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  • Writer's pictureKen Voyles

Photo, No Photo

What is a photograph these days? Who is a photographer ? How do we know what is a professional photo versus something taken on a highly capable cell phone ? And how can we tell when something is edited or in its original state ?

Well, let’s start with the last one. Every photo is edited in some way, even most cell phone images get run through an app or some on-phone editor to at least crop it. Many people like know simple things using the easy-editors – changing to black or white or adding a filter of some kind to give it a cool-blue tone or a vintage style. These tools are all editing. But that’s barely the beginning of the story.

When we see a majestic view of the sun peeking through a monstrous tower of summer clouds over the Detroit River, for example, we have to ask whether those colors we see on the screen (or in print) are true to the original image or not. Often times they are not. This is where the art of photography has taken us – it’s no longer having the eye for the perfect image, you can adjust a wide range of image aspects, from the tone, the vibrancy, the various color levels and curves, to the contrast and even the sharpness of an image. And that’s not even talking about the subtler adjustments that can be made, removing or adding something to the image, including effects that may alter what we are seeing.

Any alteration, then, any adjustment to the original photo, is editing, pure and simple. Once a photo is in a computer it becomes the target of the photographer’s desire to “play,” the idea being to take his or her own notion about color, depth of field, blurring or enhancing any element to a point where they believe the story has been told.

So, taking a photo is no longer the end but the beginning. In some ways not that far removed from when a photographer went into the dark room and played with the timing of his exposure to alter a print in some given way.

And while we constant stories (and see them) of people taking amazing photos with their phones, it is again not necessarily the phone but the post-edit by a skilled professional that makes the difference.

There are a number of good articles online attempting to showcase the differences between true DSLR camera systems and those onboard different phones. So, I’m not going to try answer the questions - often times because you can’t easily so do. When seen side by side the differences can be very subtle and which is better is left to the viewer.

In the end it may not matter about the “camera” in question at all. The editing becomes the real key, and making good image editors out of someone using a phone for fun images is a different topic altogether.

Now as for the photographer, I for one support the idea that we are all photographers., especially if we have the “eye,” if we can see the picture, tell the story, capture the moment.

Let’s not worry about who is taking the photo or how but let’s wrap this up where we started. What is photograph ? We may have partially answered this above – a photograph is a living thing that is simply a moment in time and space, and perhaps nothing more. What comes after is not the photo at all, it’s the ingenious nature of man at work to alter, enhance, revise and revamp his very experiences even the ones he captures on film, or digital chip.

Photo or no photo, doesn’t matter. It simply is.

Original camera image at left; edit by Ken at right.

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