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Tuesday, 20 November 2018


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If you had seen on-site what Joe saw in the two images couldn't you have just stepped back 2 feet? or zoom out slightly? Most of my shots can be better framed on the computer. Getting them framed properly on site is much harder and more rewarding, but doesn't happen often.

We all are free to make our own decisions as to what is acceptable with regards to how we choose to work with our own personal images.

I choose to not make any wholesale changes to images that I shoot beyond color, contrast, tonality, burning and dodging, and in rare cases as bit of cropping. I prefer to show what the lens saw.

What I will do in digital that I didn't do with film, is shoot many more frames. Why? Because I can. I like having a range of moments and framing possibilities to choose from. When I shot film, 12 exposures on a roll (each one setting me back a dollar with processing) with a manual wind, I had no choice but to be very careful. And yet, I got a lot of almost there kind of images.

Instead of waiting for that moment to arrive before pressing the shutter, I've decided that shooting from the moment I perceive a possibility of an image, and then shooting through that moment until it has passed can yield a few more possibilities, and surprises, that I could not have imagined. I get images that had I waited for that singular decisive moment I would have missed, and sometimes they are better.

I find it remarkably easy to go into a string of images from a certain situation and pull out the keeper, if there is one. It's not a burden.

With non people images, I shoot from all different angles and spend a lot of time just looking through the finder to really see what the lens sees. I give myself choices later.

However, what works for me might not work for others. We are free to choose whatever method we prefer. But it's good to make a conscious decision one way or the other and give ourselves parameters. And if you find that the parameters don't work for you, always reserve the right to change your mind.

Am I the only one who would not bother with this image at all if I had taken it, in whatever composition? Neither version holds any appeal to me.

Sorry, nothing personal.

[I merely presented them for the sake of discussion. Nothing implied about badness or goodness. --Mike]

This brings up an interesting consideration, namely aspect ratio. The ratio of Joe's composite image is pleasing to my eye, and fits the composition nicely. Many years ago when I was in the darkroom I used to play with cropping free of conventional aspect ratios, trying to discover framing that was organic to the image I was printing. For me, this kind of freedom in crafting presentation of the subject is part of the fun of making images! We shouldn't let convention dictate these artistic choices, and Joe's image is a good example.

I must admit I had the same thought when I saw your two images but unlike Joe I lacked the time and energy to do anything about it.

I don't think this should require a huge amount of photoshopability. The 'merge to panorama' function in lightroom (other software is available) often works in this situation. Indeed this is one of the reasons I find it easier to just wander around with only a 50mm lens these days (when I'm wearing a digital hat); if I come across a situation which requires a wider lens than I have then I shoot two or more images around the subject with the intention to merge them later. Doesn't always work but produces a usable result ~80% of the time in my experience.

"Attempts to combine or blend different exposures were illegitimate on their face, although it was done throughout history here and there"

A very interesting topic these days, as it was in A. A. Bodine's. I have an image I like and exhibit, and I don't always want to admit that the top 2/3 and bottom 1/3 were shot a year apart, though some location and very similar lighting. I am not sure how many people might object to the concept even though both images were stitched panoramas.

I have no problem with what Joe did, but I am still somewhat reluctant to always admit my "one year different" mix of image. I really don't know what people object to these days.

For what it's worth, Guy Tal's recent book (Published November 2017) "The Landscape Photographer's Guide to Photoshop" is the best single source I've found for landscape image editing. Guy Tal is the author of "More than a Rock", a collection of essays on the subject of landscape photography as art form. I will confess that I use Photoshop for all my editing and printing; Lightroom just does not match the way my brain works.
His newer book is not really a Photoshop book per se. Rather, Tal regards Photoshop as a tool, and the original image capture as the raw material, for crafting a work of art. He falls firmly on the side of landscape photography as an interpretive art where anything goes, rather than the purist approach that permits only minimal adjustments. His images still fall well within the mainstream of landscape photography. He teaches a workflow that's quite straightforward and manageable, without dumbing it down. He gives a very clear approach to using, naming and organizing adjustment layers.

Although Joe's composite is very nice, I believe it is no longer a photograph. I realize this is a difficult argument to make, since people have been making composite images almost as long as photography has been around, but I believe it violates the spirit of what makes photography unique among the arts -- to simply show what the camera saw. The great Dorothea Lange kept a quote by the English essayist Roger Bacon on her darkroom door:

"The contemplation of things as they are, without error or confusion, without substitution or imposture, is in itself a nobler thing than a whole harvest of invention."

The photographer with a computer has achieved his dream: he has become an artist.
And in the process he has destroyed his art.

I confess I use this Photoshop assembly trick a lot now for landscapes. Maybe it's the result of my growing landscape shot ambitions pushing at the seams of my 6 year old crop sensor. Sometimes I even use my iPhone as the "ground glass" to plan that shots-and-assemblage, then shoot a bunch with a 90 or 150 mm-e lens to make the pic. I hate tripods and whatnot, just handhold, so the whole activity is fraught, and yet somehow that makes it fun for me. Boy does it lead to a puzzle of files.

Photoshop assembles the smattering of shots pretty well, but it can produce outrageously warped composites. If anyone can recommend a nice tool for reprojecting the resulting image, I'd love to know about it. The "puppet warp" gives me too much control and makes it too easy for me to make a mess of things. I've tried google searches, but TOP advice is always more interesting and I'm all ears for it.

Hmm. Looks like Joe turned it into a 4/3. 8-)

I agree that Joe's amalgamated edit feels more graphically balanced. But while he was at it couldn't he just stick a silhouette of a nice little duck paddling through the mirror water...trailing a lovely undisturbed v-wake? Or how about a "Deliverance"-style hand poking up?

"Great taste!"
"No, it's less-filling!"

Where's that can of worms, and the can-opener?

Either of the P-shop artists I use could do it seamlessly—and compress the height back to 1.5:1 without the viewer noticing. In today's world, advertising photos are highly 'shopped. Seeing is believing ...you gotta be kidding.

My own solution would have been to retreat several steps. Then maybe a half-step to the right, if I wanted a little more fence.

Someone once taught me to always be looking at the edges of the frame, and that thought guided my first impressions with these two pictures.

Joe captures (fixes?) what I had felt with Mike's original efforts -- keeping the pleasant clump of trees at left, but also keeping more of the fence with its post at right (and not dangling the post precariously at the edge of the frame). His photoshopping is perhaps akin to having taken one half step back.

That's funny, it was exactly what I thought when viewing your original post. I didn't bother to comment as it seemed so evident to me. Really.
Mike, there's an easy solution to this: next time, use a 4/3 camera which will give you more air to breathe in the vertical dimension. This reminds me of your post: The Remarkable Persistence of 24x36 last 01 october.

That's it!

Well, that's kind of an interesting thought experiment. What is the difference between cut/paste/merging those pixels in software or having several cameras/lenses of different aspect ratios available on site for one to play/choose with. Somehow, it seems arbitrary to call one photography and the other something else.

I like stitched panos. No problem. I should point out that Joe, to make the two images together contain the details that I also liked from the upper left corner and the lower right corner, had to clone in somehow bits in the upper right corner and the lower left corner that were not in either image. There's an art (or at least considerable craft) to doing that.

I think the stitched panorama is a legitimate photo as it could have been taken in a single exposure with a panoramic camera. It's not your fault you didn't happen to have one with you!.

@Mike: glad to hear I’m not supposed to think this is a nice image.

On the discussion, I’d stay as close as possible to what was registered and I don’t like cooked images, but I actually have no clue where rationally I draw the line. At Photoplus, I was admiring an exposition including landscapes by JP Caponigro. When I encountered some that were obviously manipulated, I was turned off by all of them. It was a visceral reaction, but it didn’t happen until I noticed the ones that were clearly more photoshop than photograph and I had up to that point admired the ones that didn’t look manipulated, but may well have been.

[That's not really fair. John Paul has made his whole career of creatively manipulating digital images--from the earliest days of Photoshop. He's never been duplicitous in the slightest. You don't have to like his work, but he's very forthright about his artistic orientation and his creative objectives. --Mike]

Re Joe’s edits and the odd aspect ratio - I believe warping in Photoshop can be used to restore the aspect ratio, if that is important, and doesn’t detract or deviate from the intended final image. Note I’m not a PS person - barely have time to learn LR :)
For this, and everyone’s concerns about authenticity etc, see Alain Briot’s articles over on LuLa about what constitutes fine art in photography.

Why does the aspect ratio matter? In the old days, the aspect ratio of a 35mm frame was 3x2, yet paper sizes were usually multiples of 8x10. so you either cropped or used a standard frame and cut a mount to fit the image.

This is really nothing new.

When I first took up photography, back in the mid-1960s, one of the first things I did was go to the library and check out an encyclopedia of photography. I read it all. There was a major section in the middle devoted to the process of photographing clouds and using those photos to replace an empty sky in a landscape photo. It was considered a standard technique that every photographer needed to master from the way it was presented in the book.

I have a friend, about my age, who is fairly well known for his landscape work. He adds dramatic clouds to most of his photos. He did it with film and now does it with digital images.

I really see no issue with this on things like landscape photos, as long as the laws of nature are not violated. I remember a photo of Half Dome with a huge crescent moon above it that was justifiably mocked because there was no way that could actually happen. But, if the photo is supposed to be photojournalism, showing what really happened, then it's not ok to make significant modifications to what was really there.

As to cropping, I worked for newspapers where every photo was cropped to fit the hole in the newspaper, so I was never afraid to crop to make a better composition. I've never understood the "no cropping" attitude. Why should I be restricted to a format that was dictated by the manufacturer of my camera? I crop for composition without regard to the standard formats.

That's really not beyond your ability to do in Photoshop; you just haven't tried stuff in the neighborhood enough to know how to approach it.

Simply bring in the second photo as another layer, create a layer mask on that layer, and use soft brushes to decide which parts of it you keep. Joe said it took less than 3 minutes, which sounds entirely reasonable. For a beginner, maybe 10, including 3 re-starts :-).

You may well not want to do that sort of thing, which is fine. I find myself in that situation more to "rescue" things than to bring an idea in my mind to fruition, which arguably means I'm wasting my time creating mediocre art.

If I combined images to make a photograph, I would call it digital art based on photographs.

A stitched panorama is still a true representation of the real thing. However, it would be nice to declare that the image is a stitched panorama but otherwise unmanipulated.

I spent a lot of time in Italy this summer taking multi-shot HDR stitched panos.


"Fake" or "Real"?

I’d say that if one prints a photo, from either the raw, untouched shot or after it has been post-processed to give the photographer what they wanted, that would fix the image as the final, if just for that particular print. But, just to be open and honest, I’ve added to or retouched many printed photos, even in this digital age, because that’s just my technique. Nothings over until it’s over (or at least you can’t go back and do more or less).

@Mike: I don’t know that about him. I only know him as the fellow who took landscapes with an iPhone and the son of his father. I’d never seen clearly heavily processed work by him, hence my reaction.

"Mike replies: Okay, but then how do you and Curt feel about this?

It's a stitched pano made from five vertical shots of the view from my family's former lake house. Is what Joe did really any different, or do stitched panoramas also make you uneasy? By the way I'm just asking, not challenging."

Yeah, good question: I don't mind the stitched Pano. Again speaking mostly from the gut and less from the intellect, that feels fine to me. An acceptable way to extend the field of view of your camera. I get the fuzziness between this technique and the original composite, but I think a composite feels like a scene built versus a scene seen. And Joe's composite is mild, and really not objectionable to me in itself, I just think I wouldn't be able to keep it and view it long term without always thinking, "hmmm, not quite real." This is just for me...if someone else loved it, or any composite, good on them. And as I said, I'm not strict about purity of image...I'll use the clone stamp from time to time.

There's some crazy and creative composite work being done out there of course, and I like some of it, but I don't find doing that kind of work for myself appealing. Still, I don't begrudge anyone finding a way to make any image they wish. Intent matters too: art or reportage? Some level of transparency may be necessary.

I met Art Wolfe at a workshop once (he's actually my neighbor in West Seattle...not like we see each other at the grocery story or anything), and he explained to a group of us his point of view of the controversy over some of his composite images (the infamous zebras and such) that were included in one of his wilderness photography books. His feeling was he never tried to put anything over on anyone: he thought it was obvious what he was doing (experimenting with composites and patterns) and he was happy to explain his techniques to anyone that asked. He didn't sound defensive, nor did he feel a need to defend himself...it was his art and this was what he wanted to do. Ideally, he's right: we do what we need to do to express our vision, no explanations necessary. And yet, with the general expectation of the veracity of photographs...I guess sometimes explanations necessary.

So, I don't want to do composites for my own work (yet). Art Wolfe, and Joe, hey...have at it. This is a fun topic because I like seeing where people land on what's acceptable and what isn't for them.

I too grew up contact printing 8x10, 8x20 and 5x7 negatives. And when we enlarged 4x5, 2 1/4, & 35mm we filed out the negative carriers to give a black pen line (smooth or sloppy) as proof we printed the whole negative. I have great respect for that tradition.
We have new tools now that allow us to see pictures that are 'Bigger than the frame' , and techniques that allow us to collect the raw material and assemble it later. I think both ways are terrific and practice both. My preference has always been to get it in the camera when possible, but I regularly see and make pictures that require more than one exposure. I make no secret of it.
I'm proud of the work. I believe it to be true to what I saw and felt as well as what moved me to shoot.
I do some panoramas, some combining of images to get the image I visualized. I may also take out a coke can, or tree branch. I don't however ever add stuff that wasn't there.
So for me, there is no issue
When issues have arisen in the past, it is most often attributable to the Photographer doing something different than they said or implied they did, (or didn't do).

I do not shoot spot news or documentary or evidence photos but agree that those areas and others need to have a different standard. That standard (unless you work for someone else, or work in news etc), is the photographer's alone to determine.

Photography has always been a big House, with many rooms. Digital technology has added a wing .

For my personal photography, I always keep in mind two distinct outcomes...1) a true photograph and 2) a photo illustration. Both have merit, but I consider a true photograph to be just one contiguous exposure, short or long, of one natural scene rendered by one lens casting an image on one light-sensitive surface (i.e., film or electronic sensor). A photo illustration is anything you want it to be, e.g. multiple exposures, image stitching, computational photography, etc. etc.

Both have their place in the artist's portfolio, but they are fundamentally different, IMHO.

Consider this: even in the pre-photoshop era, it would have been trivial for Ansel Adams to illustrate a final print of "Moonrise Over Hernandes" rather than render the image in one shot on one piece of film. Had the original negative only possessed the lit crosses and the clouds, a second exposure of the moon taken at any other time could have easily been comped into the shot with traditional darkroom processing skills. Likewise for the clouds or the lit crosses. Photo illustration techniques could have brought any or all of these factors into the final print.

Would we think of Adam's seminal work the same way if he'd comped the final result? I think not, and therein lies a distinct difference between a true photograph and a photo illustration.


What with all the talk of print sales coming up and this brings up an idea that has been brewing in the back of my mind. The thought of 2 brains are better than one in a way.

My idea is a print partnership of the month. Let’s say theonlinephotography started a group, with 100 followers to make it easy. All the names get randomly sorted to pairs of 50. Each person in a pair would send each other a digital image. The two people then do their own edits and print 2 copies of each. Then the two people mail a print to each other of both their own print and the person paired up with them. This will give each photographer a different look at their own photo and then other persons, which can lead to great learning experience and see how other people in vision a print.
Then the next month you would get paired up with someone else and do new images.
Maybe print pal of the month?


Very interesting discussion.

Photographers of my generation referred to something termed “straight” photography. Those who adhered to the principles of this type of photography, as I understood it, refused to manipulate the image after the photograph was recorded on film. This of course turned out to be an inaccurate claim by the vast majority of “straight” photographers.

Ansel Adams was one of the earliest and most vocal proponents of straight photography. However, he engaged in some pretty intense manipulations, before, during and after exposure. All of this to get his “previsualized” concept realized. And the previsualized image he had was only vaguely connected to the reality in front of his camera at the moment of exposure. His entire body of work demonstrates manipulation on a level unknown before hand.

Another photographer I admire who practiced straight photography is Walker Evans. I can’t recall any writing of his where he used that term, but he did talk about photographs a “documents” (though he also famously said that photographs lie). Evans stated that he’d crop a photograph as severely as needed in order to make a stronger image. I can well imagine he’d be as comfortable with adding to a photograph as editing from it.

I find it interesting that still photographers seem to be the only ones, out of any media, who fret, fuss and fight over this issue. Painters, sculptors, illustrators, filmmakers, new media practitioners, etc... all spend their time making art and not arguing about subissues akin to lens fidelity. (And, in full disclosure, I don’t add to or edit from my image other than exposure/color correcting, and minor cropping [usually to straighten a horizon]. I do that because it suits _my_ work best - that’s the only reason.)

When I saw Joe's version of your two images, I chuckled - that's exactly what I envisioned yesterday when I first saw them. Reading the comments made me chuckle again because I disagree with "purists" 100%. Perhaps because I have done mostly action (sports car racing or critters) and street photography, I prefer zooms and always leave lots of image on the edges to allow a final crop that satisfies me and my idea of how the photo should communicate my vison of that moment in time. Amazing what I sometimes find in the edges of a photo!
The world does not exist in 24X36, 4/3, 8X10 or any other format. It is not oriented portrait or landscape. I see something interesting in a moment, take a photo that includes it, then contemplate it, on a screen today or on an enlarger easel or light box years ago, to see what is most interesting to capture and share.
What's wrong with that?

"What is photography?" "How many angels can dance on the head of a pin?" "If a tree ..."


My introduction to the darkroom came at an isolated radio relay and radar station on the coast of Northern Labrador, when a couple of my drinking buddies asked if I had ever developed film or made a print. I had no camera at the time, but the site had a fully equipped darkroom, loads of chemicals and paper, and a random collection of other people's forgotten negatives. And I had a lot of time. I learned to dodge here and burn there, and maybe crop some, to get a nice print. Isn't that what we're all doing, even with digital photography?

From my perspective, if a lens is involved, it's photography. If I make marks with a pen, pencil, or Wacom stylus, it's drawing. If I combine the two, it might be what Paul Strand did in some cases, when his negative just wasn't good enough by itself.

Hmmmm I prefer the second of the rejects best of all

As far as I know, manipulation has been an issue since the Imperial War Museum rejected montaged prints from Capt Francis (Frank) Hurley (arguable Australia's greatest War photographer) after the First World War, on the ground that because they were not "real", they were not photographs. As Hurley put it, a print from a single negative could not display how he perceived the battlefield and that there was no difference between he using multiple negatives to create an image of his perception in a photograph and a painter exercising artistic licence in the composition of a painting by adding or excluding subject matter.

The problem with digital photography, IMHO, is not manipulation per se but manipulation where there is pretence there has been none. Otherwise, what distinction would there be between a panorama cropped from a larger image (and who would argue that a photograph ceases to be a photograph, if cropped?) and stitched panorama (in camera or later)? Or if I burn and dodge printing in a darkroom, is the print any less a photograph?

Full disclosure is the only answer. Hence, my personal solution is to hand-write or type the software processes undertaken on the back of any prints I sell or give away.

Whether to accept or avoid depends upon the intended use. Photojournalism and legal uses tolerate zero manipulation, and rightly so.

Fine art, as was Mike/Joe's result, is much more tolerant.

Should we disrespect Weston's vegetables and shells because they were staged? Or Jerry Uelsmann's surreal images made by sandwiching film negatives? Or Olympus's super-quality high-resolution computationally made in-camera by combining 8 offset images to achieve sharper results and better color purity?

I was reading Ansel Adams 1980s book "Examples" recently and he writes of using visualization and Zone System to achieve what he saw in his mind's eye rather than than blindly accepting what the lens/film combination recorded. And, how he insisted upon erasing unsightly foreground graffiti from his famous Lone Pine/Mount Whitney

I believe that we can safely make photos like Mike/Joe's end result without recrimination as long as we don't try to use it as evidence.

I love the colour of the water in the photo. Yes, it IS a photo, even if yet another opto-electro-mechanical stage played a role in its creation. Suitably adjusted, it now exists in its creator's physical realm just as surely as it (almost) did in his mental one.
Incidentally, this brings up yet another topic -- that of using an in-camera aspect ratio most conducive to printing since, to my great frustration, I find I have to crop all my M43 images (usually upsetting the composition) prior to taking them to a professional printing shop (I don't own a printer). My compromise workaround has been to keep the Epl5 and P7700 at 4:3 while using the GX1 and RX100 at 3:2.

In your stitched pano you are joining whole or nearly whole images, not compositing them, so I don't really see why that would be problematic. You can do the same thing with prints. Some time in 1999 I stood atop a mountain in Yosemite National Park, film camera in hand. In front of me was a wide vista of beautiful, snow covered mountains. I wanted to take that panoramic vista home with me, so starting on my left and working right I shot a whole series of overlapping vertical images, describing nearly 180 degrees of a circle. When the 4 X 6 prints came back from the drugstore, I lined them up so that the terrain matched, taped them together, and, voila, had that panorama on my wall. Your stitched panorama is the essentially same thing.

You can paint in oils, a very forgiving material in which one can almost endlessly make changes, or in water-color, in which one works much faster and only small corrections are possible. It seems in photography we now have both those options as well, less sharply demarcated, but nevertheless. As to which is which, in photography this is not immediately obvious, and the idea of a stamp or certificate proving a single photo to be of the one kind or the other doesn't appeal to me at all. But I am sure that when confronted with a number of photographs of one creator, in a series, a book, or with the totality of his or her life-work, it will generally be obvious.
The really serious problem lies IMHO in another, loosely related field: information by media. It is now possible to create perfectly credible images of someone saying things with his or her own voice and gestures that are totally fabricated - think Donald Trump declaring he is resigning in order to become a reclusive monk on a hillside in Japan, striving for nothing but supreme enlightenment from now on (just sketching the least frightening example I could think of).

The utterings of old, dead photographers are not always to be trusted. The writing of something on tablets of stone doth not, of itself, make it so.

Everybody with a darkroom manipulated the image to one extent or the other, usually to the extent of their ability. Perhaps it's true to suggest that the only unmanipulated prints came from the D&P services where a machine did the work. Would that imply that only the unskilled photographer told the truth? Would that truth be attractive of itself?

Somebody - possibly one of the the earlier dead and gone guys to whom I drew attention - suggested that the negative was the score and the print the performance. This idea, unlike so many, kinda makes sense, and in digital, ever more so.

Guess it boils down to how you regard your photographs: forensic document or work of art - your art.

It’s very late in this topic and it’s clear there are (very) long-set opinions regarding image adjustments. So I’ll not invest much effort in debating the point as it would be wasted. But I am compelled to pose the following point: Just what do the no-touchers feel they’re accomplishing? The camera’s “eye” itself offers only an impression. If you photograph for your own purposes aren’t you trying to express what you felt when you saw a scene? You’re not making an X-ray, man. I’m always baffled by photo enthusiasts who, on the one hand, claim to be making “art” and then offer opinions that illustrate they have no understanding that “art” most fundamentally = communication of expression.

Very interesting discussion and issue. Its hard to know where to come down on this - coming from traditional straight photography, I still value the moment of the shot and the photographer's intuition/goals/intentions at the time as critical contributions.

That said, we've all probably enjoyed some PS maneuvers, but for me, adding new material to an image is crossing a line - at that point, it becomes more akin to art or painting, but not photography (as I know it).

What to make of the merging done here? I suppose if the intent (at the time) was to merge or stitch, then that's not necessarily addition, rather just combination... so ok. This still falls under photography in my view, and follows the photographer's original intention - although I'd be more comfortable if the photographer had this intention consciously at the time of the shot.

All of this is easier if we don't establish such boundaries, and just let "straight" compositions and manipulated images all under one large umbrella - and its likely future imagists will do just that. However, some of us still have important roots in older sensibilities, and I'm not quite comfortable giving up that discipline.

Picasso said "Art is a lie that helps us see the truth". The truth is our reality, how we see the world and not how the camera sees the world. For example putting these two files together make one image or to make a pano out of 5 files. This is how we see the image and how we get around the limitations of our equipment.
Above my computer is a print by Ansel Adams. It is a black and white image and I'm sure the subject was in color and most likely the print had a lot of dodging and burning. Some will say that is how Ansel "pre-visualized" the image. I saw an exhibit of 5 Moonrise prints and all were vastly different. Did he "pre-visualize" all 5 in the short time he had to make that photo?
Cheers, Jim

There's an episode of Hancock's Half Hour recently repeated on the BBC that gives a bit of historical perspective on this issue of image manipulation after the fact - https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b00802l8

So "Historically, a photograph has always meant a single exposure."

Seriously? So the photographs taken by the likes of Gjon Mili weren't photographs? Too bad the editors at Life and Time and those other venerable publications didn't know that. How embarrassing that his work appeared on their covers, no less.

If an image is written with light--onto any photosensitive medium--it qualifies as a photograph. If several images are written with light, either onto a single substrate via multiple exposures, or onto that same single substrate (print paper, computer screen) via other means, it doesn't alter the fact that the information was written with light.

As to whether that information is modified (in "post" or in the darkroom or in the camera), that's a different discussion.

I'm quite fond of Joe's resulting photograph, and I rather like Mike's wide-aspect-ratio photograph as well.

I would suggest that some criteria for judging images like this would be:

-- Could a visitor go to the site/time of the photo and detect discrepancies? And,
-- Does the photographer make dishonest claims about the photo?

A photo is, by default, presented as an honest image of something at a particular instant (scene, portrait, etc.) We acknowledge that manipulations are possible, and generally agree the minor tweaks are acceptable, as long as they push the photo closer to reality. Crops are okay, color adjustments are usually acceptable, white balance fixes, and so on.

Further, we accept larger changes if the photographer honestly acknowledges them.

Ansel Adams, for example, always started with a particular negative, but made no bones about manipulating the image to get the best "artistic" representation he could. The early versions of "Moonrise" are sharply different than the later ones. What he didn't do was move the moon -- he manipulated the photographic process, but didn't change the geometrics of the landscape. And he didn't try to hide his photographic manipulations.

On the other hand, you commonly see extreme manipulations of Southwestern landscapes where color and "vibrance" are deliberately pushed well beyond the point of reality, where oversized moons are shown rising in the north, yet are presented as real. These are fundamentally lies -- no such landscape can be seen with the colors or moons presented by the photographer, yet the photographer doesn't (or even refuses to) acknowledge the manipulation.

There are borderline cases, and Joe's alteration of Mike's image is one such case. I doubt that a visitor to the scene shot by Mike could detect anything improper, no matter how hard he looked. If Mike had stepped a few feet further back, then Joe's representation could be the result of a minor (and permissible) crop. The borderline cases are difficult, and create these debates. They also create situations where you are thrown entirely upon the photographer's integrity -- you can't tell whether he's lying or not with a particular photo.

And if it turns out later that discrepancies are detected, and the photographer has an important reputation, there's often hell to pay, because people do like their reality.

And that's the real nut of the problem. When a person contemplates a landscape or a portrait, and if that image has been significantly altered but the alteration is unacknowledged, what is the viewer contemplating? We don't really know. Some unacknowledged figment in the brain of the photographer, or of the sitter who demanded the changes? Is your contemplation of the scene simply a waste of time, because it's a fraud?

When you look at a painting, you know (by default) that you're looking at the painter's interpretation. You don't know that with a photograph. You don't have to rely on a painter's honesty -- what you see is simply what he wanted you to see. With photographers, it's different -- you *do* have to rely on his honesty. And that's really what we're talking about here: how honest do you have to be, if at all?

I guess I have an unusual feeling about manipulating images. I feel it’s my responsibility as an artist to do more than simply present the same scene anyone can see, the role of an artist is to interpret the scene in their own unique vision. I’m comfortable doing anything to an image that I can execute well to achieve my vision of the scene. And, by the way, it has taken me a long time to be comfortable calling myself an artist.

What digital editing did was thoroughly blur the line between photography and graphic arts.
It is at the point now when I see a hyper-perfect landscape image I immediately wonder to what extent it was fiddled with in Photoshop.
That said if you draw a line in your own work and say "this is as far as I feel comfortable going" and communicate that to anyone who may want your work then no harm no foul.

Regarding how we'll perceive composite images in the future, I'm reminded of two things from photography's past: the first is f64 and their rebellion against the pictoralists. The other is how everyone who was stuck with orthochromatic film had to make a composite image if they wanted any clouds in the sky...

In the 1950's when I was an ambitious young photographer I took several pictures of what used to be the back yard of my house. It was full of debris because the entire neighborhood was in the process of being razed for the construction of the Verrazzano Bridge in New York. Pieces of the house, the fence and other assorted objects were strewn everywhere.

About two years ago I was looking at some of my early work and I realized that two of those debris-laden pictures could be stitched to form a panorama (unintended at the time I took them). So I scanned them and stitched them. Except for a few registration problems, (after all I was only about 12 at the time and the pictures were taken hand-held) the panorama looked pretty good.

Hmmm...Creativity over a period of 60+ years? Or just dumb luck?


[Oh c'mon Frank. Aren't you going to show it to us? --Mike]

OK Mike, you made me search for it. Finally, in a dusty, dark corner of my C: drive I came upon this:


The stitch line is just right of center.

All that rubble used to be a neighborhood.


There simply is no one truth in a photograph. Everything is biased by the decisions made before, during and after. I'm not saying in this age of political "untruth" that photographs can not tell a truth, but they are always an interpretation.

So many factors will always impact what and how a photograph reveals. Even it's print size can change what it shows.

And I get a kick out of those photographers who state "No Digital Manipulation" and then are exposed to have been doing just that.

Photography has always been a manipulation, always will be. If you think HDR, or stitching or focus stacking or any of the other new "digital" manipulations are new you've not looked into the history of photography enough. They have pretty much all been done almost since the invention of image capture to a physical 2D plane.

My view is as long as it's not trying to be used in a court room, or news reporting have at it.

Probably the biggest reason I got hooked on Photography was the ability to control - manipulate - an image. My first real thrill was playing around with long exposures, not a short moment in time.

Happy Holidays!

Mike, since many of your readers apparently do not practice the art of photography, or only do so incidentally in the process of producing images, perhaps it is time to change the name of your blog. How about, The Online Digitally Generated Software Manipulated Imager, aka TODGSMI?

I see nothing wrong with crops or stitching as I'd see the same if I went there. I find it odd that the sensor shape you choose should dictate all your final images, I see nothing wrong with stitching 4x100mm photos if you don't have a 50mm with you either. Hardly anyone does circular images your lens actually produces.
I sometimes clone out a glossy leaf or other ephemera, nothing major, never added anything digitally but did use the double exposure button on my film cam and have used a slide copier to photograph slide composites..

I wonder how folks feel about colourising old B&W photos? Using a drone to get a viewpoint 10ft up, rather than using a ladder?

Happy Hols!

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