peter for your fantastic post…

  15. I think you hit the nail on the head – people didn’t know about it in the olden days and so they assume that analog photography is more pure and less subject to manipulation. Apparently they haven’t seen the USSR photos where people were “photoshopped” out when Stalin or Lenin no longer approved of them.

    You brought up the great subject of how focal length affects the photo and yet no one complains. (Again, it’s a matter of they don’t know that’s a type of manipulation and that’s why they don’t protest vs photoshop) Another way in which we manipulate photos: the choice of lighting and where it comes from in a controlled shoot can REALLY change the feel of a shot.

  16. I am from the old school (relative to my age) and as such prefer that photographic images, be they analog or digital, experience minimal manipulation or transformation. I want to connect with the reality of a landscape or event rather than the contrivance resulting from a desire to create the commercial, art-labeled image. I recognize that there are ways to manipulate an image before the picture is taken and that can blunt the perceived reality. However, the heavy-handed Photoshop picture created to portray a mental concept is not my cup of tea based upon personal standards. They may be nice to look at, but I know they are not “real” to my way of thinking, so that I give them a quick glance and move on. Too many years of looking at magazine advertisements have jaded my tolerance for the manipulated image.

  17. I must admit, I don’t get it when ‘Rusty Tripod’ refers to old-school photography like manipulation never happened in the darkroom. Photographers have been dodging, burning and manipulating prints in the darkroom for years, Photoshop is only the modern extension of this, although granted we now have far more control and options than ever before. How far you go is down to personal taste and I personally don’t like overdone HDR, for example, but I liked Peter’s work and while it is obviously heavily processed I loved the way the slideshow went through different phases of processing and effects.

  18. My approach to this topic is always simple: disclosure. If I take a picture of a lion, I tell people it’s from a zoo. If I remove a branch I’ll readily tell someone I did it. And if someone asks if I did something, I tell them what I did. So far that’s worked pretty well.

    I used to be in the “must represent reality” sect but changed some years back when I realized that reality is usually boring in pictures. :)

  19. Amen to that!

    I’ve been confronted many times by people (I don’t even know) who find my work to be ‘somewhat unreal’ (
    If I explain to them that this is the look I wanted to achieve beforehand, they often dismiss that idea as being ‘altering reality’.
    Your post contains my views/feelings on the use of PS exactly.

    So thank you!
    now I can simply redirect those people to this post…


  20. Fantastic images! Certainly getting it right in the camera at the point of click is the ultimate goal, but manipulating an image in post to better re-create what was seen, in my opinion, is acceptable as long as the goal is to stay true to the vision of the photograph. Excellent insight Peter on an interesting topic!

  21. I think that the keen argument that Peter brings up is photography for art (all manipulations are allowed) and photography for documentation (news, history, factual recording, limited manipulation allowed).

    If you change the hue, saturation, or exposure you are not altering the photo, just the appearance of the photo. I equate that to putting on make-up, changing the lighting, using a novel lens, or another physical appearance change. When you add (or subtract) missile launches say, and push that out as news you’ve changed something more fundamental about the “image”.

    Also the ignorance of the public needs to be taken into account. As Arthur C. Clark said (and i paraphrase) “any significant technology is indistinguishable from magic.” As one artist commented above (kramon) if you are willing to admit magic was done for your art people will be more willing to accept it. No one thought that Dali was really “seeing” melted objects, they accepted his “magic” vision for what it was, art.

    I enjoyed the post very much. Thanks Scott.

  22. “Is it real or is it Memorex?”

    Nicely done Mr. Eastway.

    I guess I’ll never understand the ‘purist’ mentality that an image should not be ‘altered’ in any way shape or form. More importantly, I dont think the ‘purists’ understand their own mentality either…

    By simply chosing (consciously or not) a location from which to take the photograph the photog is imposing constraint on the image and thereby altering what is perceived by the viewer of the image. This is the essence of story telling. It begins when the photog decides what to leave in the story and what to exclude. Lens selection, filters, media (film/digital), camera format, exposure, lighting… (etc.) all influence the story as well. Lighting can be the greatest deciever of all – hard/soft, warm/cool, intensity, spread, placement (etc)… all can dramatically inlfuence the ‘reality’ of an image. Scott Kelby had a great post on that topic a few months back.

    My point is, this is what makes photography so great and powerful – YOU decide what story you want to tell and how to tell it – by altering the ‘reality’ as you see fit.

    Does an element add to the story? If not, remove it (either change camera location or angle of view at the time of capture, crop the image, or digitally remove the element in post). EVERY photog does one of those actions to influence an image every time the make an image, whether they are PJs or fine art photogs.

    My personal goal is to convey an image as I percieved it – to make people see WHY I made the image in the first place. Whether that means highlighting or removing elements is irrelevant.

  23. Very well explained.

    The fundamental truth – there is no truth in photography. Can’t be – no process, analog or digital – can present the world as the human eye sees ir.

    There can only be truth in photographers./

    1. You focus on the essential issue…trust in the photographer. The question, in my mind begins with whether the photographer “captured an image” (and made various adjustments to it to emphasize some aspect of it or “correct” it to better depict what is seen by the eye or even to treat it as a painter would to select certain elements that are pleasing. Contrast this with images which are “created” but never existed in nature (which painters frequently do).

      The images (in the video) of the Nemrut Dagi stone heads were disturbing. They were obviously “not real”, perhaps even surreal, and made me wonder what else was not. I suppose that it is a matter of taste, but that one was not to my liking even though I find the skills used to create it interesting.

      The issue of trust is one which has affected the photojournalism world with revelations that some published images were created to depict something other than what had happened or adjusting skin tone (or other aspects of an image) to make the image of the subject more threatening or whatever.

      Then there is the matter of political “speech” by way of images such as the “Joker” images that were in the news in recent times.

      I suppose it is a little like the practice of someone in a Photoshop group who used to put a blinking third eye in the middle of the forehead of a portrait to illustrate the point that there things that can be done, but should not be. (As opposed to the commonly accepted practice of airbrushing or photoshopping out a wart, scar, or wrinkles to present a more pleasing portrait for the client.)

      I think this is a question which, if asked of a hundred people, would generate at least several hundred answers.

  24. Wow! Such a thoughtful topic. Peter you fleshed out the subject very well. “Manipulation” is really so subjective and who is to draw the line. I mean, even choosing when to click the shutter is in a way manipulation, picking this instant and not the next one or the one before. Depending on the scene, when the shutter clicks could have an important affect (manipulation?) on the final image that others see. Likewise, is manipulation of the image to bring it back to more closely represent what you saw bad or wrong? I believe that is what Ansel Adams did for most of his images. I don’t see this controversy going away for some time. Thanks for the insights.

  25. Peter, this was the best discussion I’ve read about this never ending argument. Trey Ratcliff also does a good job explaining it. I had the exact same experience you did, after I returned from a trip to the Bering Sea and Eastern Siberia. I wanted to convey to others the excitement and mood I remembered, given my camera’s capability to capture it digitally, and my often incorrect application of exposure, ISO, etc. So, Lightroom can to my rescue, just as did the dodging and burning tools I once used, over and over, by hand in the darkroom. Too many critics of our work have no idea of our technical past. But, maybe it’s more a reflection of the cynical nature of the world today. Sadly.

  26. “Over processed”, “manipulated”,”fixed”, I keep hearing all of this and it’s very disturbing.
    I look at this work as enhancements and capturing beauty in it’s true form.
    I often think of a rainbow when capturing images because the colors are all there the tools we use are made to capture and enhance what we see and how we see them.
    Lamp posts aren’t natural, someone put them there. Makeup is not natural, they are enhancements.You may not like the lamp but someone else may love it.
    I watched the slide show and didn’t think wow those images are “fixed” I thought wow at some point the sun may have shined that way on that image or the night rolled in or the season changed.
    The negative connotations come from people that don’t use the tools they are supposed to be used.
    If all of this is so fixed why do we create the tools in the first place.
    Images capture and tell stories the way the artist wants them to be told.
    Just saying.
    Great post thanks for sharing.

  27. Great job on the post and great photos too!

    For me the line is based upon what looks real to me. Some ‘photos’ do not look like photos at all, but art. Yes, photography is art too. But camera art, not “artist’ art. Artists can draw, paint, etc. Photoshoppers that overprocess an image (my opinion) are artists, not photographers. I agree with tweaking colors, sharpening a bit. Total makeovers to me belong in another category. Some ‘photography’ today might have looked more real to me back in my 1970’s era college days! :-)

    Your points are very well presented and I enjoyed your post! Yes, the line blurs…..

  28. People tend to think their memories are perfect, literal, factual recollections of past events. They are not. Our memories behave much more like Peter’s image processing than they do with unadulterated snapshots. Our memories “lie” to us all the time.

    Who’s to say what is a “honest” photo? The computer in a camera (or the photographer) that decides what the exposure should be? Is shooting in black and white “honest” since the world is in color? There are dozens of settings on digital cameras. Who decides what combination is legitimate and which are illegitimate.

    There are two types of photography: journalistic and everything else. Not all photography is about recording news and events.

    I have no patients for the religious arguments of post processing. My images are mine; my art. Like it or hate it, but don’t call it illegitimate.

  29. I work as a death investigator ( I know what the crap has that got to do with this) and a few years ago when agencies began to convert to digital this subject was hashed out in court. The end result was that enhancing a photo is different from altering content BUT any enhancement has to be disclosed and the RAW file must be presented with evidence. I guess it all depends on what type of photography you are doing. I’ve heard of journalists fired and contest applicants rejected for lying about thier work. The rest of us can just be creative!

  30. Ah, finally someone who understands and says it in a fairly public place. I’ve considered writing something very long and similarly argued as you just did, but I have no public voice and it would have been in a comment somewhere that no-one would have read because of its length. So thank you again.

    And I especially thank you for pointing the inconsistencies in berating someone for enhancing contrast or saturation in “Photoshop” while at the same time suggesting an increase in contrast and saturation in camera. Those people must not believe in shooting RAW (they also must not have believed in developing film in the darkroom); if you shoot RAW, you must apply enhancements in post. If you’re shooting JPEG, those enhancements have already been done for you, at the camera maker’s behooval. Apparently allowing the camera manufacturer to make these decisions for you provides an accurate representation of reality.

    But ultimately, in all seriousness, there is no way to capture the “real thing” in an image – even if that image is in your head transmitted to your occipital lobe via the optic nerves attached to your eyes. Two different people who are not colorblind do not necessarily see two objects in reality in the same way with the same perception of color. The empiricists are helpful here with their separation of primary and secondary qualities.

  31. Very well said Mr Eastway. I am not comfortable with the term “Fine Art Photographer” especially when capitalized. But I do consider myself to be an artist.

    I like some of Trey Ratcliff’s work but also often feel I would like to know what his scenes “really” looked like. This is because they are not entirely his own creations. The buildings and natural surroundings were not created by him and he bills himself as a travel photographer. He has been to places I may never get to visit and I would really like to know how they really look. But again “how they really look” is a difficult concept. How they look at 6:00am at sunrise is not the same as on a rainy day at the same time nor on a sunny day at noon.

    A recent blog post of mine shows an image where lighting and photoshop both play a very important part in the final image and I put the straight out of camera image in the post so the viewer can compare to see what was altered and understand why. I would like to see a lot more of that sort of thing.

    But my conclusion on this subject is pretty much as yours. If we are documenting then show the relevant details so they are communicated. If we are creating a piece of “art” then any kind of enhancement or manipulation is fair game. Ultimately the market will decide on what images are acceptable.

  32. First I want to say your photographer are marvelous! Very nice!

    Second, someone somewhere sold the public that photographs depict reality. They do, the photographer’s reality. Photographs record only light and color and most often in only two dimensions. How is this reality?

    Third, no one asks artist who work with paint, oil, chalk, watercolor, or crayon if their renderings are real. The assumption is that the artists interpreted the subject or even made it up. However photographers are only allowed to show “reality.” Anything else is a cheat, somehow.

    The very first known photograph didn’t even depict reality. It was shot out a window with an exposure of over 8 hours showing some rooftops with multiple shadows because the Sun or rather the Earth moved during that time. No one had ever seen a view like that before.

    Lastly, in the film days the reality you got depended on the film you used. Had you shot the shown subjects with say Kodachrome, Fugichrome and Agfachrome they all with have looked different. Which one would have been real?

    Maybe it’s because so many people say; “I took this photograph” instead of “I made this photograph.” Taking something implies it is just laying around waiting to be picked up or captured.

  33. Fantastic post. I agree that documentary & photojournalistic photos should have limited manipulation but beyond that I think it is anything goes. Photographers have often argued that photography is art. Manipulating the photo to produce exactly what the photographer/artist wants to portray is just part of the process. Everyone has their own styles and may not always like the final product of the process. That’s fine. We don’t all like the same paintings, statues, architecture, etc.. If you like the end result enjoy it. If not, there are sure to be lots of other photos in the style you prefer that you can enjoy.

    Another thought for those non-photographers that disagree with any post manipulation. Ask them if they had/have a favorite lab for printing photos whether it be film or digital. Most do because they are happier with the resulting photo from a particular lab or may avoid a particular lab because they didn’t like the results. You can take the same negative to different labs and have it printed and will likely get different results from each due to differences in chemical strength, temperature, paper, individual technicians preferences. The colors may not match, contrast may be different. You can even take the same negative to the same lab on a different day and not get the exact same results. Adjusting hues, saturation, & contrast in Photoshop are no different than making choices in the analog process that affect the final result.

  34. Excellent guest blog! It definately hits the nail on the head. It is irritating to have non-photographers cry foul when Photoshop is used. As stated, it’s been done for years in the darkroom, so why is it a problem now? Everyone points to Ansel Adams and says, “Now that’s a photographer that captured reality.” Yet we know that he improved (manipulated) his images in the darkroom.

  35. is a photograph only a photograph if it’s what the camera interprets, or what the photographer sees?

    are the photographs that come out of their cameras accurate representations of what they saw? they think so, only because they have not learned “to see”.

    i am an aspiring photographer, but already the comments I hear are : “You CAMERA takes such good photographs!”, as if I have nothing to do with it.
    clearly they forget, as you state: “non-photographers are forgetting or don’t know that in the days of film a photo lab carefully adjusted the density and colour balance of their negatives before producing a print.”

    they don’t understand, period.

  36. Finally, someone is speaking out for the use of photoshop in photography. I have long argued that Ansel Adams was a master of “photoshop” He spent more time in his darkroom then behind his camera. Photography isn’t just snapping a picture, it’s the whole process from the click of the camera to the click of the mouse.

    Do musicians get this much attention to how they get their “sound”? it’s not just in the guitar and amp they use, it’s in their fingers and guitar pick. How they attack the strings. Also, in the effects they use, both while playing and post processed in the studio.

  37. Loved this guest blog, this topic is one heck of a debate all over.
    My opinion has always been to keep it real as much as you can. A bit of tweaking here and there never hurt, and sometimes you just can’t capture what you see with the naked eye with the camera. (atleast I can’t, just an amateur over here)
    Don’t we all tweak with ourselves now and then?? I can say we women do… we enhance ourselves with make-up, clothes and what not. To enhance the areas we feel proud about, that are beautiful but sometimes don’t get noticed. Enhance the canvas, sort of.
    It is the same way with photography, sometimes you need to boos the colors a bit, enhance the natural beauty. To bring forth the feelings you as a photographer felt on seeing the object, on which you decided to photograph.

    Isn’t it that what photographers want? To show others the beauty and feelings you experienced when shooting the subject/object? (If that means some photoshop…than go for it!)

    For me it is, I just love those photographs when you feel that you are just an instant away or you can almost reach in with your hand and touch it. When you can almost feel the athmosphere.
    That is what got me to Photography, to capture the feelings and beauty. I struggle everyday to learn new techniques to improve my photography. So all you Photographers out there….a big thank you for being you and showing us (amateurs) your work!

    Hope you get what I just wrote and do apologize for any misspelling or grammar failure! English isn’t my mother tongue! :)

  38. Great post and good discussion. We have the tools today to create art from our photos and I myself, consider myself a cross between a photographer and painter. I alter my images without guilt, to make them the best they can be.

    Enjoyed your post and images immensely. Thanks for such an insightful post.

  39. I think it would be an interesting experiment if next time you first showed your audience a slideshow of your final (beautiful, I must say) images, and then asked for their reactions and thoughts, and asked them to comment on the reality of the photos. I think there would be a lot of “oohs!” “ahhs!” and “what camera do I need to take pictures like that?” However, as Phil in Aus mentioned above, they might be even more upset when they find out they’ve been “fooled.” But it would be interesting to see if it led to different reactions and a better understanding of post-processing.

  40. I liked the article, except for one thing, its endorsement of this sort of language: “… the colour has been enhanced a little closer to what I remember.”

    This kind of apologetic disclaimer makes me cringe every time I hear it. I have banned it from my speech.

    1. My eyes can see things a camera can’t see, but the reverse is also true. The act of framing a piece of the world removes reality at the outset — we’re not born with a 3:2 box over our eyes. So deal with it, viewers.

    2. In 2010 it’s a given people use Photoshop. Readers need to use the same critical thinking skills interpreting a published photo as they do the textual headline, “Man Gives Birth To Two-Headed Baby.”

    I won’t sheepishly apologize for the tools I use to create emotional impact. As a photographer it’s my job to move you with my images, and I’m going to use every trick in the book.

  41. Everything we see or hear has been enhanced, edited, and recreated to send the message the authors want to share. News, books, photos, TV shows and etc. New is the worst, they frame the way stories are told and we are supposed to accept it as reality. ?

    The general public needs to be aware, as others have stated, that IMAGES WILL BE PHOTOSHOPPED! We as photographers try to reveal our perspective and “take” on our world and the editing process let’s us achieve that goal.

    The cry for reality falls on deaf ears over here.

  42. Peter is one of my favorite photographers and I often look at his work for inspiration. Ive been lucky to attend one of his seminars in Auckland and a photographic safari in Queenstown where he was a guest. Peter’s style is is own and it only accentuates what is already a good photograph.

  43. Fantastic post, clearly articulating ideas that have been kicking around in my own mind. If people can accept that the camera isn’t perfect…and that different cameras/lenses see different “realities”, this point is easier to make. But most casual photograper-philosophers just don’t think about that. Great guest blog!

  44. Thanks for the great comments, everyone. I appreciate the ideas and tangents – and I love the debate!

    I have a question: can we come up with a groovy term for ‘post-production’? It seems to be okay to use brushes and oils, or a chisel and hammer, but not to use Photoshop? Do we need to come up with another term that makes what we do seem more ‘hands on’ and ‘arty’ for general consumption? It seems using something so non-arty as a computer is the stumbling block for the current generation, even though everyone is loving it!

    It’s been a great pleasure to post a blog here – thanks to Scott and his professional team for helping out.

    1. Well, I personally think lightroom is a great term, particularly as it contrasts with not having to do anything “in the dark” anymore. But since Adobe (smartly) chose it for one of their applications, it’s out of reach. (I would imagine something along the lines of, “What did you do in the lightroom to get that effect?”)

      On the other hand I don’t see why we can’t overload ‘developed’ to apply to what is now done with computer software as opposed to chemicals and light.

      “How did you develop that picture?”
      “Well, I used (Photoshop|Gimp|Lightroom|DPP|etc) to adjust the color saturation a bit and increase contrast.”
      “Well, I used The Gimp (or whatever) to do some dodging and burning to increase contrast”

      or something to that effect. You can be as detailed or as ‘general’ as you want, but you get the idea.

      Developed is not ‘arty’ or ‘groovy’ but I don’t see why it needs to be. I agree ‘Photoshopping’ is now too overused and abused and misunderstood a term to have any real value and meaning in communication. Sort of like post-modernism. :)

  45. It is a difficult subject one that I wrestle personally with as well, photography has always been an art form but now I think we see photography being produced as pure art rather than a representation of a captured image.

    Some HDR photography I like but at the same time there is much I think has crossed the line into pure art and the word photo should be omitted.

    I find I have internal conflicts, I am a purist film photographer in many ways, although love what digital has done for the art I still find something special about shooting film, similar to listing to a record over a CD, the CD can be too clean and clinical.

    We have every magazine photo-shopping every girl to a non realistic representation, we have HDR showing us range and colour that just does not look natural. It is as though we need a new category, the photographer that processes to compensate for colour loss and fixing here and there and another for the photo artist that is just using the medium of the camera to capture an initial shot before turning it into a ‘photo art’

    I try to process least amount as possible, that is my style but it is an art and as such every ‘artist’ has their own style.

    Just brain dribble cheers for reading

    1. Patrick, I feel your dribble, I mean pain. I went to an HDR class the other day (hope the instructor is not reading this) and I feel I have done some wonderful HDR’s myself, but everything this fellow was teaching was totally opposite from how I learned it. After showing him one of my photos, he asked me what I was doing in the class. Well I’m always up for learning new ways to photograph and adjust. What I see as great someone else may see as wrong but I guess it just comes down to who we are trying to please. I have read every post on todays subject and I think we are all right. I have been taking photographs for over 40 years and I see people who have been doing it for a couple af years and ,well, I’m a little jealous. I love this thing we call photography and as long as I can get a good photo every now and then, I’m happy.

    2. Yours are the first comments I have found on this subject that closely mirror my own thoughts and feelings.

      I learned the Art of Photography the old fashioned way, through reading, trial and error and talking to professionals. I stayed with film, probably longer than I should have but I felt like I was betraying all the years of pain-staking effort to get to the point where I knew what was happening when I tripped the shutter.

      There are many no days who call themselves photographers who have never shot a roll of film and they use Photoshop and other programs to cover up their mediocrity as a photographer. That is where I draw the line. In my opinion, if you don’t get ‘the shot’ to begin with, you don’t have the right to ‘make the shot’ whether it is lack of equipment or photographic knowledge. Now, if you are talking a little repair work or a slight adjustment to exposure or white balance (I’m still struggling with this one) go ahead. Or, as long as you aren’t touting your images as ‘the real thing’, do what you want. For some people reality isn’t enough, but for me it has a purity that no amount of Photoshopping and manipulating can ever achieve.

      I too try to process as little as possible after camera, rarely trying to save a frame through manipulation to make it something special unless I am just playing around. Thank you for your comments and thoughts. I don’t fee like such an outsider now. C

    3. Anyone here remember Ansel Adams. He was the king of dark room post production and his PHOTOS are regarded as some of the best. Too many non-photographers associate Photoshop with unrealistic manipulation although it’s a photographers #1 post production tool. Is there a line between photos and manipulated art? Yes. Increasing the tonal ranges, exposure, etc are pure post production changes that photographers have done forever and should still be considered as photos.

  46. A lot of experienced users have already posted their sentiments above, so I’ll just ask: how much does it cost to cruise through Antarctica to take these amazing pictures? $5000USD? $10,000? Must own your own ship?

  47. Great post. As long as I do not misrepresent my work as something it’s not, then as far as I’m concerned, anything goes. We are creating art, plain and simple. We have tools at our disposal to do just that. I know great artists who paint in oil and watercolor. They use tools to create art as they interpret what they see. Yes, they do not paint in telephone poles, but may paint in sea gulls where there were none. It the creation of something beautiful that’s the goal. The foundation of artistic creation is honesty and integrity.

  48. The medical profession started off with one type of physician. Today, there are dozens and dozens of specialites…Obstetrics to Pathology and everything in between. How about the photographic profession following that same model? Realistic Representation to Artistic Interpretation….it can all be good and still be good photography. Sometimes, you just need to tell the people what type of medicine you are practicing.

  49. The final image is the only thing relevant, not film, not pixels, not filters or Photoshop.
    Being a photographer does not require one to only mirror.
    Being a photographer does not preclude being an artist.
    The proof is whether one successfully communicates their vision and does the work elicit a response.

  50. As far as a new term for post processing goes Peter, those smart movie people came up with CGI (cool, creative sounding and non-descriptive) for computer generated imagery. How about we use PCA for post camera adjustment, PCM for post camera modification, and PCI for post camera imagery…depending on degree of pp ;-)

  51. Nice to see this exchange of ideas on such a high level. Anyone ever seen a black sky at noon? Sure you have- in Ansel Adams’ photos you see that all the time. Did he see it himself at the time of exposure? No, only in his mind’s eye that he called “previsualization” and he exposed, developed and printed for that criteria.

    So manipulation of reality has been with us as long as photography. You cannot squeeze the whole planet into your frame, so the very act of photography takes you out of reality into something else entirely. You are making a 2 dimensional statement about a 3 dimensional world, so anything you do with a camera has already left reality.

    So it comes down to taste and accurate description of what has been done. If you purport to be a news journalist, you have ethical guidelines set down by professional organizations as to what is acceptable as a record of a news event. Anything else is interpretation, and there are grand discussions even within the news industry as to what is/has been acceptable as a good record of an event.

    All other imagery is connotative and interpretive. As for how we describe what we do that might be more acceptable to a non photographic public or audience, I like the term ‘finishing’ to describe the arc of inspiration, from first idea in the mind, to capture in the camera, to uploading the image into the computer, to the inspiration at the monitor, to the ‘finished’ image that is printed, matted, framed and displayed. Many steps along the way can all be described as part of the ‘finishing’ of the image.

    Hope this contributes to the discussion, and no matter which side of this you may be on, cheers to your abilities, inspiration and muse. Here’s to all creative minds, may we all be led to be our best!

  52. I find it interesting that we say manipulation is ok unless it is for news, documentary, etc.

    But the news that is given to us is highly manipulated in the choice of wha it presented, how it is presented and the view point of the news caster. There is bias in everything around us.

    I spent 4 months in Jerusalem. The week after I came back I watched a Nightline piece about Jerusalem. Very little of what they presented came close to the place I had experienced. It was an eye opener to me. They presented a viewpoint to match a preconcieved expectation that had little to do with the place I’d been in.

    Photography somehow has become the focal point or manipulated images. Maybe we should ask the same question about the overall news machine of which photography is tool.

    Thanks for the piece it was well done and your work is beautiful.

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  54. I am a complete noob to both DSLR and anything above basic image editing. I state this quite clearly so you know this. I recently viewed the images that were winners at a National photography competition, and it left me feeling very frustrated. I felt like I was viewing ‘art’ and not photography in many instances as nearly everything seemed to have been so heavily edited. So I was really interested to read this article !

    My personal view is that editing that is subtle and not screamingly obvious that improves or tweaks the image is fine. Cropping, colour and contrast enhancement, removal of dust or hair or powerlines etc. All good things that help reveal the image the photographer saw and wants to replicate. Its like a pretty woman putting on a nice dress and makeup :)

    For me its the images where you don’t see the photograph, you see the editing instead, and that to me is too much. A lot of HDR for me is like that, its somehow not quite *right* and that not rightness or toomuchness that pulls me out of the image itself.

    The question I always want to ask is “is it still a photograph if its now a .PSD file of 30mb and 17 layers?” – where does the line between photography and digital art lie?

  55. I say amen as well Great article. Don´t you just love it, when you say you are a photographer! The first or most responses are ¨O so you are you good at photoshop? Can you make me look better?

    Once again great article and amazing PHOTOS.

  56. I have a question and a comment.

    1. I’d like to know what music was used along with the video. It was really haunting.
    2. I like best Alain Briot’s suggestion as to how to reply whem asked if his photos are adjusted in Pjotoshop. His answer? “Yes.” And he leaves it at that.

  57. History is ever pendular. This same line of argumentation went on between the purists and those who used the camera-obscura and other tracing methods in painting. Then when photography came on the scene it was dubbed as heresy by the painters. Today we have the present band of equivalent skeptics against what is essentially another part of our evolutionary process. We’ll get over it – until another new form of expression becomes rife and there will be those who hark back to the “good old days” of “simple” post-production.
    Have fun I say.
    Thank you Peter.

    1. Michael, you write exactly what I was thinking. Change will come again and photoshop will be outdated and the more purist form than whatever comes next.

      It’s funny how so many people are so passionate about photography but not video/movies not portraying reality. We enjoy photos, just like we enjoy movies and I have not seen a movie that I can remember, that portrayed reality.

      Peter’s work is amazing.

  58. Its really amazed me when I watch the video how its all being enhanced so beautifully. Sometimes the camera captured digitally what it can but your editing make it ‘you are the camera’ that really capture the essence of what you want to tell your audience and not the camera telling us.

  59. Hi Peter, the video was inspiring and took my breath away. The background music was fantastic (can you please let us know what track that was?) and your post really made me think about how much post-processing should be used. After reading this, I will learn not to limit myself and try to match that image the way I saw it. Thanks!

  60. Hi Peter

    Thanks for the interesting article. I returned from a trip to Antarctica on the 18th Feb 2010 and managed to capture some amazing images. We were very fortunate and had good weather down there and so I took as many images as I could. Most of the passengers on the ship werent really serious photographers with the exception of a few and so they were snapping away and getting mostly flat, somewhat overexposed images. I was shooting on Manual all the time and on RAW in a lot of the cases and I did some post production in PS CS3 on the ship. Of course, people wanted to see what I had taken, but i waited until the end of the trip and put a presentation together of about 40 images that I had edited. A few of the passengers came up to me afterwards and said that my photos were “very blue” and they asked if i used a filter. I said no, i simply underexposed the shot and then pulled it up in PS to get the saturation like that. They were not sure if this was how it should be. My comment was that i didnt add anything i simply enhanced what was there already. Its a debate that digital photographers are going to have to have often, Photoshop is seen as a tool that can “fix” bad images, thats not true, it can make great images spectacular, but most casual observers think that it is used to change reality. I am grateful to guys like Scott and his team who work on simplifying things and putting it out there for normal people to use. I think most people dont realise just how much work was done in the past in the darkroom, we need to be straight as photographers and say we simply took our images through a few similar processses as a normal darkroom, but the difference is that the darkroom is digital. Your shots are great by the way and I am sure you must have enjoyed every second of shooting in Antarctica…

    Thanks for the great article…

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