Informally and legally, we tend to think photographs are more reliable than memories. There are good reasons for this, too; the human mind is really good at making up details with associated levels of certainty. A photograph, on the other hand, captures a scene as it was and leaves it unchanged.
But it's important to remember that the fact that an image came from a camera does not with certainty imply that it's a good representation of the authentic experience of the moment. For instance, I trotted all over Burning Man without realizing my camera's white balance was set to "tungsten" (artificial lighting) rather than "auto white balance" (which would infer I was outside). So many of my pictures look like they're from Picasso's blue period:
"It's photoshopped" usually means the image has been touched up so that it's further from the "truth." But when I photoshop my Burning Man photos (yay AutoLevels!), they look a lot more like the Playa:
But even when all the camera settings are as they should be, the photo can still lie. I took my first post-Burning Man pictures yesterday as the setting sun created some great lighting for the foliage in my yard. Much to my surprise, even though everything was in focus, they all came out with angelic auras:
Trust me, my yard doesn't look that awesome to the naked eye. I almost don't want to fix my camera, that's such a cool effect. (
It turns out, this effect is due to condensation inside the lens caused by the quick temperature change when I danced around the Temple fire. After an autumn of cool soft focus photos, I took my lens to Mike's Camera and learned that fixing it would require a trip to the factory and at least $125, so I bought a new similar lens and kept the soft focus one for special occasions.)
Of course, almost every digital photograph is full of lies. The JPEG
format is cleverly designed to compress the data in a way that tricks the human eye into thinking bits are there that have been dropped.