The Ugly Truth of Photography

All the post-processed sunrise shots from the internet
All the post-processed sunrise shots from the internet

I think people has a misconception about photography. They generally think that it should be captured as it is and no post editing should be done to manipulate the picture. But the funny thing is, the same people who “anti-editing” or “anti-manipulation” ended up liking those heavily edited landscape or sunrise/sunset shots. I have done a “test” personally, posting pictures with heavy post editing, and guess what? As expected, it gets a whole lot of likes and everyone starts talking about “wow, what a great shot it is!” kind of comment, and then when I revealed that they were manipulated, people start to condemn the picture and ask why I did that.

A composite test image that I used, and it gained a whole lot of likes as expected.
A composite test image that I used, and it gained a whole lot of “likes” as expected.

The same thing happened to one of the famous photographer, Steve McCurry. Recently it was revealed that he had manipulated his pictures and the internet starts to go crazy about it. Everyone start to condemn him, his work, and go as far as hating him and posting extremely negative remarks about him. I’m puzzled. Really. I wonder why people can enjoy and liking those overly HDR-ed and unnaturally saturated pictures but not Steve McCurry’s work? Do you mean HDR or punching saturation is not a form of manipulation?

Of all the negative posts, I have finally came across this article, and I have to say I agree with what the author mentioned. Technically speaking, there isn’t any picture in this world that is not manipulated. Manipulation and editing starts right before the shutter was released. You as the photographer will compose the picture to eliminate any unwanted object from your frame, and to include only interesting items that construct your image… that itself is a form of editing. Is that any different for doing it before or after the shutter was released?

If you would like to argue that “post” processing is simply not allowed, well, you probably need to dislike every single “master” photographer from the past ranging from Ansel Adam to Henri Cartier-Bresson to Robert Capa. Yes, they shoot film, and yes, everyone post process their pictures. Some may argue that they only do “minor adjustment” like dodge and burn on their picture, well, when you found out how much they had dodged and burnt, you’ll know it’s not that minor after all. End of the day, it is still “post processing”. There were those who openly admit that they edit their pictures, and there are those who don’t. Don’t be surprise that one day you finally found out that one of the old legendary photographer has actually staged their shot. So what will you do then? Burn away all the photo books of him which you have purchased throughout the years and getting inspiration from?

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A heavily edited picture of mine. My target it to only emphasise on the lines, curves and cleanliness, hence I have cloned away all the light bulbs, sprinklers and other fittings on the ceiling and wall.

You see, people need to stop thinking photography as something “holy” and “pure”. Stop holding to your “double standard” in evaluating pictures and photographer. To me, a good picture is a good picture. It represents the vision of the photographer (or perhaps, artist) and as long as it brings the message across to the viewer, it’s a good picture that worth to be liked. Even if it is a staged photo, even if it is a post processed picture. I’m saying not because I’m a big fan of post processing (in fact I’m suck in post processing), but my point of view is not to dwell too much into things like this and ended up neglecting the reason one picked up a camera: to capture a moment, to craft your vision, and to share your story.

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My “attempt” on photojournalism. Shooting the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, November 2014. Tone curve and colour adjustment only.

How about photojournalism? It might be true that a journalist should report the “true” news instead of manipulating them. How about the pictures? I know that currently the rules for photojournalism doesn’t allow “heavy” editing and manipulation to the pictures, only “minor” adjustment is allowed. I can see the “rational” here as people want to make sure the content of the news itself is preserved. My point of view is, if manipulating the picture doesn’t deviate the truth of the story but instead it will enhance the impact of the story itself, I’m not against it at all. And even if the concept is applied for photojournalism, it doesn’t mean the same concept shall apply to all other photography genres.

That’s my point of view on this matter as of now. I have to admit that I was one of those who against “heavy” editing in the past. But as time goes by and I start to learn and understand more, my mindset has changed. Of course this is just my point of view, I’m not saying what I said was right and everyone else must follow. I just hope that everyone can spend less time worrying on things like this and start to shoot and practice more to improve on your photography. Till then.

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