Saturday, November 18, 2006

Photography - Are edited images okay?

Sharing a common interest in photography, a couple of weeks back during a discussion with Phantom, he said - "But that photo was edited and not original!". What he was referring to, is the idea, I myself adhered to, and considered appropriate - 'A picture should be only praised, in capacity of calling it a photograph, if it has not been modified in any form on a computer'. If we use a computer or any digital means for that sake, to edit a photograph, it is in a different league altogether, and should not be compared with photographs which have not been 'retouched'. Lets re-look this point of view.

Its been almost an year now, that I got my NikonFM10 and started to call myself an 'aspiring' photographer. I always used to admire photographs, but never had an exposure to the process of classical photography. Early this year, I did a course in B/W photography, where we developed our own negatives and made prints in a darkroom. This was the time my notion of photography changed. I realized that behind every excellent professional photograph before say 1990's, was an exorbitant amount of time spend in the darkroom. Taking pictures, compositioning, framing, timing, is only half the work, or maybe even less. The other half is what the darkroom does to the photograph. From developing to printing, there are innumerable ways in which an artist modifies what he has shot, to better its appeal. Improving brightness, contrast, suppressing the midtones, improving the highlights, cropping to a desired area, darkening some areas, washing out other, changing it hues (for color photographs), all is done inside a darkroom for each photograph separately. This is an 'integral' part of classical photography, and cannot be parted with. Infact, it is not even appropriate to call this 'improvement' as there no defined 'original shot' to improve upon. Moreover, with digital camera's you HAVE to edit, to produce a B/W photograph.

Now with computers, the same process can be done, at almost 1/1000th the time and effort. In darkroom, to test each incremental step, one needs to print the photograph, which takes atleast 4 mins for the chemicals to act upon it, but on screen its just 0.4 seconds. This is not something optional, but an essential step to produce the end result. So from an appreciation point of view, I now have completely changed my outlook, to one that focuses on the end result and not the process. The issue, then is, that on computer, a lot more can be done to alter the photograph that was not possibly classically. This is where another hitch lies. The feeling that doing image adjustments is one thing, but completely modifying the photograph is another. But, art has no definition per se, it could very well be termed as another art form, if not classical photography. The picture below was taken by Dubey saab

There are two problem if I accept everything, under the domain of photography. The first one is more practical, and the second one philosophical. Practically, what would you call a person who is apt at digitally modifying a photo. Is it justified to call him a good photographer? Or should there be another term for such a person. Personally I am confused on this, for this person does have the abilities of compositioning and a sense of art to produce good picture, but it is not sure if he has the human touch and a sense of perception, that a classical photographer has.
Philosophically, and this is personal philosophy, the sweetness of effort spent in a darkroom is lost, when the process is done digitally. In anycase, I have now developed more respect for digitally processed photos, any try to look it as art, instead of thinking about the classification problem. Here is one of my 'retouched' work.


At 12:33 AM, Anonymous Nitin Gupta said...

This post was awaited, nice one! I would be more comfortable calling them two different art forms: one is about selecting and shooting the right picture, and the second is about getting the picture right allowing post-shoot enhancements. Although both ultimately produce pictures, a direct comparison of the resulting pictures would be unfair. And it is very likely that an individual may have appreciation for one art but not the other.

An analogous case would be "drawing a sketch using just a pencil", and "drawing a sketch using pencils, stencils, carbon paper etc.". Both will produce sketches. For someone interested in the art of how good can you draw with your hand, first one will be more attractive. For someone interested in the art of how good a sketch can be made, the second sketch will probably be better.


At 9:09 AM, Blogger Nandz said...

Regarding your 'retouched' work which is the original? I find the upper one (washed out) better than the lower (saturated) one? What say?

At 10:08 AM, Blogger Nikhil said...

@Phantom: the problem is where to draw the line. As I said, some 'retouching' equivalent to the one done is darkroom is essential to bring out what the photographer has in mind, but there is not strict rules for that equivalence. More over one is not even sure what all is possible in a dark room.

@nanda: Hmmm, interesting. Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder ;)

At 6:36 AM, Blogger Akhil Gupta said...

hmm...seriously...I had gone through almost the same thought process some time back ...just, there was no actual photography course or dark-room experience...

Fact is personally it gave me more pleasure if the photograph came out the best on just a click, with no post processing like cropping, color adjustment etc...but, then back of the mind I realised that most of the pics by big photographers too is enhanced, in a way I would justfiy this post processing funda, but continue to admire a photograph more if there was no post processing involved...

Anyway, I would say a good photographer will be one who is sensitive enough to click at the right time or at the right place to capture a moment! All the post processing is more of artistry (whose nature is closer to a painter or a sculptor)...

what say?


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