August 2, 2012 Butterfly Diary Team

How I Feel About Retouched Photographs

At first, I stared at it. And stared at it.

Yes, we’re talking about the first time I saw an HDR photograph. I knew that the rich, saturated colors and the slightly comic, almost anime-like quality it had, could not be real. Yet, I was intrigued.

HDR, or High Dynamic Range photography, uses certain techniques and a set of methods in getting a series of light intensities that make a photograph’s colors achieve extreme exposure. I know they’re not retouched photographs per se, although several photographers put extensive amounts of work into post processing their HDR photos. HDR photos are truly gorgeous and eye catching, like a rich hummingbird or a splendid Monarch butterfly that teases you with iridescent colors. But because so many are that vibrant, some look fake.

The same thing happened when I saw a retouched photograph: at first, I looked at one and thought to myself, “Would Ansel Adams have done this?”

And then, with the advent of geek tools like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom, and now cool iPad retouching apps like ColorBlast, I knew that the entire retouching of photographs trend was here to stay.

But on the bright side, I think it makes for some excellently creative photographs: so much so, that pardoning the synthetic nature of the craft is just so easy. For me, the distinction between an untouched photograph and a retouched one is a bit like sniffing synthetic notes in a perfume compared to the real thing. But surely, if they both smell good, then what’s the issue?

Now, there’s a camera (by Lytro) that offers you the power to focus on objects after you take the picture.Which is super cool, but it makes me wonder, if we take the entire art of photography out of the equation and end up with a lot of powerful post processing tools, why even bother with photography?

I remember the first time I saw a Henri Cartier-Bresson photo. I was mesmerized as though at a Cirque du Soleil show. And then, in this age of Instagram and post processing, I realized all his photos were completely genuine, and unretouched. Now, isn’t that the kind of photography we keep talking about in perpetuity and in that place where cherubs play harps?

I guess, what I mean to say is, all these tools and apps are great accessories to have (heck, I’ll be the first one to admit I’m addicted to ColorBlast and Instagram) but ONCE you’ve mastered the basics. Right? Otherwise, are we living in an age where anyone can look up things on Wikipedia without memorizing them, the same way we can photo shop a picture without really understanding the basics of a good shot?

As for retouched photographs, I love the way I can play with my shots now, in a way I didn’t before. The purist in me has paved the way to the creative side, for the better. But I still maintain: basics first.

ColorBlast App

Retouched photographs using the iPad ColorBlast app; copyright Matthew Minucci,

ColorBlast App for iPad