Have these images been "Photoshopped?"


Yes. It is important, however, to define the term.


I do not use Photoshop to surreptitiously deceive and trick the viewer into believing something is real which actually was not. Rather, just the opposite is true — I use the software primarily to more authentically convey what I experienced in the moment of capture, and to transmit what inspired me to take the picture. That being said, I strongly believe that no amount of post-capture "fixing" can be exchanged for excellence, both aesthetic and technical, before clicking the camera shutter. I strive to continually improve my photographic skills so I am spending more time behind the camera and less in front of the computer. Still, "digital darkroom" adjustments are consciously anticipated and intentionally made for a variety of reasons — to correct  known deficiencies or inherent limitations and inaccuracies induced by camera detectors and lenses under various conditions, to combine and blend multiple frames, or to utilize and balance all available raw image file data. (For example, I often shoot with fisheye and wide angle lenses, but they sometimes distort architecture and especially people in ways that are peculiar and unwanted. Corrections and retouching are often applied to neutralize these incongruities.) All images are routinely adjusted, sharpened, and optimized for digital output, as is the customary standard for most contemporary professional photography. Also, I produce composite images for a variety of reasons, such as to illustrate a concept, to improve understanding, or to blend unavoidable extremes in exposure or depth of field values. That information is disclosed so the viewer is apprised of the multi-source or altered image provenance. I expect no less as a viewer myself.

It is of value to make a distinction between the camera and the human eye/brain as visual recorders, because both detectors are similar in some ways but very different in others. Thus I use the varied tools of digital photography — camera, lenses, lighting, scanned film, CCDs, computers, software — to document my perception of the moment. I view raw output from these photographic tools not as sacrosanct absolutes (because sometimes they are inaccurate) but rather as elements to be arbitrated, developed, and honed into the finished image. This approach is in part a function of my background in the arts. However, because I have lived and photographed in the world of astronomers for many years and produce images for use by the scientific community, I am acutely aware of the imperative for precision and accuracy when documenting scientific subjects. I try to blend my personal aesthetic vision with scientific integrity in the creation of my photographs.

Fortunately, newer cameras, CCDs, and optics are yielding sharper images with much less noise in low light and far greater dynamic range. With vastly improved raw image files, I'm spending considerably less time at the computer in post-production and more time imaging in the field.

A note about color:  Books are written about perception and reproduction of color and it is not my intent to address the subject in depth here. In many of my photographs color plays a dominant role, and in some it might be hard to believe the color is "real." However, unusual or distinctive coloring is one of the reasons I select such images (out of tens of thousands shot) for publication, as is the case for many photographers who seek the extraordinary moment so it can be documented, preserved, and shared. Being ready in the right place at the right time with the right equipment does involve some "good luck" but is equally a reflection of years of experience (including countless failures) in planning, reconnoitering, staying up all night, braving the elements, investing in gear, and learning from inevitable and repeated disappointments.

For a more detailed, in-depth discussion of photographic technique and digital ethics, with examples as well as identification of exceptions to the above, please continue reading my blog post:

LASER GUIDE STAR: Terrestrial Photography

This web page discusses creation of two images that illustrate

author Robert Irion's article "Homing in on Black Holes",

featured in the 2008 April Smithsonian Magazine.