You’re Wrong!

Every field of human interest has its own endless arguments. Big Bang vs. Steady State; Bible vs. Quran; Apple vs. Microsoft; Republican vs. Democrat; Chevy vs. Ford; Tastes Great vs. Less Filling… In some cases, these arguments are pointless because no one is ever going to change her mind; others are pointless because the answer came years and years ago but a significant minority refuses to admit it.

Despite the pointlessness of these debates, you will find people in comment sections across the Internet furiously arguing for one side or the other. “Anyone  dumb enough to buy a Chevy truck should be shot.” “Steve Jobs is the Messiah!”

Photography has its share of these pointless debates.  A few of my favorites:

Nikon vs. Canon. You will find internet commenters who are fans of each brand. These fanboys will argue with passion which is better. I, of course, am a Nikon Guy; but put a gun to my head and I’ll admit Canons are just as good.

People Take Pictures, not Cameras. I read a piece by someone who was extremely critical of anyone who actually thought buying a better camera would make them a better photographer. This mantra seems to be affirmed every other day on one photography site or another. In the piece I just read, the author even claimed that having a better camera can make one a worse photographer by “exposing your shortcomings”!

Let me go against the Perceived Wisdom in this debate and say that of course a better camera can make you a better photographer. Of course, too, it isn’t automatic. A camera is just a set of tools. Generally speaking, better tools lets you do better work. Of course, if a photographer is so incredible dense she can’t understand her tools, or has utterly no artistic sense whatsoever, then she isn’t going to be a better photographer with a D3 than she was a with a $100 point and shoot. But most folks aren’t that dense or artistically lacking. For most of us, who care enough about photography to try and learn how to do it better, a superior camera will make us better. Maybe not a lot better, but some.

It’s Wrong to Use Photoshop to “Change” a Photo. Years ago I was talking photography with a cousin at a wedding. He proudly told me how he never used Photoshop, that his photography was pure. No post processing for him (he would, however, use darkroom techniques).

I use Photoshop a great deal (probably too much). I eliminate all kinds of things from photos – posts, fences, zits, garbage, people – and I change colors, relative sizes, dimensions and textures on a whim. Now, I warn people on my Flickr profile that none of my photos are offered as truthful, accurate depictions of what was in front of my lens. I like to play God.

Obviously, a photo journalist is offering her photograph as a depiction of reality. If she alters her shot to increase the drama she is committing fraud. On the other hand, no one ever accused Monet of “tinkering with reality”. We understand his work is not purely representative. Most of us know, too, that fashion photography leans heavily on Photoshop and other technical enhancers of reality.

Like its older cousin Painting, Photography is now free to depict not just the reality of its subject, but the artist’s perception, whatever it might be, of that subject.

Photo by Mr. Cortes, subject to a creative commons license

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