HDR, Filters, Saturation…Is It Really Photography?

Photo by Christopher Robinson

Some photos that we spotlighted from the early days of our American Landscape contest sparked a lively and, at times, a fierce discussion about “real” photography. It’s a big topic and one that I want to come back to in this blog post.

Modern photographers have some incredibly powerful digital tools at their disposal. Photoshop, HDR software, effects plug-ins have all changed the way we can work an image in the digital darkroom and today’s DSLRs continue to push the ISO envelope making it possible to shoot scenes that would have been impossible in the past. Some photographers suggest that using these tools is cheating. That the photographs that are the product of such technology aren’t real.

When I think of the greatest landscape photography, names like Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, Galen Rowell and David Muench come to mind. Each of these artists of photography has used the tools at their disposal to achieve their own interpretation of the landscape. Their individual styles vary wildly from each other, yet none is more valid than another.

As cameras, software and printers improve and evolve, photographers are able to create photographs that connect viewers to the landscape with fewer and fewer limitations. Just as the word processor doesn’t make every writer into Hemmingway, powerful digital cameras and software are tools, and in the hands of an artist these tools can create magnificent and evocative images. Does using the tools at hand whether it’s a filter, software or the choice of a wide-angle versus a telephoto lens render a photograph less meaningful?

What do you think? Send your comments and let me know your opinion.