Recently I got into a somewhat heated discussion at a Camera club meeting and immediately wished I hadnâ€™t. It was the same old fight. Yet again it was the subject of Photographic purity, the alleged softness of zoom lenses and the argument that you canâ€™t use filters because â€˜that would be changing realityâ€™. These â€œsacred cowsâ€ of the photographic gerontocracy need to be slaughtered – once and for all.
â€œOkâ€, he says, cracking his knuckles. Letâ€™s talk about zoom lenses. Why would name brand camera and lens manufacturers spend millions of dollars in research and technology if they thought for one minute their equipment was not good enough to be competitive in the marketplace? If thereâ€™s a problem with sharpness, it will be the photographer and not the lens. Most photographers are manipulating and altering their images in software programs anyway, so there is little point continuing any argument about lens quality. Whatever differences may exist between them wouldbe so hardly visible to the human eye that they are hardly worth the breath of discussion.
Now we come to the subject of filters. There is a certain group within the photographic fraternity who mistrust and abstain from using them because they believe they alter reality. This is perhaps the biggest photographic clichÃ© of them all. Filters have a variety of uses. Some of them are logistical, such as the graduated neutral density filters I use to balance the exposure between the foreground and background of my landscapes. I do this because film does not have the dynamicrange of the human eye and I am therefore forced by the limitations of the technology I am working with to alter reality. However, this â€˜altered realityâ€™ actually reproduces the image on film with more authenticity then if I had captured it without them! Then, there are creative filters, such as polarisers andwarming filters, which I use selectively to enhance the beauty in the world as I see it.I see no harm in accentuating the warmth of afternoon light or highlighting the clouds in a beautiful blue sky. But then, thatâ€™s just me.
Letâ€™s be honest. Itâ€™s time for a wake up call. Nothing about photography is reality! The photographic process is an art form,and all art is the personal interpretation ofthe individual who creates it. We aremanipulating reality by our choice of whatto include and what to leave out. The simpleact of light passing through a lens isan alteration. Lens choice and the angle of view distort the scene – sometimes quite dramatically. Telephoto lenses compress visual elements in a very unreal and dynamic way. Wide-angle lenses distort and bendthe foreground, granting the viewer a manipulated feeling of space and grandeur.For those of us who use film, its understoodthat highly saturated emulsions we use reproduce colour and saturation in a waythat we donâ€™t see in the real would anyway. Consider for a moment black and white photography, an age old art form that has been with us for more than 150 years.In that time, the multitude of magnificent images portraying mankind and hisenvironment has become so establishedwithin our psyche that we donâ€™t even arguewith it. It is established and unquestioned.