Thursday, 11 June 2009

Is digital retouching cheating?

My first experience of photography was at college. I studied 'real' photography, I loaded film, used chemicals and watched my photographs unfold in front of my eyes in the dark room. 

It was that excited nervousness to see if I had taken a good photograph which had me hooked. 

I loved the feeling of relying on my photographic ability and trusting myself. Seeing a good photograph appear was, and still is such an immense feeling. However, if I didn't get a good photograph - which back then when I was learning, was a fairly common occurrence - the amazment I first experienced at being able to scan my photograph and make changes to it digitally was immeasurable. 

I had discovered a whole new side to photography, and have self-taught myself retouching and restoration ever since. 

Some people told me they thought the method of digitally retouching and altering photographs was cheating that first skill and instinct for a good image I had learnt and come to trust, and some still do. I however, believe it is an art form in itself, just as valuable and creative if done sensitively and artistically.

Photographs are invaluable, especially those taken many years ago with film cameras of which there are no digital record. In many ways, film and transparencies are more stable in terms of 'life-span' than the digital copies we produce today, but to be able to digitise, repair and restore them is a priceless and precious technique not to be underestimated for the level of skill and creativity needed to perform.

As the world continues to become engulfed in the digital revolution, it becomes more and more important not to forget and destroy the history, memories and moments captured by film all those years ago. (Film is by no means 'going-away' and is widely used by top photographers all over the world, but the majority of these images will still come into digital format fairly quickly for use in publishing). 

To realise that old, sometimes ancient, images can be restored and preserved, is part of the key to protecting our history, our past and the history of photography. 

So, my answer is no, its not cheating. In my opinion, it can be cheating if done to a level of OTT, but all the time it is in the hands of creative artists, I believe it can only add value and integrity. 

Link below to Tom Hawkins article and brief explanation of how retouching is used -

Also, a fantastic article by Ken Rockwell on 'Film Vs. Digital' -

1 comment:

James Bromley said...

I think it can be cheating if it's just pressing a couple of buttons in Photoshop - real picture enhancement is just the same artform as with chemicals, developers and light, merely through the mouse & screen!