PG Photography - Páll Guðjónsson | Photo manipulation - When is a photo not a photo anymore ?

Photo manipulation - When is a photo not a photo anymore ?

May 13, 2012  •  5 Comments

While compiling and working on a collection for my photo exhibition in December 2010, I chose this photo as one of the candidates for that part of the exhibition which should represent the abstract side of my work.

Fence Poles - shot in 2004 with Canon EOS 10D and  Canon EF 28-105 f/3,5-5,6 USM - Original - unprocessed

While working on, a question struck my mind:


How far can I take this photo through post processing before it turnes into something else ?

Where are the boundaries - where are the limits ?

I find this question rather interesting, and I really doubt that there can be found one particular, let alone a correct answer to this question.

To take this debate a little further, I decided to use the original above  and make 3 different versions in square format. Every single step in this little exercise was done by using methods that have been around and used by photographers from the birth of photography. There were no fancy or complicated PS tricks involved. Every step, and every single alteration I used were known and used long before the advent of digital photography and photo editing software.

Version I:

My first alteration was done by cropping the original into a 1:1 format, followed by basic photo enhancement in Adobe Lightroom. This involved minor adjustment of exposure, contrast and saturation, as well as sharpening the original raw file.

Despite those basic alterations, I guess everybody will agree with me that this is still a true photo in every sence of the word - yet its not the same as the original.

Lesson learned: Photographs can be altered and still be considered a photograph

So when is a photo not a photo anymore ?

Is it when it stops depicting reality, life and our surroundings precisely as it is ?

Hardly, as if that was the case, the first version would'nt be considered a photo, already being different version from the original.

Life all around us comes in all shades of color. That is not the case with photographs. We tend to distinct between color photos vs. "black and white" photographs.

So - are black and white not colors ?

B&W photos do definitely not depict life as it is - yet many of the greatest masterpieces in photography were made in black and white, representing our life and surroundings in different shades of gray, completely lacking all the colors that play an important part in our life.

So - on to the next step:

Version II:

My only action here was to take version I and convert it in PS to a monochrome version, creating a true B&W / grayscale version.

Is this still a photo - or was the removal of the colors enough to transform the photo into something other than a photo ?

To me - the answer is obvious - this is still a photo.

Lesson learned: Colors are not one of the essential ingredients for making a photo ( that is - if "black" and "white" and all the shades of gray are not considered "colors" )

So when is a photo not a photo anymore ?

Version III:

This version was made by simply using "Invert" in PS to create a negative version of the B&W version above. Nothing more.

Is this still a photo, or has it been transformed into something else ? 

I'll leave it up to the reader to answer that last question.






Skúli Þór Magnússon(non-registered)
Ef 3. útgáfan er ekki ljósmynd, heldur eitthvað annað, vaknar ný spurning. Er stækkuð mynd (positiv), eftir filmu úr myndavél (negatívi), ekki ljósmynd heldur eitthvað annað. Samkvæmt athugun hér að ofan er myndin sem kemur úr vélinni ljósmynd, en vafinn snýr að viðsnúinni þeirrri mynd. Þarna er að vísu sá munur á gömlu tækninni og þeirri nýju að sú gamla notar ljós til að snúa mynd við en stafræna aðferðin ekki. Breytir það einhverju í þessu máli?
Annars finnst mér pælingin óþörf og er sammála skoðun Kristjáns hér að neðan.
Get nefnt það hér í leiðinni, að Ólafur Gíslason listfræðingur kenndi mér á námskeiði um listina í ljósmyndum, að ekki væri hægt að taka mynd af raunveruleikanum. Ljósmynd væri alltaf túlkun ljósmyndarans og segi meira um ljósmyndarann en um raunveruleikann, sem henni er ætlað að sýna. Sannarlega eitthvað til að pæla í.
Kristján Logaon(non-registered)
in my works in late 90s and early 2000 I was dealing with this question and presented in an exhibition images of Film, photographs and an old camera. No one commented on it not being a photograph because I did not tell them the process method. All images had been made with scanner no "camera" used or was it. Is there a difference between a modern digital camera and a scanner.

In my experiments I found that as long as you call it a photograph it is a photograph and in fact no one cares but a photographer. It has never been described to its fullest what is a photograph and what not, neither has what is art and what is not.

Photography is based up on a lie and belief. Photography is no more true than than any thing else in religion but still we have some thing phisical to hold on to there.
because of this photograph is an illusion of something that might be and thus any thing it wants to be. Therefore any thing can be a photograph as long as light was used to create the grounds the work is based up on
More up to the point of author original post.

Black and White image is a not strictly a photograph, it is [b]B&W photograph. [/b]

Just as altered photograph is altered photograph.
Interesting topic ..

I did considered this topic some when I restarted this hobby back in 2008. I intended and even announced kind of boldly I was going to clarify the classification of photographs, perhaps with a platform as photograph forums in mind and with help of my fellow companionships on those forums.

Today I‘m quite sure this task is a huge one and at least not as simple as one could expect it to be, perhaps mostly since all kinds of overlap occurs.

A photograph can easily be classified from the point being 100% straight from the camera and at same time as orginal and realistic as camera can deliver. But at later on, can be modifyed in very biased way with devices such as computer (and programs) and or in print process.

One is trying to copy the reality, the other is modified, mostly in order to gain some positive feedback from the viewer..

But even to copy the reality is very tough job with device as camera. Just by choosing the frame, you are creating instead of just copying. Namely, YOU choose what is and what not is worth seeing.

Even more, the field of depths, field of view, the process when you try to „correct“ colors, choose the „right“ amount of color, "correct" exposure, sharpening, have a picture taken with long time, picture with "blur" in some moving parts but not other etc, etc..

Thus, even a raw photo can quickly transform into some kind of art or at least, not copying the reality as intended. Simply because our assessment of what is „the truth“, what is beautiful or remarkable, will always come as a factor into this process. How much will of cause varies.

My conclusion now is roughly: The most simple classification I can think of to distinct photograph form art, can be found in the essens of the two words, fantasy and reality. When picture is so unreal that we don‘t belive it is a form or in color of natural environment, then it can be classified as unreal or from some kind of„adventure“

And at the same way, when an image is really imaginable as a real image form the natural environment , we can classify it as plain photograph.

Obviously, both being equivalent acceptable. Only what differs is the classification.
Páll Jökull Pétursson(non-registered)
Gaman að lesa þetta, sérstaklega tek ég undir þetta með "svart-hvítt", sem er náttúrlega ekki það sem maður sér, og ætti þess vegna ekki að vera ljósmynd samkvæmt skilgreiningunni hjá hreinlínufólki. Svart-hvítar myndir klassísku meistaranna verða samt aldrei taldar vera "ekki ljósmyndir". Ein af algengustu spurningunum sem ég fæ á myndirnar mínar: "Er þetta fótósjoppað?"
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