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Friday, April 3, 2015

Photoshop is [Not] Ruining Landscape Photography!

Here's the context (which is nearly 3 years old, but a recent essay on LuLa dredged it up again):

Opinion: Why Photoshop is Ruining Landscape Photography

It would be an interesting thing to discuss is only wiser heads had not had it out more than 100 years ago. Compositing in skies was standard procedure in the early days of orthochromatic emulsions. P.H. Emerson and H.P. Robinson had an epic Victorian war of letters on, more or less, this exact point.

The players in this round strike me as thoughtless children, when stacked up next to those elder statesmen.

The trouble is that nobody thinks about much of anything these days. Consider this quote from the cited piece:

Removing power lines from a landscape is one thing. Changing the colour of the sky from grey to orange quite another.

How? The author goes on to claim that, basically, if only you were patient you could get the right color, and landscape photography is all about stalking the right color (it is?), blah blah blah. The whole piece is a lame mess of justification for a poorly thought out opinion held for no particular reason at all, except that his friends hold it. (To be fair, almost every opinion we hold, we hold because our friends or family hold it, but golly, you can do a better job of rationalization.)

Emerson, who is on the same side as the cited piece, points out that if you don't shoot the sky from the same place at the same time you're not going to get the light right. You can get it close, but you can't get it right. And, a quick look at the relevant picture shows that he is correct. The light is improbable. Now, if you don't know it's photoshopped, you probably wouldn't say that, you'd probably feel that the light was a bit surreal, but you wouldn't likely peg it as wrong. But it is wrong, and pretty obviously so, once you know.

Emerson also suggests, and I agree with him, that manipulations will out. People will feel it. They will, somehow, know. And your picture will be, somehow, wrong. No matter how careful you are, it is artifice and the fact that it is artifice will damage the picture.

Now, we all manipulate. There is always artifice. You have to accept that there is artifice in pictures. Getting hissy about "well, this is OK and that is not" is ridiculous, but it is equally ridiculous to claim that artifice is always wrong, or that it is harmless.

What is true is this:

Every bit of manipulation you perform sacrifices a little bit of the reality of the photograph. The power of a photograph over other forms lies in, precisely, that reality. Therefore, make your sacrifices count.

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