The Purist's Guide to Digital Photography

"He was more focused on how to manipulate images in Photoshop rather than teach how to take them in the original form without aggressive manipulation of what did not exist. It starts a bad, non-photographic trend at the club level - driving even more photo purists away."

That's part of what one person, a self-proclaimed purist, said after attending one of my recent seminars, where I shared, among other images, some of my recent Botswana and South Africa images and my Myanmar images.

Of course, the person was not seeing the whole picture or listening to what I was saying in my presentation, as many of the images I shared were pretty much straight shots – like the photograph above of two zebra fighting in Botswana, and the landscape image below taken in Tulluride, CO.

I also showed images from my newestbook, Evolution of an Image. Two pages are shown below.

But yes, I also showed many enhanced photographs, like the HDR image of the Blue Swallow Motel that opens this post, and the before-and-after pair of images below.

I know there are many so-called purists out there, as well as photographers, like me, who love to have fun creating their own original images – and their own photo reality. As my dad used to say, "To each his own." And as my mother used to say, "You can't make everyone happy."

So as a creative photographer/artist, I thought I'd put together a guide for the purist who commented on my presentation.

But first, I have to say that I think I am a purist, that is, I am pure to my ideas . . . I follow my heart, which is what I suggest to all my photo workshop students. Getting back to my mother's expressions, "To thine own self be true."

Second, I wonder what the purist at my talk would say about Eric Clapton or Santana, two of the best electric guitar players on the planet. Surely, an electric guitar produces sounds unlike and far beyond those of an acoustic (the purist's) guitar. I know, because I play both types of guitars.

Okay, on to my "tongue and cheek" advice for the purist photographer.

Never make a black-and-white image. Yikes! We don't live in a black-and-white world. Remove the color from a scene and you remove some of the reality. That's surely photo trickery. What's more, a black-and-white image can be more dramatic than a straight shot. Go for color all the time!

Never use a fish-eye lens. Yes, the world is round, but using a fish-eye lens to bend and curve the horizon is surely a cheap trick.

Never use a telephoto lens. Come on! When you use a telephoto lens it appears that you were closer to a subject than your really were. Fess up and always use a 43mm lens (on a full frame image sensor camera), which is about equal to what the human eye sees. You can also find a different kind of lenses suitable for your photography at Pittsburgh Lens Rentals, that is mostly recommended for those who are just starting their career as a photographer.


Never use a polarizing filter. Unlike Superman, we can't see through the reflected surface of water, which is one benefit of using a polarizing filter. Never use a polarizing filter if you are a purist.

Never use a neutral density (ND) filter. Our eyes can't slow down time, which is one benefit of using an ND filter, especially around moving water. Forget about making photographs like the one below on a bright day if you are a purist.

Never use a fast shutter speed. Time stands still for no man - including the purist. Using a fast shutter speed to "freeze" the action is another cheap trick to create an image with impact.

Never use a macro lens. Marco lenses can produce larger than life-size images. I don't know about you, but I can't see, with my naked eyes, a larger-than-life size subject.

Never make a photo composite or a montage. I had fun making the composite below from two images. If you want to limit your photo fun, don't make composites.

Never make an HDR image. We see in HDR, and HDR image processing can extend that dynamic range, much like a painter takes artistic liberty to create an image with fine detail. If you are not interested in capturing all the detail in the shadow and highlight areas of the same scene in high contrast situations, don't make a HDR image.

Never crop a file. I cropped the image below of Mongolian soldiers because the top and bottom of the original frame were boring. If you want boring areas in you image, don't ever crop!

Never use a plug-in for a painterly look. Plug-ins can help creative photographers awaken the artist within. Keep that artist sleeping and don't use creative plug-ins, such as Topaz Impression, which I used to create the image below. All my plug-ins are listed here.

Never use Photoshop or Lightroom to adjust your exposure. If you can't get it 100 percent right in camera every time, sell your camera! Don't rely on Photoshop or Lightroom to tweak or enhance your photographs.

Never change the background in scene or use make-up for portraits. Below left: an example of taking a picture. Below right: an example of making a picture (manipulating a scene and manipulating an image).

Changing the background, by the way, is actually what triggered the purist's comment that opens this post.

Never use creative visualization (seeing the creative possibilities in post production) when taking a picture. Just shoot what's there and never think about all the creative possibilities that await you in the digital darkroom. I added the water, sunset and ripple below to a shot taken on a hill top on Wyoming.

Don't buy my book, Creative Visualization for Photographers. This book is filled with creative ideas for making pictures and having fun with your photography. Nuff' said. :-)

And last but not least, my best advice for the photo purist: Never take a picture! By simply composing a scene, you crop out some of the reality around a subject. You are manipulating reality by conveying only what you see, and not what others would see. For example, if you composed the scene below with only one horse, you'd be manipulating reality! Shocking indeed.

Calling all photo purists and creative images makers! Your comments are welcome here on my blog. Advice for photo purists are also welcome.

Explore the light (and have fun in the process),