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Inspired by an interview with Karen Hutton for Landscape Photography Magazine, I wish to enter the debate on how much manipulation is too much in photography

Reading (and editing) the Karen Hutton interview we published in Landscape Photography Magazine, I couldn’t help stopping and paying attention to a specific section that talked about being a member of the club. As I feel the same way as Karen, I felt the need to write something about it myself to fully support her views.

The question from Tiffany Reed Briley (the interviewer) that sparked all this was: “There is much chat around the photography communities about how much Photoshop or manipulation is too much. What are your thoughts on that?” Obviously, if you want to read Karen’s detailed reply you will need to read the interview.

The short version is that she mentioned Ansel Adams, and how he engaged in his own equivalent version of Photoshop (manipulating the negatives), then expressed that she was concerned about ‘taking the heat’ for saying that. Personally, I fully support her and her views. I don’t think for a moment that there is a landscape photographer out there who doesn’t see Ansel as one of the great masters. And yet, he can clearly be considered as the biggest ‘Photoshopper’ of his day – all you need to do is read about his explanations on how much he worked on the film negatives, which is a technique equivalent to today’s Photoshop working on RAW files.

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My question to landscape photographers would be “do you want to simply record an event or do you want to add your own interpretation?” There is no right or wrong way to practice landscape photography. My question to all those landscape photographers who criticise others for the way they express themselves would be “are you happy with the way you photograph landscapes? And if you are, why don’t you let all others be happy with the way they photograph instead of being judgmental?” Talking of judgment, I must admit that I can’t stand the word. Who are we to judge others and, more to the point, what gives us the right to do so? I believe that this world would be a much better place if we all got along better instead of judging or criticising each other.

At some point in the past a good friend asked me if I ever looked over my shoulder to keep an eye on the competition. My reply was that I have an aim in my life, which is to run a successful business and enjoy my photography in a way that allows me to fulfil my life’s ambitions. If others have a problem with that, they can keep an eye on me over their shoulder.

My advice to all is to mind your own affairs, concentrate on what you enjoy doing and how you do it. This way all your energy can be concentrated on your aims, which will let you make sure you live a fulfilling and enjoyable life.

There are clubs and groups out there which believe that their way of doing things is the best and all others are wrong. Don’t feel the need to be a member of the club, any club. Do your own thing.

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13 Comments

  1. I feel much the same as you do I think – I explored this topic at some length a while ago. “Do what feels right to you but don’t lie about it if asked” probably sums it up 🙂

    I can’t link to the article but you can find it for yourself if interested – look for “reality and deception”.

  2. Totally agree with you Dimitri. A few years ago in Santa Fe, New Mexico I entered a high-end photography gallery and saw on display the original version of Ansel’s Moonrise Over Hernandez. This version looked nothing like the “finished” widely lauded version with the very dark sky and high contrast with the cemetery below. The version we’ve all come to know and love was created in the darkroom some 4 decades AFTER the original version. Ansel, it turns out, decided he had a different vision of the way he wanted Moonrise Over Hernandez to look. He actually created several different versions. Manipulation was critical for Ansel’s changing aesthetic tastes for his images. He loved reworking them. He very much would be an avid and expert Photoshopper had he lived long enough, to the consternation of many purists who mistakenly believe that not “manipulating” a photo is somehow more “pure” than manipulating and interpreting the image in either the darkroom or in Photoshop. For a photographic artist, it is much more important to interpret the scene to reflect how he/she “felt” at the time they took the image than it is to merely record or document the scene. Ask yourself, “Am I trying to be an artist or a photojournalist.” Receive your answer and take the appropriate path from there.

    • Dimitrios Vasileiou on

      Hi Stewart
      Indeed, I agree… Ask yourself, “Am I trying to be an artist or a photojournalist.” Receive your answer and take the appropriate path from there.

  3. Derek Cummings on

    Thanks Dimitri.My thought exactly. Nothing is wrong in photography. We all do photography for different reasons. But mainly for the enjoyment. I find myself I tend to verge much of my work on art nowadays. I am happy with it. Probably many others would say not. Who cares. It is what I enjoy.

    • Dimitrios Vasileiou on

      Hi Derek
      Thank you for adding your thoughts. Yes, just enjoy what you do, that’s what matters.

  4. donald yorke-goldney on

    I try to do as minimal PP as possible in cs . Usuall restricting my processing to curves adjusted hue sat and sharpening . Great believer in trying to catch it in camera. .cheers don

  5. Best camera is the one you have with you at time. Honestly though I have had my trusty D810 for a few years and can’t fault it . Low light shooting dynamic range and reliability are a few of the reasons I love my Nikon

  6. One thing that seems to be forgotten in this debate is that in the glorious and “pure” days of film, the choice of film had a profound effect on the photograph. Kodachrome our Velvia?. Extachrome or Sensia? FP4 or HP4 and so.
    What about the impact of differing chemicals in black and white processing or even chemical temperatures? Aren’t sepia, copper tone and all the others a form of manipulation?
    Doesn’t the choice of photographic paper afffect the final print?
    This is all manipulation in one form or another.

    Having had my rant, I do object to changing a dull boring sky into a bright sunny tropical sky.

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