Travis Thurston


What is "real" photography?

It's inevitable that anytime you start scrolling through the comments on a beautiful image with a high dynamic range (HDR), you will find an argument. This argument usually goes something like this:

Person 1: This isn't true photography. It's so manipulated it doesn't even look real.

Person 2: Photography is art in whatever capacity. It's not just about whether something looks "real" or not.

So what is "real" photography? It's so subjective that I honestly don't think it's worth arguing about or even defining. Plus, I'm trying to keep my posts on the shorter side. When I do ponder this diatribe though, I reflect on a few things:

Technology in Post

How much technology was used in post processing of this image? How much was the image manipulated? Was it a few tonal changes? Is it a composite image?

At the same time, it takes a lot of expertise and a deep understanding of the data contained within an image to use software effectively and tastefully without blowing out tones and introducing unwanted noise.

Creative Vision

What I'm talking about here is visual literacy. Just like literacy in regards to text, it involves comprehension of what's going on in an image - why an image works better when framed or cropped a certain way, how objects are arranged within the frame (the "mise en scéne" of still imagery basically), how angles and different focal lengths portray meaning and evoke feelings of power or submission, how patterns and leading lines move a viewer's eyes around an image and so on. What message does this image send?


This is something I think many people don't consider when discussing the subject. Photography is A LOT of work - from planning shoots, maintaining equipment, digital file management, post processing, etc. Waking up at 5 a.m. every day for several weeks in a row to get that perfect sunrise shot or having to throw any your entire day's schedule to be somewhere at a moment's notice is not an uncommon thing among professional photographers. You have to be highly adaptive.

So, next time you take someone's image and share it like it's your own image without giving any credit, please consider the amount of work that has probably gone into it.

Also, educate yourself on intellectual property and stop asking photographers what camera they used as if that's the only reason the image is nice.

So, in short and in my humble opinion, "real photography" isn't really something that can be defined objectively. Of course, I see images that are obviously manipulated but I also see the effort, skill and vision behind those manipulated images.

What are your thoughts?