Digital Post Processing – deception or a means to an end?

It appears that this discussion still rages in the world of photography. But before we discuss the pros and cons, one thing has become very obvious to me as a photographer. Those who criticize it do not know what Digital Post Processing actually does or how to use it properly.

The main point about Photoshopping pictures is that it removes the requirement for the darkroom. Anything that can be done in photoshop can be done in the darkroom, that is the reason it was produced, so that digital photographers could do the same things that they could previously do with film. I wonder how many of those who criticize ever set foot in the darkroom?

The main thing to realise is that when we take a picture it must always be taken in the best possible manner available at the time. If your picture is out of focus or has camera shake, no amount of post processing will recover the picture. The saying goes that ‘You can’t make a silk purse from a sows ear’ and that will always be true.

So let us compare the processes between film and digital.

The most obvious difference is in the post processing, no longer do we have the problems of the darkroom. The cost of the enlarger equates to that of the computer and software, the cost of the chemicals equates to the cost of the ink, paper, well both use paper. Then there is the cost of establishing the darkroom, blackouts, running water, electricity, processing baths or tanks, the list goes on. All these latter items are not required in digital. One other area where digital has the advantage over film is in the dangers involved in the use of the chemicals.

In modern times with the cotton wool society we have created, the thought of a seven year old playing with developer, bleach and fixers with out gloves and gas masks is terrifying, but 50 years ago that is exactly what we did. We even mixed the raw ingredients by hand to make them in the first place. Now I doubt you would be allowed to buy those ingredients. Go back 70 years and you will find that they used cyanide powder in the photographic processes, not even a pair of gloves for protection.

Digital allows the photographer to take many pictures in quick succession (machine gunning), this is usually between 10 and 30 pictures before the camera software stops the camera to allow the images to be saved to the card, put a bulk back on a film camera and you can take 200 or more pictures in the same manner, but without stop and save requirement. So here we have the first two differences, firstly the film camera can go through a 150m roll of film without stopping but the digital camera has to stop to save the images. Secondly the film user will waste most of that 150m of film with scrap pictures at a cost to the pocket not only for the film but also the post processing (developing and printing), money they must spend to properly see what they may have taken. The digital photographer can view the images almost immediately and has spent nothing even if they scrap every shot.

Digital effects in post processing can all be achieved in film by the use of filters, both on camera and in the darkroom. Multiple exposures in film are the same as layering in digital, modifying exposures is the same in film as it is is digital, dodging is done by reducing highlights, burning in is done by reducing shadows. changing colours is done with filters in the darkroom or on camera and by the same basic process in the computer.

So what other effects can photoshop accomplish? well it can blur your picture to imitate a lack of focus, selective or total, or camera shake, and it can bend light to create morphed effects. There may also be other effects specific to a particular software.

As far as deception is concerned in post processing I refer to my initial statement – Those who criticize it do not know what Digital Post Processing actually does or how to use it properly. – If you grew up in a darkroom you will also know the truth of this statement.

When it comes to bending the light and morphing using a computer paintbrush, this is a different form of photographic artwork. If we used paint and canvas to create the same effects, no one would complain except those who paint fine art with bristles.

Photography is not about being narrow minded. A photographer, no matter what their style, is an artist who plays with light, shade and colour, and it must be accepted that different people do things in different ways and for different purposes.

We all travel a different path to reach our destinations, they may be different, but reaching that destination, in this case the final picture, is what is important. As photographers, we are judged on the picture we present to our customers and followers, not on the process used to achieve it, that is just a photographers vanity.



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