Purism vs Photoshoppery

Since the dawn of digital photography, an argument has raged between photographers as to what constitutes “photography”. On the one hand, we have the “purists”, who believe that the skill of the photographer is to get things absolutely right “in-camera”, and that subsequent jiggery-pokery of images with software like Photoshop and Paintshop Pro is little better than cheating. Ranged against them, we have the massed ranks of the “Photoshoppers” who think that anything goes as long as it is justified by the end result of all their efforts.

Let me declare an interest at the outset by stating that I belong to the latter group: the dastardly photoshoppers who regularly “distort the works of mother nature” (a phrase which I’ve heard, and read, on a number of occasions) to produce end results which bear no resemblance to the “reality” of the scene photographed. The skill of the photographer, we are told, is to “capture a moment in time” (another oft-used phrase) and to reproduce it on paper in a manner which most closely mirrors the reality of what was seen through the camera eyepiece at the moment of exposure.

Well .. OK .. let battle commence, my respected adversaries: convince me through the power of cogently-reasoned argument why you are right and I, and my fellow photoshoppers, are wrong. Before we “cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war”, however, let me start the ball rolling by making a few statements of incontrovertible fact based on the reality that, whether we like it or not, digital photography is, in essence, no more and no less than the mathematical conversion of a bucketful of numbers, using a “formula” called a “color profile”, into a bucketful of colours. I’ll follow that with two simple questions.

Fact 1: Ten different cameras, all using the same focal length lens, the same viewpoint and the same composition, will produce ten images of a scene which are all slightly different from one another;

Fact 2: Ten identical cameras, each with a different image setting (sharpness, contrast, brightness, saturation and suchlike), will produce, with the same focal length lens etc. etc. used each time, ten slightly different images of the same scene;

Fact 3: A given image viewed on ten different monitor screens will look slightly different in each case, irrespective of whether or not the monitors have been calibrated;

Fact 4: A given image, displayed in different color spaces (Adobe and sRGB, for example) will look slightly different in each case;

Fact 5: A given image, printed on ten different printers, will look different in each case, even with identical photo paper used in each printer;

Fact 6: A given image, printed using the same printer, but printed on ten different photo papers, will look different in each instance;

Question 1: Of all the possible images which result from the above combinations of camera, camera settings, monitors, color spaces etc. etc .etc., which is the one which is the “correct” representation of the scene you photographed?

Question 2: How do you know that the “reality” of what you saw through the eyepiece matches the “reality” of what I saw when I looked through the same eyepiece at the same scene?

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