Is It OK That ‘You Can’t Trust Any Images Anymore’?

Is It OK That ‘You Can’t Trust Any Images Anymore’?

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I’ve seen a number of people ask is it ok that ‘you can’t trust any images anymore’ due to the presence of digital manipulation? We all know that plenty of manipulation went on in the darkroom days, but is what is happening nowadays too much?

Maybe this all stems from photography being mis-sold. How many times have you heard the phrase, ‘the camera doesn’t lie’?

It does lie, we all know that. In fact the only thing that the camera does do is lie, because no camera captures light in the same way as the human eye. It always gives us something a little bit different, a slight change in perspective.

So landscape photography is never a true to life slice of the landscape, at least from a human perspective. It’s fine to treat landscape photography as documentary, not art, but neither one of these perceptions is ‘right’. One doesn’t overrule the other.

It’s pretty clear from my photos where I stand on this. I’m more inclined to see landscape photography as art, not documentary, and therefore open to as much or as little digital manipulation as you want. To me, this is where the fun lies in photography. But not everyone is the same, and that’s fine too.

Remember though, that even the act of pressing a shutter is a little bit of a manipulation. Think about those long exposure shots of sky or water. They’re real but outside the realm of our own experiences.

And that’s probably the greatest argument for photography as art: it allows us to capture something that otherwise we could not see, it reminds us that our way of seeing is not the only way of seeing, and it gives us an appreciation for those small moments of time that otherwise pass unrecognised.

How I Made This Photo

Shutter Speed: 5 sec.
Aperture: f/11
ISO: 50
GPS: 47°29’54” N 19°2’29” E
Camera: Canon 6D
Lens: Canon 17-40 mm f/4L @ 25 mm
No. of Exposures: 1
before editing
The Before Photo
after editing
The After Photo

You can’t see it in this peaceful looking photo, but right behind where I took this shot is a very busy road that is very difficult to cross. Then, you only have a tiny bit of pavement before the river starts. It was a little cramped and uncomfortable, but I couldn’t help but think, while taking this photo, just how enjoyable photography is. It shouldn’t be, if you’re trapped between a river a road, but somehow the whole experience was remarkably positive and a fun way to spend an evening.

As usual, I used the Lightroom Develop System (based on Recipe ‘2n Colourful Sunset’). If you take a look at the before photo, the lights on the bridge were very green, as they had only just been switched on. I wanted to make these yellow, and to really emphasise the blue hour sky and red sunset in the background. The best way to do this is with the white balance / filter trick. In this case, I raised the white balance to 13400 and recovered the blue sky and water with graduated filters. I made some changes to the point curves, raising blue highlights for example, to boost this effect, and added some split-toning (yellow highlights, blue shadows) to make it more natural.

After exporting to Photoshop, I used the free transform tool to straighten the horizon and better balance the photo. Originally, there was too much water. I then used the saturation masks to adjust colour balance and contrast according to the get colours like the pros tutorial, then I ran the pro contrast, highlights glow and shadows sharpening actions found in the free Photoshop Colour Control ActionPack.

If you want to create them yourself, without using the actions, take a look at the end of the Landscapes Masterclass tutorial. I finished the photo by using a levels layer to darken the reflections, then added a vignette and reverse vignette to lighten the centre, as seen here.

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Follow Tim Daniels:

Hi, I'm Tim Daniels, photographer and photo trainer, founder of Lapse of the Shutter and creator of the totally free Lightroom Develop System. I've travelled to (probably) 30 countries over the last few years, taking photos and licensing them around the world, and creating lots of free photography learning resources. Read More ...

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