Digital Wars

by Wayne R. Palmer and Pamela J. Herrington

One Sunday morning in a galaxy close to home in the year 1998, Wayne and Pam were reviewing the latest edition of Popular Photography. In it were a number of nature shots. One section was devoted entirely to digital enhancement of nature shots. The following discussion ensued.


"Great shot of the coyote in the wild, in front of those mountains."

"Yes, but the coyote was actually in a game farm, and he was placed in that photo digitally."


"But does that make it any less of a photo? Suppose the photographer sat for several days in front of the mountain scene until a coyote happened to sit down in front of his lens and howl. Would the end product be any better in that case? Or suppose he baited the coyote to come to that spot so he could compose that photo?"

"But if the photo were taken naturally, it would seem more real. It seems that digital manipulation takes the awe out of it. I remember a great photo of a flying helicopter which was framed in a snow arch. It was one of those photos you had to be there to get. It couldn’t have been framed that way."


"Aah, but maybe it was manipulated in a way. Maybe helicopters regularly flew in the area and the photographer knew where to wait for the best shot. Or what if the helicopter pilot was in cooperation – maybe he was told where to hover so the picture could be framed. Is it any less of a picture because of the possible manipulation?"

"But let’s suppose it wasn’t set up. Doesn’t that attest to the skill of the photographer – being able to react quickly to the potential of a great photograph?"


"Then it would seem like only spontaneous grab shots would be authentic. Taking that to the extreme, planning a shot or setting one up takes away from its legitimacy. That would make good photography more a matter of timing than of creative skill. It seems to me that most of the best photographs are planned. And if you disallowed that , photography would be more of the photo journalistic endeavor than an artistic one."

"But don’t you think there’s any art to be found in photojournalism?"


"Sure, but one is formed at the moment, and the other one is formed in the mind."

" I guess the real question, then, is what is the point of a photograph anyway? To tell a story? To be thought provoking? Or to be a beautiful image? All are trying to convey a message through the medium of photography."

The debate goes on ........



Return to Article Directory

Return to Shutterbug Main Page