All we perceive is just an invention of our brains.
Reality isn’t just the data sent along the optic nerve. Much of what we think we see is actually created in our heads; our brains invent and add new information, using what we already know to create a personal model of the world around us.
Reality is contaminated by what’s already in our brains. Furthermore, our vision is limited by our eyes’ construction. Memories change over time too.
Can we apply this same fluidity of reality when creating a photograph?
Your camera’s internal computer processes data from its sensor. If it is set to take JPEGs then the processor will be programmed, probably by a technician in Japan, to dictate how the picture should look.
If you apply a filter, or convert to black and white, the processor will alter its data. The photo’s millions of red, green and blue pixels change luminosity, adjusted according to whatever filter you choose to apply.
Throwing away the unused data in a process called compression, the camera records one usable, shareable and widely compatible JPEG file onto the memory card. All modern cameras can produce great results in this way.
A talented photographer I know takes amazing photos. Her camera is set to record only JPEGs. The finished images straight from her camera look great. Almost every picture is a wall-hanger.
Her Zen-like workflow takes me back to entrusting my rolls of Kodachrome to a local laboratory to develop, process and print. Her methodology emphasises the importance of getting the composition and exposure exactly right.
Another option is to ‘shoot raw’. The camera records the raw data from the sensor into a file on the memory card without any processing.
With more versatility, you choose how the photo looks as opposed to the camera deciding.
Raw file developing, using tools like Lightroom, is non-destructive; anything you do to the file can be undone. Nothing is thrown away or lost as it is with a compressed JPEG.
Akin to creating prints from a film negative, you can produce any number of different-looking JPEGs from that raw file without damaging the original.
Shooting raw has its disadvantages. File sizes are larger, raw file previews are not universally compatible and you need to learn the processing skills.
There is a school of thought that a photo should always be untouched and a direct record of what was seen when it was taken.
For reportage, I agree; the picture must be an honest representation, and news photographers have damaged their reputations for editing pictures.
In portraiture, I have no qualms about removing a spot from a face or adding blur to soften wrinkles.
In most photography, we are trying to create something aesthetically pleasing. If a lamppost detracts from a landscape I can’t physically remove it as I would litter. Is there anything wrong with deleting it using a computer to make a stronger composition?
After all, our brains change reality all the time.