Authenticity is defined as the quality of being authentic and genuine. The big question is, how does that translate to photography? What’s more, how does authenticity play a role in a world of digital overload? As we scroll through social media feeds, we are often astounded by the bold, punchy, and seemingly powerful images. In fact, these tend to make us slow or even stop our relentless scroll for a more extended look.
If the images are bold, punchy, and powerful enough, we may even follow or subscribe. That doesn’t necessarily make the photos great – they have just been edited as a marketing mechanism for an intended audience. Authenticity in photography is more about being true to yourself than appealing to the desired audience.
Authenticity often stems from a strict set of boundaries, values, qualities, or principles that often have very little to do with showiness. Consider the Leica camera brand that was founded in 1869 in Wetzlar, Germany. The Leica vision is – With “Premium” and customer-oriented solutions, we observe, reach for, and keep unforgettable moments of our world. The vision is a story of perseverance, focus, and dedication to an ideal. It’s not showy, loud, or arrogant. Instead, it’s almost understated, especially when you consider their products’ precision engineering and insane build qualities – not to mention the prestige and cost.
As a visual creative, it’s essential to have a vision of your own. It doesn’t have to be carved in stone for all time. It can flex and grow as you move through your photography journey. As a result, your first step to authenticity is to understand where you are on your journey. Please don’t shy away from your early works or avoid sharing them with your community or audience. Photography is all about storytelling – let your photos tell your creative story. Set your boundaries, values, qualities, and principles when it comes to creating, editing, and showcasing your images.
Making your mark in a digital age can be tricky. Social media platforms and image hosting sites are overflowing with genre-defining examples of fantastic photos. The temptation is to replicate the works of others. And while there is a lot to be said for gaining inspiration and insight from the path already walked by others, it can lead you astray.
We’ve all seen examples of heavily edited images where the saturation, vibrancy, and contrast are cranked up to the max. Viewing these images on a smartphone makes you stop your feed scroll. That’s the point of the editing style – to catch your eye and make you take notice. That doesn’t necessarily make it a great example of authentic work. In fact, you would probably be quite astounded by the contrast between the original shot and the one you are viewing at postage stamp size.
Making your mark starts with understanding how you want to portray your style – see above for defining your vision. When it comes to the end-to-end process, focus more on taking the shots to get composition, framing, exposure, and color balance right.
Become the better photographer you are destined to be not by excelling at turning dud photos into works of art. Instead, capture works of art with your camera the first time. Don’t take landscape photos only to think that you’ll fix the poor dynamic range later. Instead, work on your exposure while out in the field. Learn to use filters, long exposures, and other essential skills to build the photo you want before you even touch an app.
There’s a vast array of photo editing and enhancement apps for mobile and desktop available. They all make promises to streamline your workflow, improve your photos and take the hassle out of visual imagery. But where’s the fun in that? Granted, professional photographers must utilize editing software to manage workflow and deliver client-approved images. However, for the rest of us, we don’t always need bells and whistles.
We highly recommend avoiding apps and software that ‘fixes’ your photos for you. Don’t use sky replacement technology – that’s at least 50% of your shot replaced by a robot. Instead of using a high-end desktop or mobile editing software, don’t edit your images at all. Export the JPEGs SOOC! That’s Straight Out Of Camera – it will make you a better photographer to rely on your photography skills rather than your editing skills.
Another handy alternative is to use the in-camera editing capabilities. Some digital cameras allow you to shoot in RAW and then edit the images before saving a copy as JPEG. The RAW editing options usually include correcting white balance, contrast, grain, and saturation. If you use an image editing app, stick with the same level of editing adjustments. Remember to make your mark but keep it simple. Finally, use a film photography approach and work with the original images. Be happy with the way you captured the photos with the camera settings and without editing.
Digital overload is a real phenomenon we are so saturated with online visuals that we start to lose sight of what’s good, genuine, and authentic. It even applies to our own collection of images. What’s more, we have all fallen into the trap of relying on social media feedback, likes and comments to achieve a sense of pride over our photos. It’s a slippery slope in a world where we rely too heavily on the thoughts and feelings of people we have never met in person.
Our recommendation is to get off digital for a while. We are not talking about closing down all your social media accounts and going ‘dark’ on your audience. The best thing you can do to stay in touch with reality is to print. Taking your visual images off digital mediums and into the analog world has a lot of benefits. Printing photos and taking the time to view them will teach you a lot about your photography techniques. Composition, framing, dynamic range, contrast, and your choice of subjects become more evident when you print a collection of images. Especially if you print a few of your best in 8×10″ and line them up next to one another for critical analysis.
All too often, we look at our best photos on a smartphone or the camera LCD. 95% of our photos never make it beyond computer or phone storage. Print your images in whatever size you want. Go a step further and create a Zine (small self-printed magazine) or a photobook to tell a short story. Who knows, you may even surprise yourself by framing a couple of your best to display around the house. Just promise us you won’t get your photos turned into mouse-mats or coffee mugs!