The process of photography
With holidays a fading memory and thoughts turning to Irish hills again, I found it pleasant to read last month’s MV Newsletter. Under the heading ‘Mountain Photography’, it directed me to the Walkers Association website and there a very fine photo of Mullaghanattin by Eric O’Gorman (winner of MV’s competition in 2006) caught my attention. Perhaps as added commendation, the photo was described as being ‘unmanipulated’, which I take to mean not post-processed. The impression, however, that an image that has not been post-processed using computer software is therefore completely ‘unprocessed’ - and hence, implicitly, more genuinely true-to-nature and objective - is hardly an accurate one. It doesn’t take into account what has already taken place in the camera itself. Even in the simplest cameras, pre-programmed algorithms get to work straight away on the raw data registered by the sensor when the button is pressed. This usually entails the compression of the data into a Jpeg file, discarding in the process what the camera ‘interprets’ as non-essential, even though that may include detail we would ourselves prefer to preserve. It also means that the colours are rendered according to algorithms that likewise interpret the colour data received. If you can arrange to have several differently branded cameras to photograph the same landscape simultaneously, using the equivalent photo setting of ‘normal’ or ‘natural’ on each one, you will find that the colours will still vary, and sometimes considerably, from camera to camera. Whether any one of them reproduces closely what the eye has seen is very much open to question. On the other hand, if your camera allows you to shoot ‘raw’, without in-camera processing, you can later use a computer programme to do what the camera has done, although this time with a far greater degree of personal control and perhaps fidelity to your original vision. Similarly, you can re-process a Jpeg file to get the picture to look as vibrantly close to what you saw as you can get it. It is true that this also opens up, not only the possibility of some degree of artistic interpretation, but also that of ‘creation’ and downright ‘manipulation’. Given the documentary nature of MountainViews, my own opinion would be that post-processing should not be of the creative kind. I recently saw the web page of an Irish photographer, offering his heavily ‘Photoshopped’ images of Wicklow. They were aesthetically pleasing, but had little to do with the 'real' Wicklow I walk in.