Archaeology, Photography and HDR

Minard Castle
Minard Castle. Photo (cc) Mike 138.

If it were true that the cam­era never lies, then pho­to­graphy wouldn’t be a prob­lem. It does though. Or at least a pho­to­graph isn’t a wholly object­ive record of real­ity. A couple of years back I was happy with this and was dis­cuss­ing illus­trat­ing an event using a photo mosaic. The uni­ver­sal reac­tion to this idea was hor­ror, which sur­prised me. What I was plan­ning to do was take a pho­to­graph of a site and manip­u­late the sky behind it — and make clear that this was a recon­struc­tion not an ori­ginal image. The over­whelm­ing neg­at­ive reac­tion meant that I’ve never done this. The altern­at­ive, that I draw a recon­struc­tion of the event, and throw in a few ima­gin­ary people, with spec­u­lat­ive hair­styles and clothes, stand­ing around in small groups — without any evid­ence for this — was con­sidered fine. I assume that people are ok with draw­ings being highly spec­u­lat­ive, but still expect photo-quality images to be ‘real’, whatever that might be.

Photo edit­ing is a ser­i­ous prob­lem as pro­grams like Photoshop make it easier than ever to mess around with the expos­ure or the col­ours of a photo. If you’re pho­to­graph­ing the res­ult of an exper­i­ment, where the amount of col­our­a­tion is an import­ant part of the res­ult, like in bio­logy, then chan­ging those col­ours is effect­ively falsi­fy­ing your result.

I am won­der­ing how far this extends to archae­ology.
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