Pure image manipulation for purists

Today I want to re-address self-acclaimed “purists” disdain for post-capture image manipulation. The concern often expressed centers on the idea that to get a “pure” photograph, one should limit efforts to getting the best shot possible in-camera and limit post-capture “manipulation” to simple cropping or best, nothing at all. The word “manipulation” is a loaded one, of course, suggesting one has somehow cheated, violated reality or somehow deceived the viewer because the image now no longer looks like the scene the camera captured — or some other like objection.

This line of thinking ignores that one way or another, the imprint light makes on our image sensors is being re-interpreted one way or another. If you elect to get a straight-out-of-camera (SOOC) shot, you still have something altering, arranging and rendering the bits of data originally captured. This has been said many times, and isn’t the main thrust of what I want to point out today.

Rather, I want to bring across the point that image manipulation can happen as much before I release the shutter as it can happen in post-processing. As photographers and artists, we are filtering reality and portraying it as we see fit to communicate our vision. Yes, documentary, photo-journalistic work lives by different, more reality-bound rules, and we can talk about how much even those photos filter or bend reality another time. For now, let’s examine this sample shot:

Seal Beach Swirl  ~  Nikon D7000, Sigma 17-50 f2.8, Singh Ray Vari ND Duo filter, cross-processed in Photoshop CS5

This first image was first the result of (a) the way I framed the shot (what I included and excluded), (b) lens focal length selection (a wide angle that distorts near-far object relationships) and (c) Neutral density + Polarizer filter usage, all of which “manipulated” the scene in front of the camera well before I pressed the shutter button. See the original here…

To compound the matter, the final image you see here also incorporated some cross-processing and highlight taming in post-processing. Where was the image “manipulated” most, in-camera or in post-processing? It’d be a tough call, especially since the post-processing also included some lightening of the heavy vignetting the filter produced — in other words, a move closer to what the image looked like in the “real scene.” See the dilemma?

I close with this B&W interpretation of the same image.

Seal Beach Swirl ~ Nikon D7000, Sigma 17-50 f2.8, Singh Ray Vari ND Duo filter, converted with Silver Efex Pro 2 in Photoshop CS5

I have said it before, and it deserves saying again: I have no idea how I could get a B&W image like that straight out of the camera, but even if I did, wouldn’t turning your camera’s monochrome mode to “on” result in heavy image or scene “manipulation”? After all, doesn’t B&W manipulate reality by exchanging the colors we see in the real scene with a range of Black-to-white tones?

I would encourage folks concerned with whether an image is “manipulated” to shift focus to what it takes to generate compelling images that convey emotions and story effectively. What we do to get there is really not the main point. Maybe the purest photograph in the end is one that employs pure manipulation.

[Original article here...]

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Total comments: 3
By Happygp (Jan 7, 2012)

The question is,"To manipulate before, or to manipulate after", that is the question. Senseless argument.

By fuego6 (Dec 11, 2011)

Don't see the big deal anyway.. it is like having an argument for having an arguments sake. The supposed master photographers like Ansel used their developing skills to make their "pure" photos better... I'm sure not one of his "master" images were just snapped and dumped in a bath without some add'l manipulation in the chems... to each his/her own anyway...

By eNo (Dec 11, 2011)

Yes, for a pointless argument, it's one that comes up quite often.

1 upvote
Total comments: 3