Often times, while browsing photography forums, I encounter individuals claiming: I’m a Photography Purist… Manipulating photos is like cheating… I like to have perfect photos straight out of the camera.
No you’re not.
Being a Purist in Photography doesn’t mean anything. It’s usually an amateur who refuses to have anything to do with processing softwares and tries to capture a perfect image straight from the camera “without altering reality”. He claims he is not a cheater and considers Film Photography as the “real Photography” (whatever that means).
So why can’t you be a purist in photography?
Nowadays everyone uses digital cameras, DSLRs or point-and-shoots. So you either shoot in jpeg or RAW format.
Jpeg shooters: A jpeg is a compressed and finished file the camera delivers to you after you clicked on the shutter. Before appearing on the preview screen, the camera has already processed the image, applied the settings you have chosen and compressed it into a smaller file for your viewing pleasure. You might not have used any software to alter your photos personally, but your camera did it for you, with the settings you have selected. This is already altering reality, the final image is not exactly how the camera sees the scene.
For example, if you shoot with a “cloudy” White Balance setting and in “Landscape Mode”, you already asked your camera to saturate the greens, the blues and make the overall colors warmer in the final result. That’s indirectly cheating too. As a purist, you actually shouldn’t even use a digital camera.
RAW shooters: The RAW format is actually what your camera sees. It creates a big file with all the required raw information, untouched, and delivers it to you for your processing pleasure. All professional photographers shoot in RAW.
A RAW image is seriously an ugly image. The colors are bland, it lacks contrast and saturation.
A RAW image is equivalent to a negative. It needs to be processed to make the true picture appear. The difference is that the darkroom has been replaced by a software on a computer. It takes less space and does the same thing, without the chemical fumes.
But developing in a Darkroom is NOT cheating!
You would be a fool to think that. Did you know that many tools the photographer uses on Photoshop, like Burning or Dodging came from the darkroom?
Many Purists often mention Ansel Adams as a perfect landscape purist photographer. I find it amusing because Ansel Adams was actually one of the biggest “cheaters” (as they would call it), spending hours and hours in the darkroom processing his photos using the burn/dodge technique. One of his famous quotes is: “The film is the score, but the print is the performance.”
Photoshop/Lightroom/Aperture is the same thing as a darkroom. Even when you send your photos to a printing lab, they would process, adjust and correct colors for you before printing. Same same.
Why the need to process photos?
Photography is not about playing with the settings on your camera, it’s not about copying the world.
Photography is about the vision of the person behind the viewfinder, combined with his aesthetic sense. Vision and aesthetics result in the interpretation of the scene through the photographer’s mind. Photographers have the power to create, to freeze time and deliver a message while excluding surrounding elements.
Just as a painter puts on canvas his own vision, a photographer paints with the light and uses his own art to create art.
If I used the food analogy, a purist would be the cook bringing you a basket full of raw vegetables freshly picked and calling it “pure ratatouille” versus the cook who would spend an hour in the kitchen seasoning and cooking it to his taste.
So no, you are not a Purist in Photography, the only real purist is the one who watches the scene without a camera on his face and never shares it with anyone.
Do you agree with any of the above? If not, please share your comments below and let’s keep it nice and constructive.