When you use your camera or mobile phone camera, do you just take photographs, or make them?

January 24, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

What’s your view about photographs that have been staged, cropped, edited, or ‘photoshopped’? Got no problem with photographic manipulation, it’s the end product that counts? Or consider it wrong, falsifying images using editing and processing techniques that mask the ‘truth’ and mis-lead the viewer?

Imagine you’re on holiday, out with your family, or romancing your better half, and suddenly you see a photo opportunity: a memorable scene or something unusual, a chance to capture the whole family together, or your partner looking particularly gorgeous-handsome. What do you do? You reach for your camera-mobile phone (camera), line up the shot and snap away. 

But is that really all you do? Simply see a photo, point and shoot, save copies, look at them later and then maybe share them with family, friends or on social media? 

What if the sun is straight into your eyes and you can’t clearly see who or what you’re shooting? Or, if out in the evening, the available light at your venue is too low? Or what if you want a portrait-type picture of your loved one? Or even a ‘classic’ black and white portrait. 

Well, it’s obvious, you move yourself and/or your subject to find better light. Or you wait for another better time. And in low light situations, you use your camera’s built-in or accompanying flash. If you want a portrait picture, you simply adjust your camera settings to a ‘portrait’ orientation. And if you want a black and white image straight out of your camera, you set your camera to capture your image in black and white. Job done.

Or is it? What happens when you look at the pictures and maybe they’re not quite what you thought you saw when pressing the shutter button? Or, the picture doesn’t quite convey the feeling you felt at the time of shooting? Somehow, what your camera ‘saw’ isn’t what you recall seeing. This last point, of course, is obvious. How can a camera ‘see’ how you see things? They are, after all, just man-made light capturing boxes. Compared to your eyes and brain processing power, they’re primitive at best. 

Well, there is help at hand, of sorts. Whether on our computers or mobiles, we have image editing software. Maybe supplied as part of our devices, or something we’ve chosen to acquire and upload as a program or ‘App’, we have the means to enhance our pictures; edit them in such a way that they reflect, as near as possible, the vision we had when we first decided to use our cameras. Now, we can amend our shots: darken the highlights, brighten the shadows, adjust the contrast, mute or embolden the colours, overlay pre-set ‘looks’, add warmth, cool tones or a tint, introduce some sharpness or noise reduction and so on. All of these tools are there to help us achieve our best images; the ones we really want to share with our friends, family and on our social media channels. And which we might also wish to print, frame and put on our wall at home.

Now, go back to being on holiday, or with your family, or your better half, when you thought “I want to take a picture of [that scene] [my whole family together in this place] [my gorgeous-handsome significant other].” In reality, wouldn’t you do one or more of the following:

  • move yourself around to get better light or a better viewpoint? Or wait?
  • move your family or partner around to suit?
  • choose a particular framing orientation – portrait, landscape, square crop, either at the time of taking the picture or later?
  • decide between colour or black and white?
  • use editing software, whether built-in or acquired, to darken, brighten, saturate colours, add a specific ‘look’, warm up, cool down, sharpen, cut noise…?
  • ‘enhance’ your image further using your preferred social media platform’s tools before publishing?
  • print your pictures on a particular photographic paper, and in a particular size? (Or get them printed for you by a specialist printer?)
  • if shooting on film, choose what film make, type and ISO you prefer? And how you’d get that particular film stock developed? 
  • when looking at your favourite prints in your hands, decide how to display them? Behind a glass frame? Or alternatively, printed on wood, metal, canvass or other material?

If you’d do ANY of these things, you’re manipulating your photography to achieve a desired outcome – a photograph you’d be happy to share with viewers, or even print and frame for show. Put another way, you wouldn’t just be simply taking photographs, you’d be making them.

Let’s re-visit my first paragraph. When you first read it, what was your initial reaction? Have you now changed your mind? Aren’t we all, in fact, the same as any professional photographer who stages, crops, edits, manipulates, ‘photoshops’ and enhances images for maximum impact?

Here’s the thing: this doesn’t make you a bad (photographer) person: someone trying to unscrupulously cloak the truth and mislead your viewers. In fact, I’d say it makes you good in 2 ways:

  1. you are, positively, a maker and not just a taker of photographs, and
  2. that makes you a Creator. Dare I say, even an Artist. You are someone who takes their photographic idea and acts on it to create the best representation of your vision and feeling that you can.

Now, what’s your view about that?



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