Digital Manipulation: HOW MUCH IS TOO MUCH?

As the 21st century gets more tech savvy day by day, us humans need to sometimes step back and ask ourselves if the technology we are creating is being used properly. But then I asked myself, what does properly mean anymore? As a 21 year old college student majoring in Digital Media, I have always had this philosophy in my head that artists must step back and look at the big picture of what their style of work is. Why do we create art? How do we go about creating it? One of the techniques that artists have been using a lot lately that I have never really gave much thought is our topic of “Digital Manipulation“.


Left: Photo from / Right: Photo by Daquilla Family Photograph by A. Werner and Sons

  The photographs above can quickly be determined that they are two completely different types of photographs. If we examine each photo carefully we can also see that they both are not “natural” photographs. We can obviously tell that the photo on the left has had a heavy amount of effects, coloring, altering, etc. done to it, which we could call manipulation done in modern time. But looking at the photo on the right we may first think that it is just a typical outdated photo. Maybe it is almost the same type of photo as the one of the left. Once again with examining this photo we can tell that it has also been manipulated in a way. The three people on the left are popping out more slightly than the woman on the far right. Now I know this simple effect isn’t a jaw dropper but maybe back in 1917 it blew viewers’ mustaches off. SOOO SEAN you’re telling me digital manipulation has been around since 1917?!? If I were to guess I would like to say that some type of techniques of manipulation have always been around since the invention of photography. Personally I find it hard to believe that any piece of media rather it be video or photo is truly “natural” anymore. First things first, since most cameras are digital we must realize what the digital part changes for capturing images and video. When you break it down, I think digital cameras never capture true photos but rather just a bunch of pixels creating its version of what the camera is pointed at. Especially with the recent popularity of DSLR cameras, any one is able to go out and purchase a decent camera to start their “photography career”. Got a couple more bucks to spend, why not throw in a version of Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom and go crazy with them effects! After doing some research on digital manipulation I started to find same patterns and reasons why manipulation is used. According to the great Wikipedia, Photo/Digital manipulation is the application of image editing techniques to photographs in order to create an illusion or deception after the original photographing took place. So these “illusions” and “deceptions” being applied to images must serve a good purpose…right? I found that digital manipulation is most used to correct and adjust the look of the objects, images, color, etc. to create and satisfy the style of the artist. So if Steve McJumbalee of McJumbalee Media takes beautiful photos of models and completely changes the look of the model by adding colors, rainbows, unicorns, and a motorcycle riding elephant in the background, is that art? As crazy as that all sounds I think it could be, but only depending on the audience Mr. McJumbalee normally displays his work to. Now for example if were going to study the work of a sports photographer and the work of a fashion photographer, I would guess that we would come to find two completely different styles. From my personally experience of playing sports my whole life I was bound to run into those photo tents that were always at big tournaments. Purchasing a photo of yourself during one of your games is something every Mom wants to hang on their fridge. But do you think Mom is buying it for the way the highlights and shadows really bring out the clarity and contrast of your eyes? No Mom is just wanting a clear photo of her son playing a sport. Now if Mom wanted her kid to get Senior photos done, we would probably look to the fashion photographer. Without getting into detail, we would assume the fashion photographer manipulates their photos to make certain features pop to make the photo look more appealing.

Photo: Lars Klove/ New York Times
Photo: Lars Klove/ New York Times

But going from a person who just takes photos or video for a hobby and is a to big named photographer, the way the photos are handled after words is different. The photo to the left looks like sisters right? Actually “they” are the same person along with a slight digitally eye job . Digital Manipulation may be present everywhere without our knowledge. Any form of media you see has most likely been manipulated in some way to appear more appealing to an audience. My point I am trying to get across is there is no telling if digital manipulation is good or bad. The style of media we see everyday that is altered by digital manipulation is changing rapidly just like technology itself. People against digital manipulation can research all we want why it is bad, unnatural, and lazy, but it all comes down to what style of look is in popular demand. So why must professional photographers and editors make their fashion models as skinny as a twig, we would have to start look for our answer by researching what is popular in our society.







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