Digital Delusion

Digital Delusion

A pixel is a pixel is a pixel… right? What is a pixel on my camera is a pixel on my computer which is a pixel of a digital or print file that I present to a photo client. True, there is no denying it, digital photographs are composed of pixels, lots of them, millions upon millions, each a single dot with a specific color representation, combining to make a final photograph. Since the birth of digital photography, photographers have been ever evolving to leverage post processing software to edit digital images. Every photographer uses these tools differently, some rely on them more than others, and I’d argue that some photographers are more graphic designers than photographers. But we are not going to get into those details today, a book could be written on those personal thoughts alone. Today I want to talk about something that has been eating at me for months, and it’s bugged me so much that I felt that I finally needed to share it with you. I’m sure this post will upset some who are just as upset as I am about the topic I’m about to discuss. That’s good! The people who are losing out are the ones who don’t feel or say anything at all.

This is my blog, it’s been home to my personal and professional visual works, adventures, advice, and personal photographic thoughts for years. There are almost 300 blog posts. I try to be as real as I can with genuine thought. This blog isn’t a marketing gimmick, it serves many purposes, ranging from visual entertainment to educational. I try not to speak out of line, and if I’m providing advice to my readership I do my best to ensure that information has integrity behind it. The one thing you will not experience reading here on my blog are lies and me feeding you, my clients and fellow photographers, a bunch of shit.

I’m a photographer, I’m paid to take photographs of people. I’ve photographed just about every age a person could be and in a dizzying array of situations. I do edit my photos in a post processing application. I’m asked to do very normal things to photographs in post, and I’m asked by some clients to do some very disturbing things in editing their images. However, contrary to many photographers out there, my job is 95% done after I’ve taken the picture. I’ve put in the time and effort required to make the photograph great at time of capture, so my editing load is minimal. For other photographers, taking the picture is only 25% of the completion. They spend countless hours in post. But this isn’t the “shit” that I’m talking about, the subject that has my feathers a bit ruffled.

A couple months ago, I watched a photography workshop. It was taught by a “successful” woman who has been a working photographer for many years. I don’t want to name names, that’s not the point. The topic… the idea… is the point, however, I’m sure the others out there who watched the same workshop will know exactly who I’m talking about. This particular photographer makes her living making “contemporary woman portraits,” which is just a jazzed-up way of saying she takes flirty/boudoir/sexed-up photos of women (she doesn’t call it boudoir because everyone else who takes these kind of images calls it that). Simply put, women come in, get their hair/makeup done, and get their photos taken. Nothing wrong with that, right, everyone wants look and feel good, and may as well get your photo taken in the process. It’s a fun time, I’d recommend all women do it at some point.

We’ve all grown accustomed to photoshop. It’s bled it’s way into our daily language, almost as prevalent as when we say, “just google it.” It’s a necessary evil for many people to do their job, and that is great. I’m not a huge photoshopper, I like to keep the integrity of my images from capture all the way through post. The most I’d do in post is erase an eye sore in the background, like a light socket, a power cord, etc. In extreme cases I’ll do some skin retouch, take out a pimple, maybe a bruise. I know others go WAY further than that in post. Yes, people will shave hips, thin arms, and they can make you transform like Optimus Prime. All of these things are now common knowledge to most, and for me, it was a, “it is what it is” idea of how things work. I don’t personally dramatically alter people in my photographs, I also don’t advocate it, however, I never got really upset at another photographer for doing it, that is… until I watched this workshop, and saw the digital delusion and bold faced lies happening as I watched in real time.

So back to this boudoir photographer. To have working examples of her work and how she does her job from capture to post, she had some in-class people volunteer to have their portraits taken ahead of the workshop, so examples would be ready to display for the viewership. During the photo shoots themselves, she did a great job in making sure the women looked the best they could with both presentation and posing. She NEVER showed any of the women the back of the camera (we’ll come back to this in a bit). She then proceeded to give a live demonstration of her typical editing flow via photoshop. Unless the women were already athletic/skinny she went to town on the ladies’ bodies. She brushed skin, thinned arms, eliminated hips/thighs, completely erased and re-fabricated chin lines, blew away any wrinkles, and even lifted eyes. Sure, well beyond my comfortable editing style, but… we are still not at the point that upset me.

As she was editing, she fielded some questions from the audience, with one asking, “do you ever show clients the back of the camera during the shoot?” It was quickly replied with a hasty, “Never! I would never show a client an unedited photograph.” Wow… ok, I had my suspicions, but I tried to ignore them, to see how she would justify this reasoning. Honestly, I was more curious as to why this was such a defined answer to the question. It was clear to this lady that under no circumstance would any client peep on the back of the camera.

Next was the big reveal. The photographer had a viewing with the women she had taken photos of, and this is where my jaw dropped. This is where, after watching someone quite literally re-invented a woman via digital manipulation, I got upset. As she started to show the women their photographs, they started to cry. Tears of joy ran down their face, with the reoccurring comment of, “I can’t believe that is me… I mean… I just can believe it.” Damn straight that’s not you! That’s you after a thorough asskicking in photoshop. I know, ’cause I just watched it happen. The icing on the cake is when the photographer replied to these astonished women with a, “Yep, that’s you. Can you believe that’s you? Look how beautiful you are! It’s just amazing, you are a beautiful woman. That’s you.” The balls on this lady… It’s one thing to take a chainsaw to a photograph, it’s another to say that the same photograph, post digital nip/tuck, is the same person which is presented in your digital frankenstein. It was that intimate exchange between the client and photographer that was truly upsetting. These ladies were literally crying tears of happiness as they looked at “themselves,” yet the whole time these images are not real, and the photographer is sitting there, starring them in the face and using a light, intense whisper of a voice for dramatic effect, “look at you, you are so beautiful.” Digital delusion presented for the whole online community to witness. The photographer was more of a dirty used car salesman if you ask me. It was a slap in the face to photographers, and a lie presented to her every client. Lady, I have no problems if you want to play digital plastic surgeon, but I definitely have a major problem with completely lying and misleading your clients. Chopping up a picture in post, trimming 20-50 pounds off of waistlines, and then telling your client to look at these images and appreciate themselves. And maybe the worst of the worst, this lady is essentially promoting this process to thousands of photographers watching online, who are seeking solid information for their own photography businesses. Mind you, this is a process that this photographer does to all of her finished photographs regardless of what the client asks for.

Sure, we know that every celebrity on every magazine cover has gotten the same treatment, hell it’s standard commercial protocol. But everyone knows it. It’s disgusting if you ask me, how we’ve brainwashed society into thinking this is how people actually look. The sad thing is that we KNOW it’s not how we look, yet we continue to want it and strive to be something we won’t ever be. It’s a really unhealthy mentality. Digital delusion has trickled it’s way down to the everyday photographer, with them taking your photographs, slicing them up, and going, “look how beautiful you are!” It’s so stupid and delusional that I have to sit back and laugh. How could a client possibility think that is them, and how can the photographer sit there and let them buy into their digital delusion?

“So what! So what if they are fraken-barbie-shop monsters! If they want to have a dream of looking nothing like themselves they should have it. Who are you to say anything else!” You know… you’re right. Well.. at least you are right about one thing. People do have the right to feel good about themselves, but it won’t ever REALLY, TRULY be found in a digital lie. The low point of all of this… you’re not a photographer. You don’t sell photographs, you sell the idea of what these women would look like after $100,000 worth of plastic surgery. Congrats, now you have a handful of photographs to take home to look at, all the while knowing that’s not you.┬áCan you tell I’m a little passionate about my job?

Maybe… this… is the reason you don’t show your clients the back of the camera? I mean… after all, you wouldn’t want to show them an actual photograph of themselves, that would kill the whole illusion of what you got going on. The images that are sitting on the back of the camera, the ones you just took are… well… photographs, and the things you don’t want to show your clients. If you can’t show your client photographs then why are you calling yourself a photographer? Well, we all know that answer to this obvious question. For those photographers who do make good work, you’ve probably witnessed the positive change during a photo shoot when you DO share the back of the camera with clients. I don’t know if I could remember a photo shoot where I didn’t show a client the back of the camera. The shift in their attitude when they see themselves on the back of the camera is amazing, and super beneficial for me. They see themselves in this amazing photograph, of them, and the rest of the photo shoot is conducted with my clients full of confidence. I love it. Like after I asked Sabrina (pictured above) to make a silly face for me. We looked at her silly pictures together and shared a laugh.

If you ask me, beautiful is you. Beauty is real, it’s scars on your body, it’s the wrinkles on your face that tell your life’s story. Acceptance is happiness, it’s being contempt in yourself, who you are, and what you look like. Denial and delusion will only keep you reaching for something that is not there, where I believe happiness does not live.

I’m Matt McDaniel, I shoot portraiture. I will capture your true self, your true beauty, and the true you is the real beautiful thing in life.