Am I a Manipulative Person?


When doing an art fair, at least once during the weekend, I’ll be asked if my images are manipulated. I’m not sure how to answer this question because with the popularity of digital photography, manipulation has taken on a bad connotation. In the pre-digital days, photographers choose their film to give them the colors and saturation they wanted. Fujichrome Velvia was extremely popular because of its extreme saturation and contrast. Galen Rowell proudly showed his transparencies to people who questioned the accuracy of his color. The Velvia trannies he showed them accurately matched his prints. However the colors of Velvia have very little to do with accurate color.

With the amazing control that digital printing gives you, there’s no reason to shoot with Velvia. If you’re shooting digitally you want a low contrast and low saturation capture. If you’re shooting film, you want a transparency or negative that will give you a low contrast and low saturation scan. Then, instead of relying on the fixed color and saturation response of a particular film, you can take your bitmap and make it look the way you want it to.

That’s how photographers have always worked. They used their tools to make the best, most attractive print possible. No one would accuse the great Henri Cartier-Bresson of manipulating his work. He always shot with a Leica and a 50mm lens. He never cropped his photographs and I believe never made his own prints. However, I remember seeing an exhibit of his where if you looked closely at some prints you saw that the highlights were brought down with Spotone. Spotone is what photographers used in the old days to remove dust spots from prints. His prints were actually painted on to make them look better.

I just want to produce a print that looks beautiful and hopefully will upset your “Time Space Continuum”.

Am I a manipulator? You decide.

The above image is a photo of Chamise leaves after I finished working on it. Below is a straight scan of the Astia transparency. Astia is a low contrast, low saturation film with pretty accurate color. The image isn’t sharpened and you can still see the marks in the corners where the film was hung to dry.

This is a very extreme example of what I might do to a transparency. Most of them don’t take so much work.


~ by danbaumbach on February 28, 2009.

6 Responses to “Am I a Manipulative Person?”

  1. Dan, if all I wanted was to see a Chemise plant I’d get a field guide and would probably not bother checking the image credits there. When I look at a Dan Baumbach image, I expect a much more complex and creative viewing experience than a picture of a plant and you delivered it beautifully.


  2. Sometimes I think we (speaking of photographers in general, myself included) unnecessarily put a lot of energy into questions such as this. The real issue at hand seems to be the perceived integrity of the work. I think you know the answer to your own question though. Is it manipulated? Yes – though “manipulation” is a rather open term. Is that a bad thing? No. It can and is oftentimes a wonderful thing – what would photography actually be without interpretation? In regards of how to deal with such questions, I rather enjoyed Alain Briot’s essay on the luminous-landscape some time back:

    Lovely image!

  3. Hi Dan: as a b/w photographer/printer, I’ve got no issues with you or anyone manipulating their photographs 🙂

    BTW, the plant is “ChAmise”.

    Beautiful Dan Baumbach photograph.

  4. Irregardless as to how you obtained the image, it is an outstanding photo!

  5. Thank you Ron!

    – Dan.

  6. Ansel Adams work looked nothing like the scene he captured. However, some photographers will PS to the point I Can’t enjoy it. Please notice I wrote “I”, this does not mean that the next person cannot receive pleasure out of viewing it.

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