What is real photography? Retouching images, versus the ‘Good Old Days’ of the truth of Film …

“Oh, that’s not real!  It’s Photoshopped!  Yick!”

This can be a familiar refrain in today’s age of modern digital photography and computer processing of visual images.

But, is it a fair assessment?

Let us discern, what is a photograph?  What is real?

For that matter, what is art?

In any photograph, there is the assumption (false) that photos tell no lies…

In point of fact, all photos are both 99.9999% truthful, and 99.9999….% lies, depending on your perspective.

Eye witnesses, while considered very highly by juries in evidentiary purposes, are in fact one of the least reliable forms of evidence to events.

When an eye-witness to an event believes they have seen the whole event, this is a kind of lie they may tell very convincingly.

In being witness to any event, we see only a facet, or several facets of a much greater event.

This is how we see things.  We each see facets to events.  We, none of us, ever really see the whole of any event.

In similar fashion, a facet of a diamond is not a diamond.

And, a photograph is a facet of an event.  The photograph is not the event itself.  It is a kind of frozen truth, and is also, a one-sided pejorative lie.

The lie we tell ourselves is that a photograph, film digital, or otherwise is really the object being photographed.

In all cases, photographs are processed manipulations of light, frozen in time, of a facet, of an event.


“Reality” is at least four dimensional… length, width, height, and time.

We hear physicists argue for even more dimensions … then there are the entire realms of metaphysical dimensional discussions…

The point is, in any photograph, we take an instant of some truth, and turn it into a kind of lie.

We do this by freezing some facets of light, from some period of time, into a two dimensional spacial representation, of some four dimensional event.

Manipulated light?

Of course, all cameras have lenses and sensors (film, chemical, semiconductor, etc.).

Lenses have apertures, focal lengths, coatings and filters.

Cameras have sensors.

Sensors which have different grain structures, grain pitch, sensitivities to different colors, and length of exposure, etc.

All these things manipulate light.

In fact, that is what we photographers do.  We manipulate light with tools like cameras, dark rooms, and yes, computers.

All photographs are both a kind of truth, and are also manipulations of facets of truth into lies.

Illustrated in a previous article on photo retouching, we have two photos, before and after retouching, of a very pretty young woman, to view details: click here.

The before image is clearly of a lovely girl.  In Real Life, some might be mesmerized by her obvious beauty.

Yet, if one enlarges (distorts) or looks for a long time at this static image (not possible in life so also a distortion) chinks in her beauty begin to emerge.

These are chinks one seldom see in life.  In life, the girl’s movement through time, her speech, etc., charm us.   In our charmed states, we overlook chinks, usually for quite a long while.  In cases of puppy love, this can go on for months, or longer…

In life, we more have a shifting gaze.  Our gaze will linger on into her eyes, her smile, her figure, and so on.  These are the areas which grab our gaze.

Without intensive training, and even then, we seldom do a full facial skin review.

Retouched, the image becomes more like our view of the girl in real life.

Remember, we are not really retouching the girl, just a digital image of a girl.

Arguably, in life, she is as beautiful as can be imagined.  Why should her photograph be any less mesmerizing?

Why should her photograph highlight, by stilling and enlarging, flaws we usually overlook in real life???

The retouched image can be gazed at for quite a bit of time without finding obvious gaping flaws, like skin eruptions, etc.

This is as it likely would be with the young lady when we meet her in real life.

Thus both the woman and the image may now be seen as quite beautiful for some while of interaction.

The unretouched photo, particularly if enlarged, will show obvious blemish.  This is unfair to our young lovely.  After all, it is a photograph.  It is not the girl.

This occurs pretty much in any photo session.  We use soft focus lenses, or soft lighting, or makeup, or retouching, to bring the beauty to the photo we see in real life.

Perhaps some may truly feel a photo is more beautiful or interesting than the living breathing being of a woman… I feel this is very often quite unfair to the subject.

These techniques are used, or misused, … they are art.

As photographers took over from painters. Were painters to be maligned?

Painters have amazing talent.

Judgments regarding photographic arts are like all judgments.  That is, judgments say more about the individual making them than they do about any external subject or object being judged.

You know.   An eye for an eye, … or, is it eye of the beholder… and all that.

Digital photography is taking over from film photography for similar reasons film prevailed over the portrait painter.

There are still portrait painters.  There will still be film photographers.

And for now, there will be digital photographers.

As tastes for art change, so will opinions.

Mine is, be it painting, film, or digital, there are images which grab me, and those I do not prefer.

I suspect it is like this for all of us, preferring some over others.

Live and let live, N’est pas?



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