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From Toffa Berg Photography

Image manipulation

When does an image become a manipulated image? Where does the manipulation start? In camera or when Photoshop takes over? (let’s not delve into the part of AI that has come into play this last year) Many questions with no clear answers. For what is a manipulated image? Many may regard the RAW-image file or an unaltered JPEG as an unmanipulated image, but is this true?

It’s not all what it seems…

If you look at what is being done to an image before one presses the shutter, I would say the manipulation starts there. Before one applies filters, lenses and does one’s composition one may set the capture mode of the image or choose film if one shoots analog, choose the ISO that one feels best suits the situation and white balance. All steps that alter reality to a vision we see in our mind’s eye. We use filters and flash to make the RAW-file yield as much as possible in terms of dynamic range, so we have more to go by when we download the images onto our hard drive or analog printing process. 

Even the old film images were manipulated before one fired the shutter. Both colour and black and white images were made with filters to either boost some contrast, remove reflections, correct colour cast or special effects were added in the form of filters or manipulation of lens glass to achieve soft-focus or star flares. And when one entered the darkroom, one would dodge and burn to make the final image show the vision one had for the final product as well as manual “photoshopping” the final print. 

Draw me like one of your french girls Jack…

So image manipulation is nothing new to the digital age. Even the Victorians would apply “photoshopping” to their images in the same vein we do today before posting our images to Instagram or Snapchat. As Rose says in Titanic: “Draw me like one of your French girls Jack” because we wanted to alter how others would see us. And not to speak of the Russians who “photoshopped” out those who had fallen out of grace with the sovjet communist party.

Ansel Adams would rely on image manipulation to make his beautiful images. In the field he would employ the zone system to expose his negative to yield as much information as possible. He then spent hours or days in the darkroom dodging and burning his prints to get them as he envisioned when he shot the image. It was actually the reason he and Fred Archer came up with the Zone system. To make the negative yield as much information to work with in the final process. Does this degrade him as a photographer? 

Does it matter?

In my opinion not at all. Rather the opposite. For what is the job of the photographer? Is it not to make images that make us stop and wonder? Make us dream away into another world, another realm?

When it comes to “photoshopping” images, I feel it has more to do with an elitist mindset. There’s a group out there who feel threatened by the thought that a kid with a computer and Photoshop can make the same images that someone who “wasted” several years at school learning the same thing. But is this bad? I would say no. For talent will always show through. It’s not like every Dick and Jane with a PC and Photoshop can make images on the level of Ansel Adams. One has to know the basics of photography no matter how, and Photoshop can’t make a crappy image a masterpiece no matter how much manipulation one puts into the image. As the old proverb goes; “One can’t polish a turd”. 

So for all of you out there who feel image-manipulations are wrong, well then maybe you should start working in the field of forensic photography. Because that’s one of the few genres that does not allow any image manipulation.

Toffa Berg, a dedicated landscape photographer hailing from the picturesque landscapes of Stavanger, Norway. Toffa's lens is a portal to the intimate and less-traveled corners of Norway's natural beauty. With a passion for solitude and an aversion to city life, Toffa's photography is a reflection of the quiet moments and serene vistas that capture the essence of the Norwegian wilderness. He runs both Toffa and Knotten and Toffa Berg Photography. Under this author profile he writes in the power of being a photographer and not a vanlifer.

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