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02-26-2015, 02:18 PM   #1
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Philosophy of photo manipulation

I'm pretty new to photography. I just posted a cityscape photo to the critique section (link), and got some great feedback. One of the thoughts about the composition was that the shoreline in conjunction with the tops of the buildings created a hump in the middle of the photo, and I can see how this is less than ideal.

I imagine the shoreline could be fairly easily be straightened out with photo software, but should I? I know there isn't a "right" and "wrong" answer here, but what are your feelings about the degree of manipulation that is acceptable in your photography?

02-26-2015, 02:38 PM - 1 Like   #2
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all the manipulation is acceptable as long you are happy with the result.
02-26-2015, 02:43 PM   #3
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Depends on the intended purpose and clarity of purpose.

If this is an artistic shot, intended for fine art and declared as such then do whatever you want to it. The photograph is your interpretation of what you saw at that moment in time. And if you think the shoreline should be straitened, people brushed out, color enhanced and so on, go for it.

If it is in any way photo-journalistic, and intended for sale or distribution as an accurate image of that place at that time, then outside of correcting WB, contrast, levels and sharpening you should make no changes whatsoever. And you need to use caution with those edits as intentionally altering the WB to make the mood look different can be considered a no no.

If I get too carried away with digital manipulation I tend to call a piece 'digital art' rather than a photograph, but that's just me. Take a look at this image Crown Point – Columbia River Gorge a lot of computer work went into it, but I can honestly say that is what it felt like standing there even though the picture looked nothing like it when I got home.

Last edited by jatrax; 02-26-2015 at 04:26 PM.
02-26-2015, 02:45 PM - 1 Like   #4
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They are your photographs and you have the right to do whatever you want with them. "Pure" photography can be very much over-rated. Remember, Ansel Adams manipulated his photos a great deal. He was known to re-touch out power lines etc. Here is a discussion of the photograph "Moonrise over Hernandez" and the difficulties of printing it:

From "Ansel Adams: Some Thoughts About Ansel And About Moonrise", by Mary Street Alinder (Copyright 1999 Alinder Gallery):

"Moonrise was made on a typical Ansel trip to the Southwest in the fall of 1941 combining two commercial assignments: one for the U.S. Department of the Interior at Carlsbad Caverns and the other for the U.S. Potash Company. Accompanying Ansel were his son, Michael, and his good friend, Cedric Wright. The trip was a grand, meandering one, tailored to show eight year old Michael the sights of the Southwest. After a few days exploring Death Valley, the Grand Canyon and Canyon de Chelly, they decided to photograph about Santa Fe.

"Driving back to their hotel following an unsuccessful day of picture making in the Chama Valley, Ansel glanced to his left and saw a fantastic event. The sky was illuminated by brightly-lit clouds in the east and the white crosses in the cemetery of the old adobe church seemed to glow from within. He nearly crashed the car as he screeched to a halt in the roadside ditch, dashed out, yelling at Michael and Cedric to find the tripod, the camera, the meter, etc.

"Ansel rushed to assemble and mount the 23.5 inch component of his Cooke Series XV lens on his 8 x 10-inch view camera loaded with Ansco Isopan film and find the Wratten G filter. All was in place, but he could not find his Weston light meter. He remembered that the moon reflects 250 foot candles and he based his exposure upon that fact. He quickly computed a setting of 1/60 at f/8, but with the addition of the filter it became 1/20 at f/8. To achieve the same exposure with greater depth of field he stopped the lens to f/32 and released the shutter for one second. He prepared to make a second exposure for insurance. Dramatically, the light faded forever from the foreground.

"Moonrise, the negative, was far from perfect. It took me two years to convince Ansel to make a 'straight' print of Moonrise. He printed it without his customary darkroom manipulation as a teaching tool to show the basic information contained within the negative. Comparing this print with a fine print, one is struck by the immense work and creativity necessary for Ansel to produce what he believed to be the best interpretation of the negative. His final, expressive print is not how the scene looked in reality, but rather how it felt to him emotionally.

"Moonrise was Ansel's most difficult negative of all to print. Though he kept careful records of darkroom information on Moonrise, each time he set up the negative, he would again establish the procedure for this particular batch of prints because papers and chemicals were always variables not constants. After determining the general exposure for the print, he gave local exposure to specific areas. Using simple pieces of cardboard, Ansel would painstakingly burn in (darken with additional light from the enlarger) the sky, which was really quite pale with streaks of cloud throughout. He was careful to hold back a bit on the moon. The mid-ground was dodged (light withheld), though the crosses have been subtly burned in. This process took Ansel more than two minutes per print of intricate burning and dodging. Ansel created Moonrise with a night sky, a luminous moon and an extraordinary cloud bank that seems to reflect the moon's brilliance. Moonrise is sleight of hand. Moonrise is magic."

02-26-2015, 03:56 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by Will in Seattle Quote
...but what are your feelings about the degree of manipulation that is acceptable in your photography?
There are a couple past threads on the subject that also went nowhere :-)

Here's one:

https://www.pentaxforums.com/forums/32-digital-processing-software-printing/2...photoshop.html
02-26-2015, 03:59 PM   #6
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It drives me crazy that people expect shorelines to be as straight as horizons: they're just not. Personally my response would be, "Yes, there's a hump" but I don't see any problem with your straightening it if that's what you decide to do.
02-26-2015, 04:07 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by Will in Seattle Quote
... what are your feelings about the degree of manipulation that is acceptable in your photography?
Well, the lens you choose is the first stage of photographic 'manipulation'..

Cropping/straightening/white-balancing/dodging/burning/sharpening .. etc I call that all standard stuff with modern digital photography.

The camera collects the ingredients for you to create the finished file/print in your darkroom (with film) or software (with digital).

My 2c
02-26-2015, 05:03 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by Will in Seattle Quote
Philosophy of photo manipulation
The final image is everything and the means to that end are irrelevant.

02-26-2015, 06:05 PM   #9
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Ok, so calling something "photojournalism" is a claim of reality and "photography" really just means that a camera was the primary tool used to create the image, with no claim about reality?

Is there some point at which we have a responsibility to let our audience know that we have altered what they might be viewing as a reflection of reality?
02-26-2015, 06:59 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by Will in Seattle Quote
Is there some point at which we have a responsibility to let our audience know that we have altered what they might be viewing as a reflection of reality?
Yes.
For example you shoot Mt. Rainer, develop the RAW add some color, clean it up, maybe add a texture layer to make it arty. Get it printed and hang it on the wall. No need to explain anything unless you want to, its art.

But, take a picture of Mt. Rainer, develop the RAW, add some menacing black clouds or just HDR it so it looks stormy, send it to the local news the day after a hiker gets lost with the caption "Hiker lost on Mt Rainer in poor weather" and you have deliberately deceived. That is photojournalism or news or whatever and the image should accurately portray the conditions at the time it was shot.

It sometimes gets confusing because you are using the same equipment for two different things, one where creativity is expected and valued, and another where creativity in manipulating the image is not only wrong and discouraged but could get your fired or even sued.

Bottom line unless you are reporting the news or submitting images to news organizations or stock agencies I would not worry too much about it. If what you have done is clearly 'art' and portrayed as such anything goes. Just don't ever put yourself in the position of manipulating an image to portray something it is not and claim otherwise in a public venue.
02-27-2015, 01:19 AM - 1 Like   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by Will in Seattle Quote
Ok, so calling something "photojournalism" is a claim of reality
No. That's too strong. "Journalism" implies only a negative claim that there is no intention to mislead not what is or is not "reality".
Reality is left up to the individual to determine.

The bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War 1937.
Which is closer to the truth - the photo or Picasso?

Last edited by wildman; 03-05-2015 at 03:40 AM.
02-28-2015, 03:14 PM   #12
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Yes, the topic comes up every now and then. This must be a "now" ... or maybe a "then".

We try to capture moments and slices of time with our cameras. The JPG image or RAW sensor data we save rarely reflects the reality we see. There's a disconnect between the sensitivity of the sensor and human perception. Photo manipulation, whether it's RAW image processing/conversion or "photoshopping", is a way to merge human perception with recorded image data. If a merge isn't possible then maybe a compromise is. Sometimes it's just a matter of bringing out details and sometimes it's about pixel manipulation. One enhances reality and the other changes it. I think both manipulations are perfectly acceptable as long as we're honest with how we got the result. Both manipulations will take you on a creative journey.

Personally, I am not a pixel manipulator. I see myself leaning toward the Ansel school of thought. Every negative (digital or analog) falls short of what I perceive and I see my role and responsibility as the one to bring out the details hidden in the source data. I'm also OK with pixel manipulators but it's just not something that interests me.

Let's also not forget what the JPG engine in our digital cameras do. The algorithms in our cameras boost/cut colors, contrast, sharpening, etc even when all the settings are set to 0. Anyone who thinks otherwise doesn't understand how a digital sensor works. RAW image data is pale and flat and that's after decoding the Bayer matrix which is a whole separate can of worms to sort out. Analog photography was heavily influenced by the chemistry built into the films and papers. There was a little bit of that JPG engine in there too. You could get papers with higher/lower contrasts. Films tailored for different color schemes were available as well. Even now we have something as extreme a Portra and Ektar.

All of this is manipulation. It's just a matter of what kind, by whom, and how much.
02-28-2015, 03:25 PM   #13
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It's your image, you may do as you please.
02-28-2015, 03:29 PM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by Will in Seattle Quote
Ok, so calling something "photojournalism" is a claim of reality and "photography" really just means that a camera was the primary tool used to create the image, with no claim about reality?

Is there some point at which we have a responsibility to let our audience know that we have altered what they might be viewing as a reflection of reality?
Naw, I've seen lots of wide angle, weird photojournalism shots. Photo journalism definitely does not demand that you be a boring photographer. People grow up looking at distorted pictures, and know exactly what they are looking at. Unless you're talking putting someone in picture who wasn't there or taking someone out who was.
02-28-2015, 09:32 PM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by wildman Quote
No. That's too strong. "Journalism" implies only a negative claim that there is no intention to mislead not what is or is not "reality".
Reality is left up to the individual to determine.

The bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War 1937.
Which is closer to the truth - the photo or Picasso?
Fair enough. Perhaps I should have said "realism" rather than "reality," but I understand that a photograph is merely a perspective.

It sounds to me like there's a pretty strong consensus that the term "photography" doesn't really carry any inherent claims regarding visual accuracy, and that expectations only arise when we present claims of accuracy along with our images. Thanks for the thoughts everyone, that's pretty much what I was curious about.
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