Let's suppose I found a diary written by my Great-grandfather detailing life on the farm and including many details about his family life and his extended family? Would you consider that document to be a valuable genealogical resource? Let's further suppose that he was poorly educated and used many colloquial terms and some slang. His diary relates some stories about the family that were and still could be embarrassing to the family. Would you feel comfortable with me re-writing the diary and editing out all of the original language and changing the details of any currently unacceptable events? What if I destroyed the original in the process?
If you would find my rewrite unacceptable, then why would you condone doing exactly the same thing to an original photograph? Why is it acceptable to edit and alter an original photograph to remove any details that we, from our present perspective, feel detract from our concept of the "original?" Although, there is not usually an issue with the destruction of the original, some photos continue to degrade and ultimately, the scanned image of a photo taken years ago may be the only record left.
I just sat through two different presentations that discussed photo editing and photo editing software. Both were very, very well done and appropriate to the level of understanding of the audience. But photo editing is essentially destructive. There is only so much information in a photograph. What I mean by this statement is that what is displayed in the photo captures a certain finite amount of information present in the original. One simple way of understanding this concept is the fact that there is always a limit to the detail or resolution of any photographic representation. If I were to scan an original photograph, there is always a certain amount of noise (i.e. extraneous detail) that is added at the time of the scan. Additionally, only scanning at extremely high resolutions with specialized scanners really capture all of the detail of a photograph.
There is a trade-off between scanning even more detail and exceeding the practical limits of photo preservation. But I am not talking about scanning and capturing the information of the original photo, I am talking about post-scanning manipulation of the photo. Once you have a scanned image, any editing of the image will cause a loss of information from the information present in the original. I mean ANY editing. Is that bad? Should we stop all editing? The simple answer is no, but we should always be aware of the trade-off.
So there is no misunderstanding, let me explain in excruciating detail what I am talking about. Here is a scanned image:
The original is a small, probably tin-type photograph. I scanned the original at 400 ppi, in color (obviously) and saved the resultant digitized image as a TIFF file. To insert the image in my blog post, I had to re-save the image as a JPEG. Aha! you guessed it. I have already lost information from the original scan which likely did not pick up all of the information from the original photograph. As you can tell from this scan, the original is not in the best condition to start with.
So what is my first conclusion? NEVER MAKE ANY EDITING CHANGES (LIKE SAVING AS A JPEG) TO YOUR ORIGINAL SCANS!
I would certainly not criticize those who teach photo editing, but they should at the very least make this the ironclad rule of photo editing.
Stay tuned for part two of this discussion.