I remember years ago having a conversation with a fellow photographer about the merits of final prints looking as close to reality as possible. At the time, digital photography was a mere spark, so our discussion was about how different brands of color film produce very different looking images – Velvia vs. Kodachrome anyone? His point was that the tools don’t really matter, it’s how the brain processes an image that is important. In other words, his goal was to get a photograph to look as close as possible to how his eyes and brain processed a scene! This of course gets a bit philosophical, since individual reality is always subjective.
With the advent of digital photography there are now countless ways to doctor photos, use creative license liberally, and end up with final images on a continuum from capturing nature as real as possible, to what really amounts to art more than photography.
The age-old debate really centers around ethics and aesthetics. When a photographer attempts to pass an image for something real when it has been doctored up, then we say ethics are violated. If however, as in the image today, I say I have taken liberties to enhance an image into something I think looks cool, and I tell you I have done this (I did this!), then I am fine on ethics and the debate turns to whether what I have done is aesthetically pleasing?
The famous black & white landscape photographer, Ansel Adams, once said the negative is the score and the print the performance. The great thing today with digital software is that one digital negative can produce countless performances! For me, I love the opportunity to take each digital negative and turn it into something I am proud of, no matter where I land on the reality-art continuum. At the same time, I do believe in being honest about the software I use and the degree to which I have manipulated an image.
The image today of the meandering Willamette River honors subjective reality. It honors the fact that we all see the world through our own unique individual lenses. And it is through our unique lenses, that we share with the world our truth.