Will the Integrity of Photography survive the Digital Era?

Will the Integrity of Photography survive the Digital Era?

Stone sculpture in Bergen library facade, City of Bergen, Norway.  How longer will we be able to trust photography as a source of the real world we line in?


Published on 2015/11/10 - Text and Pictures by Alberto Mateo, Travel Photographer for The Last Footprint.

The last two decades have not brought to the world of photography a good handful of changes, but a complete revolution. Now models can be mercilessly deformed, we can add clouds to an empty sky in a landscape or taint the sea water in magenta tones. Anything goes to sell one more shampoo bottle. Photography has been a reference of credibility for more than a century. If it was photographed, it existed… but how longer will we be able to trust photography as a source of the real world we live in?

Photography as a medium will always move in the unstable equilibrium among these factors:

Inherent dependency on reality.
Technical limitations, that diminishes as time goes by.
New abilities to express our feelings and emotions through it

When Nicephore Niepce took his giant step, the first photograph, in 1836 had huge limitations. He was not able to render the world with the colors he saw, and had to wait eight hours for the exposure to complete (let us say that his pictures could not be very spontaneous) and the print he made was unique. In addition, his picture is not as defined as he may had wanted to be, but the greatness of his invention was so important that he deserves a place in the Olympus of photography.

The fact is that, for the good and for the bad, these limitations have fallen as the decades have passed and soon afterwards Fox Talbot invented the negative, so the photograph was not unique any more. At the end of XIX century the grain of films improved. The first color slide process, the Kodachrome was in the market in 1935 and it has improved until the 1990’s, being the Fuji Velvia 100 the most prefect film of all.

History of photography has been an example of struggle against the limitations of a process to render as perfect as possible.

However, during all the past decades, photographers have always have felt the photograph they took a bit “part of themselves”, sometimes trying to snatch or improve reality if they found it necessary.


You can read on Ansel Adams, 40 Examples (1983), the comments about one of his most famous pictures, Winter Sunrise, Sierra Nevada from Lone Pine, 1944, where a horse graze in a pristine valley with the snowed mountains in the background: “The enterprising youth of the Lone Pine High School had climbed the rocky slopes of the Alabama Hills and whitewashed a huge white LP for the world to see. It is a hideous and insulting scar on one of the great vistas of our land, and shows in every photograph made of the area. I ruthlessly removed what I could from the negative and have always spotted out any remaining trace in the print. I have been criticized by some for doing this, but I am not enough of a purist to perpetuate the scar and thereby destroy, for me, at least, the extraordinary beauty and perfection of the scene.”

Some years later, Galen Rowell [www.mountainlight.com], a Nature and Mountain photographer who became famous for his books and column written on Outdoor Photographer Magazine gave his opinion in his articles. Although he used and defended technical advances (you can read the article ‘Around the World, The F4 shakedown’, or ‘A Digital Sky’, page 104. In this last article where he tells us that he had to go to a specialist and pay him some hundred dollars to get a hole burnt in a slide cloned (it was written around 1990), Mr. Rowell closes the article writing these lines: ”Now the ball is on our court to use this handy tool ethically to preserve or enhance what is really in our original photos rather than to create what was never there.”

”Now the ball is on our court to use this handy tool ethically to preserve or enhance what is really in our original photos rather than to create what was never there.”


Galen Rowell was known to welcome new technical, but not digital, advances that improved his own vision and allowed him to portray the beauty of the world. He used and defended neutral density and polarizing filters, slow shutter speeds to convey motion, flash units, but not changing digitally the color of water or the sky digitally for creative expression. He set his personal limit in what a slide can render using a photographic camera.

It is a limit that protects the integrity of photography as an honest tool to document the world. It is an interesting point of view shared by many photographers. But digital tools are by far more powerful than analogic ones.

Now we photographers have in our hands many more possibilities to change what our camera registers. We have more possibilities to express our feelings about a specific situation and also to lie to our viewers. In my honest opinion it is a matter of personal responsibility, but not only of responsibility photographers, but even more of the people who pays them: owners of big firms who hire the photographers and “photoshoppers” to create advertising campagins.

Map of Bergen. Source: Google Maps.


SHUTTER SPEED: 1/100 seg

Light intensity was low at the end of the day, so measured with the camera at Matrix Mode. Used f11 to have enough depth of field and took some exposures to stitch them together.


I closed my lens a bit to have some depth of field. FOCUS hast ALWAYS to be ON THE EYES... in this case on the glasses, but not too much as I wanted the face to be the main point of importance. With 2.8, only the plane of the front of the face is in focus.

ISO: 100

Don't like digital noise...ISO 100 was a good option to get a clean picture.


This picture is handheld. I was using a I 50mm (a 75mm on a small DX sensor) and needed at least 1/75 to get sharp picture. Going to 1/100 to be sure was ok...

LENS USED: Nikon AF 50mm 1.8

My 50mm, converted into a short tele on my DX sensor camera, allowed me to get a good detail of the sculpture.

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