Exercise – The real and the digital


Read the section entitled ‘The Real and the Digital’ in Wells, Liz. (2009) Photography: A Critical Introduction (4th edition). Abingdon: Routledge, pp.73–75. You’ll find this on the student website.

Does digital technology change how we see photography as truth? Consider both sides of the argument and make some notes in your learning log.

My Notes:

Digital technology is very much a part of photography in the modern world. There are still some that allude to the “old ways” of shooting with a film camera and will argue that this brings a truth and reality to their work, but yet, as Liz Wells points out “the manipulation of images is nothing new and that photographs have been changed, touched-up or distorted since the earliest days” (1).

It is, however, very easy for even the most amateur of photographers to manipulate images with digital technology, you only have to look at instagram to find evidence of this a thousand times over. Sadly, this is becoming the “truth” for many members of the public in the sense that even though many will recognise these images have been manipulated, they choose to view them as if it were untouched. I don’t think that “Truth” is always what people want to see, photography is a form of escapism for many, they want to see beauty and perfection and less of the real and raw and even when it portrays itself as real and raw, a bit of manipulation is almost expected.

But yet, these photographs still lay somewhere within an element of truth. A camera, by nature, is a means of recording what appears through the lens. How you choose to compose your image, is ultimately up to the person with the camera in their hands. Two people could both photograph an apple, but how they choose to do so may have a vast impact on the difference between the two shots.

Liz Wells points out (1) that the nature of photography has always been known as something malleable, contrived and slippery but that people have simultaneously been prepared to believe them as evidence of truth. Digital technology does not alter this, it simply enhances it.

It really depends how you look at a camera, is it simply a means of recording reality or is it a tool or external extension through which a photographers creativity flows? And is digitally technology not just a further extension of this again? I think one could argue that digital technology really just gives a photographer more options to work with. It doesn’t make photography a lie, it simply enhances what the photographer sees as true. As Campany says “Photography is what we do with it” (1).

If we consider that digital technology always creates a false image, then most of what we see now is false to some degree. There are, of course, problems that can arise from this. What should we believe? And can we believe in photography anymore? In an age where the manipulation of images is widely accepted and almost a given, I believe the onus has to lie with the viewer, to make themselves aware that all may not be as it seems. With some photographs, it’s pretty obvious.

However, there is also a moral duty that a documentary photographer should abide by, if your image has been manipulated to the point where it has visually changed into something else and you are attempting to pass it off as the plain, “through the lens as I saw it”, truth, then it is be important to explain yourself and be held accountable for this, for your own integrity and that of your photos. There has to be a reason for the manipulation and this should be highlighted before questions have arised.

In my opinion, the manipulation of images is perfectly fine, as long as it is done in a way as to not try and fool anyone of an alternative truth when it could be to the detriment of someone affected.


  1. Wells, Liz. “The Real and the Digital – Photography: A Critical Introduction” (2009 4th edition). Abingdon: Routledge. pp 73-75.