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The Truth, the Whole truth and Nothing but the Truth?

Ian Thomas discusses honesty and truth in photography

'Honesty' and 'truth' are two descriptors which are applied very frequently to the subject of landscape photography. Typically, they will be applied by 'scapers who fall into one (or both) of two categories: the chap who searches tirelessly for the perfect scene and the perfect light (hopefully concurrently!) and the other who is not quite so pernickety but has little in the way of aptitude or skill to get the best out of his images in post production.  In the latter category, I have met no end of folk who eschew the very idea of altering even a single pixel, as so to do would disturb the twins called Honesty and Truth. Often the principle is propounded in a loud and condescending voice, and built upon foundations of clay. I know that there will be few of our readers in this camp!

189 thoughts on “The Truth, the Whole truth and Nothing but the Truth?

  1. Very interesting Ian, and very helpful. Having seen this photo before I genuinely believed it was one frame! Which I guess is the point. I have to say that the final version does give a much stronger feel for what it was like to be there on the day so I have no problem at all with the ‘deception’, if that is what it is. I don’t think it is ‘deception’ but I know those who will. What you have done is make a great image. I must try harder!

    • Thanks, Nick. What is art if not deception to some degree? I don’t claim to be an artist (artful, certainly!) but my pictures have to satisfy me: this is the way I comply with that hedonism!

  2. It certainly is a fabulous image but I’m afraid to say my stomach started to turn as I read how it was created! I just wonder if you would have been able to get close to the final result using the black,exposure and recovery sliders in Lightroom or the equivalent in photoshop. I think I may be wearing my “old fogey” hat but for me photography stops not far from there.

    • Why, Jeremy, you have a delicate consitiution! I have done nothing other than apply some SBTC (small bandwith temporal compression) – I show the images which comprise the end result and you must agree that everything in there is as was seen, just maybe not all at the same time. I have presented the ‘edited highlights’ combined together to make the image (hopefully) pleasing and impressive and I have been honest about it in the process. What is there to nauseate over? Fiddling in Lightroom would not have produced my desired end-point. I ask: are you an image taker first and foremost, tied up in the machinations required, or are you an appreciator of imagery? I hope I am the latter, who uses the former as a toolbox, much like a wood-carver who doesn’t concern hismelf with how the wood was grown or how his chisels are made. Whilst not for one second comparing my efforts with that of the greats, you might be surprised at what the mighty A. Adams got up to!

  3. I used the phrase metaphorically, of course. I thought it was a great image and you have been honest enough to explain how it was done. Personally, though, it has gone quite a long way beyond what photography is – or should be.

    • Phew, thank goodness for metaphor, eh….could’ve been messy otherwise!

      Now, the whole purpose of my article was to stimulate the very debate you have touched upon. And to pick up your comment, where is the definition of what photography ‘should be’? I know what it is, both technically and functionally as a dry subject but photography is a means to an end. As an entity it does not have a purpose without the ‘taker/maker’ and ‘viewer’. Satisfying the latter is a laudable goal but as an enthusiastic amateur, to satisfy both is nirvana! Satisfying the ‘taker’ alone but restricting effort and skill in the processing stage would be a nerdy occupation worhty only of Billy Nomates. Do it, by all means, but accept that it is not The Only Way.

      So the debate moves on to ‘how can we achieve a pleasing outcome without losing our integrity?’. Well, integrity is a powerful word and is certainly in my photographic vocabulary. I’m not saying this is the case for everyone but for me to be pleased, nay, proud of what I do demands that I satisfy my vision, sometimes despite the conditions that would result in that vision being elusive. I have made many, many images that have received no post-processing attention at all, simply because they please me ‘as is’. Occasionally, I suppose I stretch my integrity when needed but only within limits that I consider acceptable. In my presented image, I have tipped my cap to photographic honesty by holding back from including elements of other images which are not temporally coherent with those captured on the day. Most people who see that image would not (and indeed have not!) suspected that it is a composition. To my eye, it is entirely believable and – it could be argued – if you stood at that spot long enough and on sufficient stormy occasions, the scene could indeed arise as a genuine one. I just couldn’t wait that long!

      It might be argued that any concocted image is not photography and that would possibly eliminate 90% of the work the world has seen. So what? For me the end result is the issue: all the images used ARE photographs and they ARE coherent, certainly spatially if not perfectly aligned in time. Much as a painter might exercise artistic licence, I have employed the photographic variety, which has (I believe) achieved an image which conveys to the viewer the awsome and terrifying display of power which I experienced over half an hour while struggling to stand upright in a howling gale. Photography for me is about producing imagery which evokes emotion – in the absence of everything happening in one frame, I know only one way…..

  4. As a newcomer, I can appreciate Jeremy’s concerns, I started my serious photography about the time of the Korean War, but I have lately begun to realize that the image is what matters.
    Entering some gallery shows and becoming acquainted with the “Art Community”, where we compete with painters and other crafts, can make one angry for a while about their lack of interest in technical purity, but I am begining to come around to their point of view, although I would still favor the purity of film/darkroom etc.

    • Herb, I’m all for ‘technical purity’ (TP) but not as a standa-alone subject. In my photography I am (perhaps overly-)fastidious about the processes involved from pressing the button through to printing the image and I can swear, hand on heart, that there is no-one with more TP badges than me. I use TP unceasingly, geekily, to ensure that what I get is what I want. After more decades than I want to remember with wet processing, it is by being able to unconsciously control in minute detail those elements of digital processing to which TP refers that I can forget about the process and concentrate on the image. Do you think about your hands and feet when driving? What is the object of that effort, other than (for the majority, anyway) to get from A to B without incident? So it is with TP – it is a carefully arranged, precise set of tools, to be used as the craftsman wishes in pursuit of his aims.

      You say you would favo(u)r the purity of film/darkroom. Why? What is it about the past that we must yearn for it so? What real benefit does such ‘purity’ provide to the viewer? Are you in the “TP for TP’s own sake” camp? OK, in the world of reportage journalism, to alter an image can mean the sack and if I worked inthat sphere, I would have to put up with it – but we’re talking artful landscapes here! So what does TP mean in the Grand Plan? I would suggest nothing, taken isolation. Only in the context of achieving a result does it have relevance and then only as a means to an end, providing as it does a repeatably-accurate working environment for the image maker

  5. A great article. As ever, truth or honesty would have to be defined. The image is the image howsoever created using (or at least paying tribute to) traditional skills in the digital darkroom.

    • Whenever I’ve exhibited, I’ve had the “Has this been messed about in Photoshop?” approach and I’ve used the “traditional skills” get-out-of-jail-free card. I also try to get the point across that the photo magazines of few years ago ran reviews of say the dozen most popular film processing labs and the wide variety of results obtained from each in terms of contrast and saturation. At least with PS, there is some control from the start.

  6. I see now that it would have been impossible to create this image from any of your originals using the equivalent of traditional darkroom tools. That for me is the problem. It is a composite of several different images and while it *might* have been possible in the days of film it is so much easier now. In my opinion even landscape images need to have a documentary element to them or they lose some of their credibility. I need to believe that that subject matter was actually present before the lens or that this event actually happened. So how far do you go before it becomes too far? Where is that boundary?

    • Well, in my case, I’ll go as far as I described in the article. I don’t think the narrative has been lost, just augmented a bit – the trick is to ‘feel’ when you’ve gone far enough.

      • Oh, and using traditional darkroom tools it is entirely possible to do what I’ve done….it would just take a week (and a load of dish and torn hair!) instead of a few hours.

        • Having seen what some people managed in the darkroom in the past I have to agree – I’m absolutely gobsmacked at the level of manipulation that was possible – Have a look at this video for an example..

          • That brings back memories, Tim, and creates a few shivers! It’s notable how the techniques demonstrated there have formed the basis of Photoshop activities which replicate the old methods.

  7. If you’d shot those 3 Images with the intention of doing this compositing, you could get all those brownie points for previsualising it. Instead, you’re having to excuse your digital darkroom technique. Strange world?

    • No excuses are offered – just reasons. In a way, the intent was to procure the evocative image and seeing the conditions that prevailed led me to adopt the stance that I would achieve that only with a composite. Hence the tripod to ensure identical framing. So there was previsualisation!

  8. I think photography means many different things to many different people, i find a lot of non photographers whilst saying they like the image, question whether it is “real” because they think it is easy and commonplace for images to be manipulated digitally.
    I feel that a lot of film users see digital manipulation as “unclean” even though darkroom manipulation is just as prevalent.
    I personally can appreciate an image for its own beauty and for its own sake, it doesn’t have to be a beautiful subject for it to be a beautiful image and I am very happy if I have taken a good photograph and turned it into an image that i really like. Photography is both art and documentary , whichever you want it to be.
    I am not very good with Photoshop and do not have the patience and knowledge to do what has been done in the images shown, I get bored just reading what has been done, but fair play for doing it. i’ll just stick to fiddling about in lightroom to increase the enjoyment i get from a photograph that ” I” took.

    • Good point well put. There are also a lot of digital photographers out there who decry the use of image editing. In the main, I have found such folk to have taken the plunge into the world of pixels, but the water’s cold and they haven’t stayed immersed long enough to break through the pain barrier and – at the risk of sounding evangelical – discover the joy that is there to behold. They fall shy of the ‘black art’ that is Photoshop and – so as to excuse their inability – attempt to derive kudos from that position of ignorance by use of arguments based on ‘honesty’.

  9. I don’t see any difference in the end result between your image and time lapse photography (blurring waterfalls), or star trails photography and the like. It’s all valid in my view. Intention is important, and that is what we don’t really know when we view an image. If the image provokes the right emotional response, and that was the intention, then I see no harm in it. Paul.

    • I agree – I think we all draw our own lines in photography past which we would be uncomfortable to go. Every line will be different (even people who seem to agree that ‘straight’ photography is essential will differ on types of dodging and burning or what it’s OK to retouch)

  10. I suppose you could argue that the manipulation shown in Tim’s video is OK if you’re trying to sell a product. You might expect it. But is it really be appropriate for a landscape?

    As far as Paul’s comment that a composite image is the same as, for example, blurred waterfalls or star trails, I would argue that there is a distinct difference between the two . In one (the latter) the photographer is creating something which really wasn’t there in reality. You could say that it was a combination of several realities. In the other s/he is making an interpretation of something which undeniably existed.

    • I think that you’re on dodgy ground using the word ‘appropriate’ as you risk being accused of being a self-elected arbiter of the concept. In my eye, in a genre such as landscape, anything is appropriate in pursuit of the desired result: manipulation becomes inappropriate where factual accuracy is vital, such as in nature photography or newspaper imagery. I am absolutely convinced that there are a lot of landscape photographers out there who regularly alter what they see ad because it’s done well and they don’t tell you, you are taken in. There is room for purism, but I prefer to leave this to the purists!

  11. I know Ian and have seen the finished image up close, I like Nick Browne am shocked to see just how the end result was achieved.

    I do not have the ability to manipulate (yet!), I applaud Ian for lifting the lid on this terrific piece of work and for such a thought provoking post.

    BTW for me the skill and dedication in planning, preparing and executing the whole series of images is where the real work was done, and for that you deserve to interpret the way you saw the scene.

    As I say “Being there is Paramount”, manipulated or not, you cannot get a cracking result sat at home.

  12. Is the point about ‘honesty and truth’ here not trying to pass off such an image as a single frame shot (which Ian has not done) i.e. this records exactly what happened at the time of the shutter opening/closing, but to explain it is a composite and then leave it to the observer to form their own view? Or is this ‘deception’ (if this is what it is) acceptable?

    What the different images show are three different physical processes occurring and unless the lag between waves is very short this is not likely to happen and even in a storm did not happen here, hence the need for three different shots. Of course one would not have recalled the very small wave that led to the swash/backwash in image 2. So however long Ian had been there it is very unlikely the composite would have occurred – in this sense we have three physical realities.

    So does it also depend on what the image is going to be used for? If for one’s own personal satisfaction, which Ian is very clear about, it does not matter but what if for a competition, well then I suppose it depends on the rules…

    • Well said. As to the validity of the image for competition purposes, most rules allow pretty much any manipulation, unless the image is destined for the ‘nature’ category. I have had this image accepted in a couple of competitions and exhibitions – none of which restrict what can be done to modify a picture.

  13. I suppose apart from anything else setting boundaries on what constitutes photography creates a greater challenge, more enjoyment and a greater sense of achievement.

    Apart from that though truth is the one this that people beleive photogrpahy has over art. That is a great power of our medium. Whether those beliefs are right or not they are exploited by photographers to the benefit of our art. Bending the rules dilutes that sense of reality and ultimately, as far as I am concerned, weakens our art form.

    In my opinion this is not photography but photo manipulation, but that is just my opinion. No doubt many people would argue that by exposure bracketing and blending images in photoshop I am doing the very same thing!

    As for long exposures and star trails….yes it is true that they ‘bend’ the rules, but they don’t have a temporal connection to what we see and therefore could never look ‘real’ per se.

    • I really don’t think people look to photography for truth anymore. At least not in the veracity of what is depicted. Does anyone who buys OK magazine, or even Vogue or Vanity Fair really believe that what they see is the truth? The verb ‘to photoshop’ is now firmly embedded in our vocabulary and has entered general usage among both the photo literate and photo-illiterate public. Perhaps what matters more is that the photo consuming public ‘know’ that it is possible to alter a photograph – i.e. the truth we need to know is the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’, for in this distinction lies the root of the creators intent, whether it was to decieve, or to stir an emotional response.

      • I disagree, people do look for the truth, but they question it. The more photos are created through these means the more the public know about it. The more they know about it, the more the doubt the reality of a photograph. The fact that people ask photographers ‘is this real’ is a case in point that they think it might be. I would say that from my perspective at least its good if you can get people to start thinking ‘this is real’ and work from there.
        Fundamentally the method employed in creating an image is irrelevant, what matters is the perceived reality or that photograph. I’ll repeat this again because I think it is important: The power that photography has over other mediums is its intrinsic link to reality. Thats not to say that we shoot never edit photos, but rather that we should be careful how we do so to avoid saying ‘there is no Father Christmas’ with every shot we take.

    • This whole debate goes back even beyond the Cottingley Fairies – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cottingley_Fairies . Photography means ‘drawing with lIght’ and ever it has been thus. One hundred years on from that deception I don’t believe that Modern Man holds that photography can/must only portray the truth. Now, that might be an indictment of our image editing efforts but it is a reality and knowing this shifts or even negates the previously held ‘rules’. From the position of the photographer, I believe it vital that photographic deception (what an evocative, evil-implying word!) should not be the source of hurt or loss but just as a painting would not be acceptable evidence of fact, an ‘art’ photograph should not be expected to be a precise representation of a scene. If that’s what you want, you should either take it yourself or issue a specification to the photographer prior to the event – and be prepared for disappointment. Or just accept a picture for what it does for you.

  14. I agree with Alex’s opinion that this goes beyond photography. If people argued that exposure bracketing/ blending images was the same thing , they would be wrong. He would be using that technique to overcome the limitations of the medium. The result would be a single image of a single reality. The fabulous image we can see above is a combination of several different “realities”. Now we know that, it loses some at least some of its credibility.

      • Pretty sure Jeremy wasn’t implying that Tim ;)

        This is such a complex issue to discuss at all to be honest. I’ve often tried to write about it myself only to leave it to the greater minds of the likes of David Ward!

      • OK :-) I know jeremy wasn’t intentionally implying that but if ‘manipulation’ is conflated with credibility then most creative arts don’t have any.

        We can play devils advocate here though – what happens if he had blended two exposures and caught part of two different waves in the blend ‘unintentionally’ – obviously a HDR bracket can’t be guaranteed to be contiguous but we treat the result as valid. The same with many astro-landscape shots where the sky is blended with a differently exposed foreground. How would Marc Adamus’ recent aurora shot stand up? (read the description of how it was shot).


        The foreground light came from a different point in time to the sky? Is this real? Or Ansel Adams’ Moonlight where he removed a few clouds to create the foreboding sky?

        We’re on a sliding scale here and even the phrase ‘documentary’ photography is a difficult one to define. May HDR images have been rejected from documentary photography competitions for instance.

        • Marc Adamus’ work is a case in point. He doesn’t insult the viewer’s intelligence by pretending that his image is anything other than what it is. If you take a look at the link offered by Tim, you’ll see that there is NOT ONE adverse criticism of it. Of course, that could be because the ‘dislikers’ have stayed away……. An image needs to be considered in its context: if it is offered up as an accurate rendition, then hang the photographer if it is shown to be otherwise ….. http://www.wildlifeextra.com/go/news/bbc-wildlife-photo010.html . Otherwise, accept the image for the effect it has in your visual cortex and move on. There is no point at all in claiming that the author hasn’t followed some tacit rule. Tim’s point about painting is valid – no-one has a problem with the lack of total truth in a painting due to the extreme manipulation that is at the core of the medium. It is because (until recently, anyway) “the camera doesn’t lie” that folk seem to get upset with manipulation of images. Well, surprise surprise, guys, Pandora has been nosey and it would seem to me that there is no way back.

          • read my reply below on this!

            Painting has no direct connection to reality. It is by its very nature COMPLETELY disconnected from reality. I know we can go round and round saying that photos dont represent reality because of what you dont show, focal length, DOF, processing etc. but that is missing the point.

            People DO still believe photos. People KNOW that paintings are edits of reality, but they don’t KNOW this for any given photo (unless they can work it out). For that reason photography has something that painting doesn’t, a greater potential to put the viewer in your shoes. Start making big edits to images and people will stop believing altogether.

          • Ian – I was going to refer to the wolf in my post yesterday- the difference here though is that the wolf did jump over the gate and was caught on camera in one frame (or so i understand) – so it is a depiction of an event that did happen, the issue was it did not meet competition rules as it was not wild – so the honesty criterion was not met but the truth was – it did happen as depicted.
            I think what we have to accept is ‘photoshop’ has allowed for manipulation way beyond possibility of a few years ago. Which brings us back to the question of truth – is the image maker morally obliged to tell us the truth and if they don’t is it a deception or, worse a lie? Discuss!!

        • Ansel would be ‘cheating’ in that particular case, if you ask me, but I can’t emphasise enough that that is just my opinion!

          In marcs case the process is to overcome the technical limitation of the camera in my opinion, so its a little different. What he is doing amounts to contrast/brightness control.

          Catching two different parts of a wave is fine as long as the intent is there to capture reality and the resulting photo doesnt capture an impossible moment.

          Its definitely a sliding scale. I am aware that my own work is rife with contradictions. For example I am happy to move a distracting yellow leaf out of a waterfall image, and occasionally I will clone one out.

    • Where have these rules come from? I think that credibility vies with beauty in the eye of the beholder. My image has been constructed so as to please and no attention has been paid (nor needs to be) to notional ‘rules’ of what is deemed credible or appropriate. The point here is the question “would I have known if he hadn’t told me”. If the answer is “no” then the credibility issue has been addressed. As to appropriate…well within your corporeal sphere, YOU are the judge, but only insofar as it affects your enjoyment of what you see. Others will think differently.

      • The thing is, I believe that beauty lies in reality. I personally believe that reality is something that we should hang on to and try to balance against the needs of the purely aesthetic.

        To take a hypothetical example. Lets say your favourite colour is blue and you love blue paintings and blue photos. That doesn’t mean that you should make green tree blue, that wouldn’t look right. In that case you are trying to balance what looks real against aesthetic needs. I set some arbitrary rules in my photography because I feel it helps me to control my output effectively and create images that people will believe.

        Would I have known if he hadnt told me? No.

        But people don’t like being lied to. If he hadnt told me, and I had found out, then his credibility would have been lost (particularly if he said ‘this is a single frame’) As it stands I understand where he is coming from in making these changes, I just don’t personally agree that it constitutes photography. What’s wrong with calling it photo manipulation? That has to happen at some point!

        Anyway this isnt an ‘argument’ that can be won by anybody!

        • Beauty does indeed lie in reality, Alex, but reality does not have the monopoly. I think your blue/green analogy is somewhat wide of the point – akin to cloning a London bus into my wave. You have already said that you wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t told you and so it would be illogical for you now to state that my image ‘does not look right’ – you have effectively agreed that there is none of your ‘green’ in my ‘blue’ picture! The point I make in my article is that I am passionate about maintaining coherence by ensuring that the contributing parts of the image are all from the same place within a short time frame. Call it photo manipulation if you like – the terminology is unimportant to me as the creator but you can be sure that every element of the image is indeed a photograph taken by me at the same place within half an hour. You will note that not once have I claimed it to be ‘pure’ photography (whatever that is) – in fact I have gone to some length to state the opposite. The resultant image does not claim to be pure – it does not claim to be anything other than pleasing to look at.

          If someone passed a law tomorrow telling me that I couldn’t call it photography, it would not make a jot of difference to what I wish to do. I think semantics should be kept as a separate subject for debate!

          • Okay, I’m trying to make the point that there is a balancing point between reality and pure aesthetics. In this case your process creates a more aesthetically pleasing image, and has no impact on the reality. However this is by your application of the process. ‘Getting away with it’ doesnt necessarily mean that it was ‘right’ to use the process.

            I’m finding it very difficult to put my point across well, but my concern is that its all to easy to logically argue away each and every facet of a photo that makes it realistic. People do have one fundamental expectation with photos, and that is that it captures an instant. Granted if you exposure blend then it isnt quite an instant, but the image is equivalent to an image captured in an instant. This image is not, it is a combination of 3 distinct moment. Is it right or is it wrong? That doesnt really matter and in my opinion it is neither, but it puts you on a slippery slope.
            Take the winner of the urban category of LPOTY this year. Most people wont realise that he combined a daylight image of the sky with a night time city scape, but some people will such as those who observe what clouds look like at different times of day. For those people the notion of the photo being ‘real’ is shattered. There is no sense that you could ‘be there’ and see the same thing.
            For me, if you create an image from multiple distinct exposures it should be labelled as a photo manipulation so that it is not confused for a photo. I have absolutely no problem with composites like this one as long as they arent passed off as photos, which for me should represent and instant (or extremely short moment ) in time.

            • I fear , Alex, that the slippery slope is on your side of the hill! It is a natural progression of photography today that the number of ‘tweaked’ images will vastly outnumber those that are not. Frequently, I see many images done to death, but I just pass them by. Occasionally, I see one that has been carefully tweaked and will linger longer if it pleases me to look at it. And that is all that matters to me. Rather than lament the status quo, it is better to adopt a stance that allows inclusion of the ‘nicely tweaked’ image – this is what just about every competition and exhibition on the circuit does (other than for nature, etc.), otherwise there would be no entries or else massess of time spent in verifying ‘truth’. Can so many people be wrong? What is ‘not right’ for someone is ‘right’ for others, so we must all exercise our discretion and ignore that which we class as ‘not right’.

              • Ian,

                Why should we accept what you believe to justify your way of working? It is not a natural progression of photography that “tweaked” images will vastly outnumber the rest. Of course one would need to define “tweak” but I suggest that for most people it would not include the construction of one image from a number of others.

                And why are landscapes different to “nature, etc”

              • I’m not lamenting the status quo, I am challenging it! I edit my images, sometimes quite heavily, but I just do that within the bounds of what I consider to be believable/realistic. It could be argued that this is all you are doing here, but for me this crosses that imaginary line.

                You can’t seriously let competitions be the standard of what is judged to be good landscape photography! In my experience of watching beginner digital photographers turn into experienced photographers they will edit less not more.

                Fundamentally though the argument of ‘everyone else is doing it so why fight it’ is not one that I subscribe to at all!

                As for your last point, I couldn’t agree more. I am saying this is not ‘right’ for me, it’s just my opinion, but that is all I can give on such an issue. It’s not black or white.

                • I don’t let competitions define things for me..it’s just that they provide some kind of line in the sand, if there is such a thing. The only judge of what is a good landscape is the man who puts his hand in his pocket, physically or metaphorically. I derive my own pleasure from what I do but I also listen to what others say about my output. So far, I’m not complaining!

        • I can understand that this can be supported if a photographer claims that it was a ‘single shot’ or in a text accompanying the image claimed that the ‘sky was epic this evening’ when it was actually imported from another shot/location.

          Has there to be a link between the perception of reality (howsoever defined) and image making? I guess so. With Ian’s image, and before I knew about the frame blending, I assumed he was actually there. The blending certainly doesn’t detract from the image. He’s presented within the confines of one frame, the movement of the sea over a certain period of time, no different really from making a 400 second seascape exposure.

          • Yes, the editing undoubtedly is done realistically and improves the image. It also looks realistic to me. The result cannot be questioned.

            The simple fact is, I would prefer to look at an image and know it was a single moment. As I mentioned elsewhere, the fact that he ‘got away with it’ doesn’t necessarily justify the process. The notion that a photographs content once captured, doesnt change (IE things don’t appear that weren’t there or get removed if they were there) is probably the last thread of reality that photography up until now has hung onto. The fact that people regularly ask if an image is edited shows what and important issue this is.

            • Then, Alex, you must restrict yourself to looking at images whose veracity is without question. I wish you well in your quest! Conversely, I will be unrestricted because I can view any image and appreciate it without questioning its source….what inner peace that provides…. ;->

              • Well the fact is that the vast majority of images do hold true in the sense that they are a representation of a single moment (or moments separated by seconds not minutes). I just like to think that photography is more because of its link to reality. The more realistic an image is, the greater its value in my opinion. The same is true for pure aesthetics of course so there must be a balance between the two. The best images in my opinion are aesthetically pleasing, creative, emotive and realistic.

                • ..but my image is composed of real things and events. It pretends to be no more than it is: a simple compilation of temporally-related events designed to evoke an emotion. The fact that you declared that you wouldn’t have known it was a composite unless I told you demonstrates that it has validity. You set yourself against it only in the knowledge of its makeup, which seems to me to be quite contrary: you effectively have decided to dislike it on a point of personal principle.

                  And that Jeremey chap has been a banger-on more than most right from the start!. Fortunately, not enough to convince me to convert to his religion! I thought I had conceded that he and I should agree to disagree….(reply posted here because I didn’t have a button to reply to him directly)

                • Jeremy: I suspect I will bang on until everyone agrees with me :P The nature of this kind of topics is that there isn’t a right answer, but there’s some pretty strong opinions here, mine being one of them!

                  Ian: You image does meet all of the criteria obviously and I don’t displike your image at all, I think it’s great. What I don’t like is the process because I dont agree that is a process that belong under the umbrella ‘photography’ because it has the potential to mislead. I think you kind of know where I’m coming from and I certainly know where you are coming from so maybe we should just wait to have a sit down :)

                  Julian: Any emotion but apathy is fine!

                • Jeremy: Your mast. Colours. Nailed.

                  Julian: The emotion depends upon the image and as I am what could loosely be called an ‘eclectic’ photographer, I use the term in a broad sense to indicate ‘the feelings evoked in the viewer’. However, in this particular instance: “the experience of standing (or attempting to stand) in a howling gale near waves of belittling raw power”….or words to that effect.

                  The work displayed on your website demonstrates a propensity towards the abstract and strong colour images. As such, there would seem little scope for – or point in manipulation of those pictures. They reflect the name of your site and are in the majority calm and peaceful. Further, other than shifts in light over a short period, they are temporally fairly static subjects and do not alter much over a minute or so, I would suggest. Whilst I can appreciate and maybe even covet them as a photographer, conversely I adore fast moving, dynamic situations where there can often be a battle with the elements to capture the image I need/want. This means that the image that I see when I raise the camera is unlikely to be the one I get when I press the button. So to produce anything of worth to satisfy my vision, occasionally I will apply a little time compression to an image set. I look upon it as a ‘selective time exposure’ – instead of keeping the shutter open for a mintue, I might open it quickly a few times in the minute and then overlay the sharp images I get, rather than let a foggy mush develop, which to me would say nothing at all about the power of the scene. So what is valid for me as an image editor is not likely to be the same for you. I embrace that difference and I have no truck with your (or anyone else’s) stance on the subject of image enhancement. I just know what works for me and my article was a straightforward, honest dissertation on that. I rest my case!

                  Alex: Having inspected your work I can see that you are a person who is able to achieve what I cannot. On occasion (not always, remember!) I will fill in my inadequacies with artifice and call it art, your images are art to start with, assuming no heavy manipulation of course! (Incidentally, ‘Brecon Falls’ is actually ‘Sgwd Gladys” or “Lady Falls”).

  15. The whole issue of ‘truth’ in photography is a fascinating one.

    I was planning to put together an article here about truth as it pertains to landscape photography but abandoned the attempt when I realised it would end up huge – and I wasn’t even proposing to consider the thorny topic of image-editing.

    Essentially the argument seems to be about ‘respect for the edium’ vs. ‘anything goes in the name of Art’.

    As Alex points out, the one thing that photography has over other visual artforms is its intrinsic ‘reality’ due to the fact that the image itself is produced via a mechanical process. The photographer can set some initial parameters, of course, but at the moment when an image is actually formed the artist has no control: the recording medium can do nothing other than react, in a wholly predictable way, to whatever photons happen to strike it while the shutter is open.

    With painting, drawing, sculpture, even the ‘assembly’ of modern ‘conceptual’ art, the artist has full and total control over the finished product every single step of the way and can use this control to bend the medium to his will and change or distort the reality of what is seen in countless different ways. By contrast, photographs are essentially ‘made’ by an unthinking, unfeeling machine that has no bias and no reason to influence the reality of what is being recorded one way or another. Because of this, photographs are, rightly or wrongly, seen as having more veracity than images created by physically making marks on a surface. Therefore, it isn’t a ‘rule’ that photographic images should be true to the subject; it’s in the nature of the medium. Push too far and the essential difference that sets the photograph apart from other forms of visual imagery disappears. Then, all that’s left, in the mind of the average viewer, is the equivalent of a painting made by somebody who is too lazy to learn to draw and therefore must rely on mechanical assistance to produce pictures. Harsh? Well, maybe. And in some cases demonstrably untrue but that’s the thing about perceptions. They don’t need to have any truth.

    So, where is the skill of the photographer if it is not in finding and revealing essential truths that might otherwise not be seen? If these ‘truths’ turn out to exist only in the mind of the photographer, then a contract of trust between photographer and viewer is broken.

    In the particular instance under discussion, I think it’s fair to say that Ian’s image could have existed. The precise wave-patterns illustrated are not outside the bounds of possibility; a viewer could go to that location in stormy weather and reasonably expect to see a very similar reality to that illustrated. Where the contract breaks down, imo, is when a hypothetical viewer, despite best efforts, is unable to experience the scene as depicted because the shapes of features have been distorted or elements of the physical reality have been rearranged to suit purely aesthetic considerations. Or worse: with prior intent to deceive.

    Just one more thought. If it was later to be discovered that many of Cartier-Bresson’s famous ‘decisive moments’ were, in fact, very convincing photo-montages, would we think any less of his talent as a result?

    • I think we should have collaborated on this subject, Julian! You appear hold many of the views to which I subscribe but which my flurry of verbage has not been able to encompass totally or adequately – your penultimate paragraph says it all, I feel.

      The translation of a scene from the photo-location to the screen/paper holds many opportunities for distortion (deliberate and otherwise!) and always has: it’s just easier these days. Sure, there are limits and my dissertation was intented to stimulate discussion as to how far those limits might be pushed without losing the ‘truth’ of a scene. It seems I have succeeded at least in teasing a few folk into thinking about it!

        • Thanks, Ian. I’ll look out for it…

          As an aside, one thing that did strike me as jarring and a little unnecessary in the final image is the vignette. It’s a technique I use too, on occasion, but I try and avoid straight edges as these make the transition look painfully obvious – even when they are considerably softened. Just a thought.

  16. I’ve been following this with interest and for some reason cannot let it go. Julian expains the difference between photography and other visual arts very well in his post but I feel he lets himself down in the penultimate paragraph. Despite the fact that the image which set off this debate *could* have existed in reality, the fact that we know that it was actually constructed from several others reduces its credibility. He also mentions “laziness” and Ian almost goes this far in describing his own approach to photography. I quote from his original article –

    ” I have plenty of enthusiasm for getting That Picture but very little in the way of ‘on-the-spot’ artistic vision or ability. I can tell when things are very nearly right but I don’t have either the patience or the wherewithal to hang around for the 6 hours that would be required …..”

    He admits that digital manipulation is his own personal saviour when it comes to getting the results he wants, although he describes it as “enhancement”!

    I have also quickly looked at Marc Adamus’ website.The first image in the link is superficially quite mind-blowing but then you read that it was constructed from a number of different images and presumably many hours of digital manipulation.

    You look further at a large number of stunning and often unreal-looking images of natural landscapes taken in spectacular parts of the world. However, almost every image looks “overcooked” in some way and you already know that he constructs and manipulates his images to the nth degree. For that reason it just isn’t possible to take ANY of them seriously. There is no doubting his abilities to produce a stunning, surreal landscape, but where does he do it – in the field, or at his desk?

    Someone above mentioned letting “the genie out of the bottle” . That definitely is the case and it is sad that the result often looks like a bit of a dog’s dinner. Where Ian’s constructed image succeeds so well is in its aura of “reality”.

  17. this will run its course. Chasing HDR and other “latest” gimmicks will get tiresome, and most will get back to appreciating work that is more realistic.
    While I am getting pretty old, the weight of gear is a concern, but it is still more personally satisfying to do film work, much like a woodworker eschewing the use of power tools.
    for the professional who must earn his living, film doesn’t work for him.

  18. In reply to Ian’s reply to me (above)..

    I think it is you, Ian, who is trying to change the status quo, and therefore needs to be able to justify that change. I’m trying to defend what has been widely accepted as the norm for many years. While I’m not denying that some degree of manipulation has always taken place, the advent of digital has made it so much easier to “improve” on reality in ways that I for one am not happy with.

  19. In Reply to Herb ( no relation ) ( or maybe you are !)
    Sounds more like you have your head buried in the sand, gimmicks or what I would call advances in technology are here to stay, I wonder do you use filters or are they too new fangled ?

  20. well I love the finale image ..its the best I’ve seen Porthcawl and I’ve been going there since a child…
    I have no problem with this level of post work ..some people would have spent days in a darkroom to get that sort of finale result in the past.or added faireis….unlike my own pet dislike HDR…

  21. Must resist urge to comment emotionally as this is a patch I know very well. I do have one question for you. As you are an ARPS, is this one you would have submitted on your final panel? If so, how do you think it would have been received. If you had submitted would you have declared the whole truth and nothing but the truth?

    • Without a second thought, Neil. My ‘A’ was achieved in the ‘visual art’ category and as such there is no restriction on content, or the amount it is manipulated. As said before, the world of assessments, competitions and exhibitions concentrates on the output rather than the process, with the exception of nature shots, to alter which is strictly verboten. On the day of my RPS assessment, there were some properly whacky entries which were barely recognisable as photography, a number of which succeeded. I won’t or can’t go as far as they did, but I have no problem with polishing an image to convey drama in a more evocative way.

  22. And there was me thinking it was just a cracking shot! Well done Ian, It was worth getting wet!

    • I put this post well above and realised no one would read it!!

      Ian – I was going to refer to the wolf in my post yesterday- the difference here though is that the wolf did jump over the gate and was caught on camera in one frame (or so i understand) – so it is a depiction of an event that did happen, the issue was it did not meet competition rules as it was not wild – so the honesty criterion was not met but the truth was – it did happen as depicted.
      I think what we have to accept is ‘photoshop’ has allowed for manipulation way beyond possibility of a few years ago. Which brings us back to the question of truth – is the image maker morally obliged to tell us the truth and if they don’t is it a deception or, worse a lie? Discuss!!

      • Well, if the image maker is claiming truth, then he should be shot if he is caught out. I, on the other hand, set out to create imagery which provokes feelings in the viewer and that is the only promise I offer. I keep my manipulations within the boundaries of believability so that the viewer is not uncomfortable in the viewing and – hopefully – will recognise the scene should he/she ever chance upon it.. Others stretch credibility to the bounds of fantasy and do it very well – see http://www.celtic-photography.co.uk . Which is more valid?

        My photographic journey has led me through the various phases of pictorial accuracy and during that period I produced a lot of bland, ‘me too’ images which might have graced the odd postcard and then been consigned to the bin without a second look. A re-assessment of purpose and a desire to provoke emotion in the viewer drove me to embrace image manipulation as a tool, resulting in some work such as is the subject of this article. That is not to say that I do not produce ‘out of the camera’ work – far from it.

        So, to summarise, in my view the image maker is not morally obliged to declare anything, unless he is a purveyor of facts that affect the lives or livelihoods of others, or unless – by virtue of published rules – he/she transgresses required honesty. On the flip side, if someone asks how I created a final result, I have no problem in divulging the detail.

  23. A subject that was always going to garner great debate and undoubtedly has probably produced the most comments an article on this site has to date!

    As to my viewpoint on this, I’m pretty open minded about the approach that was taken to achieve what I think is a very attractive and dramatic picture, ultimately i enjoy pictures for what they are. For me the question of truth comes down to how pictures like this are represented.

    Very skilful work Ian.

  24. I am beginning to wonder that if we do not see the exceptional then we are failing to appreciate what we actually do see. As i noted above there are three physical different processes happening in the image which, sorry Julian, are unlikely to happen together (possible yes, anything is, but as Ian’s image demonstrated they didn’t in the time he was present). Chris Tancock’s recent article brought me back down to earth with regard to landscape/cultural history and i suggest that folk have a look at his Quiet Storm portfolio http://www.christancock.com/prodimages/Quiet_Storm.html#0
    8 years – 12 images… The first time i saw these i thought manipulation, i met Chris in St David’s and discussed these – check to see what he has/has not done. I visit this area a lot but have not seen anything like this – then again Chris has only 12 times in 8 years from how many sessions?? So to repeat from above, is the photographer morally obliged to tell the truth about an image?

    • Chris Tancock’s work is delightful and I don’t care whether the images are manipulated o not. What matters is that you keep looking at and exploring them. This is the test and – in my view – the only test of worth. Wondering whether they are ‘true’ is a waste of time which could be spent enjoying the experience. C’mon, wake up, the purpose of pictures like this is to convey feeling: if they do that, why are you even bothered how they were achieved? Reduction to dry technological arm-wrestling was never the objective, was it?

    • It’s telling me that an eclectic view is being lost. I can sympathise with this to a degree – it’s oh so easy to become jaded with average postcard shots of average postcard scenes and I know that I have wandered into Camp Disenchantment. In this desperate world of ‘everyone’s-a-photographer-cos-they-have-a-camera-phone’ there are those professionals who cling on and almost prostitute their art by churning out single-shutter-click pictures simply to put bread in front of their kids, and to feed the appetite of the uncaring (majority?) sector of the public who want a simple disposable memento. However, The Greats (Cornish, Ward, Parkin, Childs, Noton, Waite, et al) grab my attention by the sheer power of what they produce. They hold that attention in their skilful hands and I am compelled to keep looking and longing for more. Whilst I aspire to be that kind of photographic author the reality is that I am unlikely ever to achieve the goal, so I have to be pragmatic and work hard within my own sphere to get the pleasure I crave from my limited skill. And that is what has made me press my nose against the window through which we can see the world of composite imagery. Sure, I have misgivings about how far I should take it and that was the crux of my article – a personal view on where are my boundaries and how hard I will lean against them.

      I don’t really care what kit is used by The Masters of Our Art, or how big the transparency is or how much scanning and fiddling has or has not gone on. What matters to me is the FEELING I get when viewing the artist’s output. In this context, I regard arguments about masks and overlays and imported pixels as seven-levels-down subsidiary to the appreciation of the picture.

  25. Since I joined a local camera club I’ve been surprised by how much image manipulation is going on and is positively encouraged, even in wildlife photos.

    I appreciate the argument that the end result is to a large extent judged, consumed or rejected by the casual viewer (or competition judge) completely out of context and typically without any regard to the creative process behind the image. However, if you are putting forward an image as art, then surely the process and intent behind the image become as important as the end result and must be declared.

    Can an image (which after all is just a piece of inked paper or a pattern of glowing diodes) ever tell the truth or lie? In themselves, I don’t see how they can. It’s the creator of the image who is truthful and honest (or not) in their declaration of intent and explanation of their creative process.

    • Hmm….it’s difficult to see how an artist can declare ‘intent’ under most circumstances. In an exhibition where wall space is given over to some narrative, or in a book maybe, but the casual encounter of – let’s say – a person and image in an environment where textual content cannot be added negates the concept, I think. For my own part, I always annotate my pictures when they are shown in a private exhibition and I will declare facts about the ‘truth’ of an image which has been altered significantly, mostly to satisfy the curiosity of the viewer. However, for situations other than this, I come back to the point made several times: the average viewer (i.e. not a picky photographer like us!) of an image is unlikely to be bothered about how the end result was achieved. For it to be hung on the wall at home, it has to please and surely that’s the end to it?

      And as to your point about manipulation in wildlife photos: it goes on and in some spheres it is allowed on the basis that the context and truth of the situation is not altered. So, you may remove a branch from the shot of the lion in the Serengeti, but you must not move the lion or alter its appearance or – heaven forfend – produce a composite where it is made to appear to be chasing prey!

  26. It seems that the issue at hand is fundamentally one of viewer expectation.

    Manipulation vs. non-manipulation is the wrong debate. What people are worried about is begin taken, being fooled, of having betrayed expectations. No one wants to be lied to, visually.

    Everyone knows that no photograph is the actual direct experience of reality. Yet, in a fine print we can get remarkably close to that direct visual experience. It is that ‘closeness’ which thrills the viewer–to see what only one person saw for a few seconds that will never occur exactly like this again.

    This expectation of ‘close to what you saw’ is in my experience the most prevalent view among the viewing public. From what I can glean, this expectation was born originally out of the relatively difficult nature of inventing scenes with film. A film capture created in the minds of viewers the expectation of a real place and event, and therefore a sense that they could experience vicariously what the photographer did in that moment.

    So it comes down to truth in marketing. If an artist’s goal is to create prints that represent what they saw as closely as technology and their ability allow, then state that goal clearly for the audience. If an artist’s goal is to create collage art from things that existed separately, then state that goal clearly. No harm done. Expectations are level set, the audience knows what they are looking at, and can enjoy the art in full measure.

    If however, an artist creates collage art and passes it off as realistic landscape, then that artist is a visual liar. It’s a simple as that.

    • Succinct, Bors. Managing expectations is a good way to look at it. However – as I’ve said elsewhere – it’s not always possible to make a statement of intent or fact regarding an image. How often do you see one? Does this mean that it is to be taken as a visual descriptor of fact? If I buy a picture after an assertion of reality, then I have a right to be miffed if this turns out not to be so. On the other hand, coming across an image which is good to look at does not need to raise the question ‘is it real?’ unless the answer is important to the viewer or his perception of the scene. I would contend that there is a very significant number of photographers out there (I have met a few!) who dread being asked the question for fear of the reaction they will receive and yet may well hide behind an expectation of veracity which (in theory) precludes the need to ask it. Yet we happily consume visual fodder from magazine, TV, cinema where there is very little of the truth left in the images we see. Does this bother us? Not really, because from an artistic standpoint it is the EFFECT that matters. The subject of deluding the viewer is one that should be addressed for images whose content is to be relied upon, such as to be found in newspapers and reportage, rather than just appreciated for pleasure, such as with visual art.

      • From darkroom to lightroom photographers have always used the tools available to them.Most great images from most great photographers would not have had the same impact if they did not! If this is a step too far,although nothing new and we want to be able to trust that the photograph we see is a true record of the scene and thus worthy of the emotion we bestowe upon it, then a new set of rules,with acceptable practices needs to be defined.
        Ian has not decieved us,far from it,he has shone a light in a dark corner.Perhaps we have decieved ourselves and when that bubble is burst there can be pain!.
        Ian has made no claim for this photo other than he wanted to create a strong image and imho he has succeded.If a single frame shot is of more merit then lets by all means have that catorgary but what processing techniques would be allowed in so as not to stray too far from reality?Dodging,burning,cooling down,warming up,shutter speed,DOF?And as far as I’m aware and contrary to popular belief,my better half included,I dont see in B&W either!
        A tricky subject which I personally have’nt wrestled to a pinned down position yet!A double edged sword perhaps.

  27. Ian, thanks for the thoughtful reply. We do indeed consume masses of visual fodder. To the point of saturation it sometimes seems.

    To your question, ‘How often do I see intent regarding an image,’ I can only speak for myself. Every piece I make has an intent, a goal, often many goals. For me, what gives a piece viewable longevity are those layers of meaning, which often come from layers of intent.

    Personally, I believe that it is not actually possible to have an ‘intentless’ image. The whole act of photography is laden with intent and purpose, otherwise why was the image made in the first place? (or hours spent in development) Further, not only do we create imagery, we share it, another intent laden endeavor.

    Regarding the question of whether a pleasing image should provoke the question ‘is it real’, it once again comes down to expectation. The situation we are in is that basically, people expect landscapes to be real. It is a core aspect of their enjoyment. Not everyone of course, but the existence of this debate indicates that it is likely the most prevalent view and expectation.

    For the photographer who dreads the question ‘is is real’, some reflection on their artistic goals can be a tremendous help. What are they truly trying to do with their photography? Why do they do it in the first place? Why do they share it? Answer those questions and the ‘is it real’ question becomes no different from ‘what camera did you use?’ I think that what many photographers fear in the question is invoking a betrayal of viewer expectations no matter what they say. Thus, first articulate to themselves what their artistic purpose is, then express that purpose with the same passion they have for their work. The audience will get it. If they don’t, then that person isn’t their intended audience.

    To the point about the effect being what matters. In a general sense I agree. Effect on the viewer is the whole point of art. Yet, landscape photography is a special medium. It is made with devices designed for extreme accuracy. It has a history which creates an expectation of reality. We will never escape these aspects of landscape photography.

    • You make many a valid point, Bors, and I appreciate your considered approach to the subject. But is still find myself thinking that proclaiming a need for absolute truth in an artistic representation is a specious argument. It’s a bit like saying that all modern cars should be black because that was the colour they all used to be painted a hundred years ago. Yes, there was a (short) period in the early history of photography when all output was as true as it was possible to be – just try editing a Daguerreotype! But the world has moved on a tad since then and art has never been the domain of total realism, so photograpy has become infected with the principles applied to other kinds of art. Again, I say that if I offer a piece of work up as a factual representation of an item or a scene, then it needs to be so. If I show it as a piece of art, no-one can argue with the route the imagery took to get where it is…it is defined by the artist and you either like what you see or you don’t. The latter is the audience I address: I submit that most viewing/buying folk (I.e., those who AREN’T landscape photographers!) are not interested in the method, only the outcome. At least, in my experience I know this to be the case. Others may believe something else and good on them…where would we be without variety?

      • Ian, I don’t recall mentioning anything about absolute truth or fact. In fact (no pun intended), I don’t think that ‘truth’ and ‘fact’ are useful terms in this context because they aren’t definable in any consistent way we can all agree upon.

        That is why I talk about artistic intent. If my Intent is to tell a story and evoke emotion by reproducing as close as possible an actual scene, then my audience can expect that the image is as close to what I actually saw in that moment as I am capable of creating. If however, my intent is to tell a story and evoke emotion by combining multiple elements from different times and/or places, then my audience can expect created art shaped from multiple sources. In these ways the goal of the artist matters, because it ties directly into the experience of the viewer.

        The problem for artist and audience is when the audience expects ‘reality’ but gets something else. People feel betrayed when they learn that something they believed was ‘real’ isn’t, and that’s no good for anyone.

        I enjoyed your article because, for me as a photographer, one of the most interesting questions I am asked, is “Is that real?”, usually directed at one of my alpenglow prints. The question itself reveals so much about where we are in landscape art. It is also a great lead in for me to express my love and ongoing quest for the rarest, most ephemeral, most intense alpine light, and the conditions I seek in order to create such images. A few years ago I hated the question, and felt like I had to defend my art. Now I talk about the goals of the quest, and the igloos I’ve made to live in while I waited for this kind of light, the storms I’ve endured, all for that first after-storm dawn, and the intensity of the thrill of seeing such purity of color painted on the land. Actually, I tell a story a lot like the one you shared around creating the Porthcawl image. :)

        • There is no finer feeling than achieving a fantastic result that requires little ‘after-work’. This happens all too seldom for me alas, as my lifestyle does not allow me the time to enjoy the experience quite as much as you seem able. I am jealous and at the same time pleased that you enjoyed my piece: it was designed to enlighten and encourage debate – it seems I was successful in both aims, though not in equal measure!

  28. From darkroom to lightroom photographers have always used the tools available to them.Most great images from most great photographers would not have had the same impact if they did not! If this is a step too far,although nothing new and we want to be able to trust that the photograph we see is a true record of the scene and thus worthy of the emotion we bestowe upon it, then a new set of rules,with acceptable practices needs to be defined.
    Ian has not decieved us,far from it,he has shone a light in a dark corner.Perhaps we have decieved ourselves and when that bubble is burst there can be pain!.
    Ian has made no claim for this photo other than he wanted to create a strong image and imho he has succeded.If a single frame shot is of more merit then lets by all means have that catorgary but what processing techniques would be allowed in so as not to stray too far from reality?Dodging,burning,cooling down,warming up,shutter speed,DOF?And as far as I’m aware and contrary to popular belief,my better half included,I dont see in B&W either!
    A tricky subject which I personally have’nt wrestled to a pinned down position yet!A double edged sword perhaps.

    • Obviously you are a person who has developed a well-rounded stance on this. Dismissing (or even abhoring) the possibility of image enhancement cuts in half the artistic opportunities for an enthusiastic amateur (or even pro-am), I would contend.

  29. The phrase “the camera never lies” could never be coined today, and indeed is fast dropping out of the language. Can anyone imagine a hip teen ever saying such a thing?

    A photograph is no longer a document of record. So whatever “photography” once was and once stood for, today it’s become some, post-Photoshop, other.

    Consequently the idea that there might be self regulated rules for photographic editing seems misplaced. A “photograph” has become an “illustration”. It no longer attests for anything, it’s evidentiary status has evaporated, and therefore absolutely anything goes!

    • Except in forensic photography, where it is a legal record attesting to evidence at a scene. :)

    • Do you actually believe your own arguement? Photos are less reliable documents, but they are still records. Photos have become more illustrative, but are not illustrations. It doesnt say as much as it did as a historical document but its not true to say that it ‘no longer attests for anything’. It’s evidentiary status is diminished but not evaporated. I certainly dont agree with the conclusion. Just because rules are bent more frequently doesnt mean “absolutely anything goes!”

    • Hmmm, here’s me thinking

      “Well that was interesting…….Ian’s obviously made his mind up about constructed images so there’s not a lot anyone can do about. We perhaps could have been slightly less provocative (especially me), but Ian handled himself pretty well and we had to agree to disgree.”

      Then along comes Mr Custard with his absolutely anything goes philosophy. The word that came to my mind immediately was “integrity”. Several of us have used all the arguments we possess to stress the importance of integrity at every stage of the photographic process. If anything really does go, I think as photographers we might just as well give up. Could I ask you, Custard, to please read the thread again and really think about what we were all, Ian included, trying to say?

  30. Photography can’t be “a bit evedentish”, it’s either intact or it’s gone. Less reliable is just another way of saying unreliable.

    Of course a meticulous examination would say photography was never entirely true, and it’s bona fides are not now entirely destroyed.

    But sometime recently, let’s say somewhere between the publication of the Photoshopped Kate Winslet GQ cover shot and the release of the entirely convincing photo-realism of Avatar, photography crossed a social rubicon.

    Then it was generally believed, now it gets a sceptical shrug.

    Consequently there’s no point in adhering to some complicated code of practise designed to re-attach some limited shreds of credibility. A photograph may lie, the viewer will never know, and most importantly of all, today’s viewer fully realises that they’ll never really know.

    • Mmmmm….custard…….er…sorry….where was I? Ah yes, your last paragraph is very salient. I will not demean my audience by treating them like children who need to be told what they should or should not accept or like. I am VERY happy for them to buy my work because of was they get from it, not how they judge it to match one of the many realities that might apply. ln my current phase of development, I portray scenes in which I attempt to convey emotion but which are still believable: this is important to me because i perceive that straying beyond the notional and very subjective boundary of believability will diminish the power of that emotion.

  31. This is a great thread – very thought provoking but let’s go back to the title – truth – is this now relative in photography along with everything else? Possibly, probably, it always has been …. there are certainly different perceptions of truth in all walks of life. But, i come back to my point , which i think Ian agrees with (reference to the wolf), that if the photographer is out to deceive (lie?) to the audience then that is not acceptable is it – particularly in certain genres? If we are provided with information (not the techy stuff as such but some of the basics, like it is a composite), then we look at the image with this information and make our minds up that is fine. Or it is put forward as a piece of visual art (which does not have to me the same meaning as a photography).

    We, the audience should be trusted with such information, and then we decide on whether the image hits our emotions.

    • …..which is my point entirely. I purvey visual art, at the core of which is my photography. I am not sufficiently arrogant to impose my will upon my audience, allowing them instead to choose whether or not they like the work offered. Nor do I thrust ‘expectation’ down their throats. Pretty pictures of waves and hillsides are generally items of frivolity and getting heated about the ‘evidential integrity’ of them is going to produce high blood pressure and not much else. The variety of views expressed here is fascinating. The purpose of my article was to demonstrate that it is possible to create a piece of photographic art which enhances the perceived scene without straying too far into the world of fantasy. I was not setting out to convert anyone to my way of thinking or to proclaim that mine is the ‘only way’ to be followed blindly. I was hoping that the description of my technique might be found useful by those visual art photographers who have yet to explore the possibilities. And there a lot of them, believe me!

  32. Hello Ian and fellow commentators,

    Well this certainly has touched a raw nerve! I won’t attempt to go through the whole debate point by point and I’m sure that some of the things that I write will already have been touched upon but here, for what it’s worth, are my two penneth…

    Photographs have an ineluctable bond to reality and this bestows upon them a burden of ‘truth’ whether we like it or not. Photography’s unique power as an art form lies in its unique relationship to reality: the photographic image was written directly by the light reflected from the subject. Anyone who has ever made a photo knows this, they understand the link between the event and the image. They also understand that the two are linked imperfectly. Photographs are “of” reality but they must not be confused with reality – as they often are in the popular imagination. Every photograph is a translation and a transformation of a four dimensional space into a two dimensional space. Beyond the geometric and temporal translation inherent in every image there are other transformations wrought (with varying degrees of intention and aesthetic success) by the photographer’s choice of viewpoint, lens, framing, film/sensor, camera, timing and (as if we could forget!) post processing. To apply post processing is not a sin, otherwise how could we possibly hold the great works of photographers such as Ansel Adams in high esteem. He never made a straight print for sale. All his images involved differing degrees of darkroom manipulation.

    Here’s a quote from Landscape Within that I feel apt:

    “The argument against manipulation by the photographer seems to be that whatever has been done has affected the base reality, and consequently its depiction, and is hence wrong. This is a moral rather than an aesthetic argument, and one that is often only loosely applied. There is a very large sign on one wall of the great landscape photographer Michael Fatali’s gallery in Springdale, Utah, proclaiming that none of his images have been manipulated, that no colour filters have been used nor has any digital trickery taken place. The implication that what you see in the print is what the photographer saw at the time the image was made is, at the very least, being economical with the truth. Michael Fatali is an heir to the venerable American tradition of the fine art print and spends a great deal of time in his darkroom. His consummate technical ability as a printmaker produces amazing prints that categorically are not exactly the same as the reality in front of his 10×8 camera when he opened the shutter.

    Why, then, does he feel the need to infer that these prints are not manipulated? I would argue that it is because the power of photography, as a means of artistic expression, has often been seen to reside in the particular photographer’s genius in choosing which portion of base reality to enclose within the frame and, just as importantly, the significant moment to perform this selection. The depiction of such a choice has more power if it is seen as the ‘truth’, if it is seen as being unmanipulated, for as Ansel Adams wrote, ‘Not everybody trusts paintings but people believe photographs.’ The reasoning runs something like this: how much more astute and insightful the photographer who has the genius to note and record a significant portion of unadulterated reality rather than have to concoct something. This stands in direct opposition to the other visual arts where manipulation, or transformation, of reality by the artist is thought essential in order to grant an image the status of art.”

    So at one level we expect photographs as art to involve deliberate manipulation. But when we produce montages without implicitly announcing their status we borrow value from photography’s perceived veracity – however misplaced the notion of truth in photography might be. An audience is amazed because they think the image “real” not because they admire the photographer’s skills with Photoshop. Perhaps the acid test of this would be to proudly and loudly announce that all one’s images were heavily digitally manipulated and see how this affected sales. In some cases, especially if the image was powerful enough, I would suspect that there would be no effect. But if the technique has been used to create a kind of super reality to compensate for a lack of skill or patience or content then I suspect clients would feel cheated no matter how skillful the manipulation. Jerry Uelsmann has been making incredible photo-montages since the 1960’s. They’re not to my taste particularly but what sets them apart is the artistic intent and the honesty with which he has tackled his approach. The images are obviously ‘unreal’ because they depict a universe where, amongst other things, the law of gravity doesn’t seem to apply. It’s worth looking at his website if you aren’t familiar with his work: http://www.uelsmann.net But when we present multiple ‘straight’ landscape images as a single frame without declaring the process we are guilty of passing off one thing as another.

    So, in my opinion, it’s not what you do to a photograph it’s what you say about what you’ve done. It’s not good enough to claim, as one commentator did, that nobody believes photographs are the truth any more. This is lying by omission. By all means make montages, just don’t pretend that these constructs result from a single image. Ian, I admire your honesty in declaring that the image is a construct but I wonder if you are being honest with yourself about another aspect of your photography? You seem sure that you will never become a great photographer but there’s no magic wand involved in great photography. I don’t subscribe to the notion of artistic genius, as Emerson noted, “Genius is 99% perspiration and 1% inspiration.” Neither Joe nor Charlie nor any other great photographer has some divinely granted skill. To get great images in the field one simply needs to put in the time. You are just as capable of this as anyone else!

  33. Just to clarify, I should have written:
    But when we present multiple ‘straight’ landscape images as a single frame without declaring the process we are guilty of passing off one thing as another for at least part of the audience.

  34. I am grateful and proud to receive your wisdom, O great one!

    I think I am right in precis-ing that you state (though I’m not sure if you subscribe to the thought) that it’s OK to manipulate as long as one declares it. This is a laudable idea but as I’ve said elsewhere, I’m not sure that one can make it happen in all cases where an image might be viewed, without going to the extreme of embodying the text at the base of the image. Naturally, at the point of sale we can be reasonably certain of it but – let’s say that the image has been accepted into an exhibition of the type where no annotation is provided or allowed – what then? It must stand on its own two legs and depend upon the viewers’ feelings of its worth.

    There is quite obviously a schism in the ranks over this subject: there are some seriously pedantic viewpoints from folk who might (given the chance) call in the inquisitors and stoke up the pyre in readiness! Personally, I don’t have a problem with their opinions – I am all-inclusive of ideas that aren’t necessarily the same as mine if simply to allow for the chance of coming across a concept that I might wish to embrace. When all is said and done they will do their thing, and I will do mine. The old principle of horses and water applies here and I haven’t had a single person yet wanting to purchase one of my pictures who has either asked ‘is it real’ or backed out when I make my unsolicited declarations of truth!

    Oh, and thanks for your veiled compliment…at least, I think it was a compliment….;->

  35. David, we’re not “guilty” of anything. The world’s changing and photography is changing with it.

    Ansel Adams lived in a time where most people believed most photographs represented an actual subject. Okay, Hollywood and Stalin had access to retouchers of varying skill, but essentially there was a trustworthy link between what you saw in a print and what had existed or had transpired out there in the real world.

    That link gave rise to the expression, “the camera never lies”, and vested traditional photography with a set of values that was rooted in artistic integrity and documentary authenticity.

    But those days are now very nearly gone.

    Photoshop is progressively eroding the evidential link between the image and the real world. And as time moves on people will attach less and less credibility to photographs.

    Photographers are powerless to prevent this decline of trust. It really doesn’t matter what any photographer says about their methods or their photographs.

    Ansell Adams was above reproach, not because he personally had a towering reputation for honesty, but because analogue photography and dark room printing brought with it a reasonably robust guarantee of truthfullness.

    But who today trusts a portrait, any portrait? Kate Winslett’s innacurately long legs on the cover of GQ, and the million other manipulated images that have been presented to us subsequently, effectively destroys the claim that “photographs have an ineluctable bond to reality”.

    And what began with portraits is spreading into landscape photography and every other photographic genre.

    Read Alex Nail’s article in this edition with the sceptical eye of the emerging generation. Why bother with astronomical ephemera, they would ask, when the moon, the sky, and the foreground of your choosing, are just seperate components to be juggled on Photoshop layers in any way you choose?

    Landscape photographers today are faced with a version of the “prisoner’s dilemma”. A photographer adhering to a code of zero manipulation is at a practical and market disadvantage to a photographer willing to digitally composit (with a more photogenic sky or any other visual ingredient).

    Consequently we will see the inevitable spread of landscape compositing and other substantial manipulations. Its a visual arms race that the traditional photographer is doomed to lose.

    • I understand where you are coming from but it’s nothing new at all .. Gustav Le Gray (he of the “pick a sky, any sky” school of photography), Henry Peach Robinson (oh I’ll just add some extra people in post), Bill Brandt (just paint some black over that), Edward Muybridge (who famously cut down a forest of trees to get the picture he wanted – I think I’d prefere photoshop), Michael Fatali (it’s OK! I do it in the darkroom).

      The latest example really has to take the prize though – Peter Lik, you’re a winner…


      • Good god. Is that Lik bloke for real? Have I missed some super-intellectual snigger stage-left? How did he manage to get the horizon glow to appear BEHIND the moon???

        Nah, sorry, he goes WAY beyond my limits. Not even for 200 Million dollars-worth of sales (really?) would I pretend THAT much.

    • On the topic of emerging generations, at the tender age of 25 and having never shot a roll of film, I think I would fall into that category. Amongst my peers, all of whom are my age or younger I know of noone who would propose dropping a moon into an image. It’s true that it would be laughably easy, in fact the result would have been completely flawless to the point that noone would have been able to tell, even with the full res image, but that misses the point. Its a matter of integrity as much as it is image making.

      You state that “Photographers are powerless to prevent this decline of trust” but in fact photographers are responsible for the decline and are empowered to prevent it, should they so wish. That’s why I find views such as your slightly disheartening.

      Lying is something that helps people in life in general. Some people lie pathologically to advantage themselves in some way. Others do not. It is the same with photography. I don’t believe this downward trend will occur and it is certainly within photographers control to prevent it.

    • Custard,

      I wish I could be as sure of the philosophical arguments as you appear to be but it seems to me that this topic is less straightforward than you propose.

      Firstly, let me point out that I was careful to add a correction to my original comment to the effect that a proportion of the photographic audience will consider manipulations of the sort we are discussing a crime. It is irrelevant whether you or I consider them to be wrong. I agree that there has been a decline of trust in some genres of commercial photography but this does not destroy the ineluctable bond as you propose. There still needed to be something in front of the camera to be photographed no matter how much it is manipulated afterwards. If there wasn’t then, by definition, it isn’t a photograph.

      “Zero manipulation” was never something that I proposed. Nor has it ever been an option for any photograph that becomes a print so I think the argument proposing a commercial and practical disadvantage for zero manipulators is spurious in relation to the art market. Commercial photography has been routinely retouched for as long as the sector has existed – after all the brush tool in Photoshop was named after real brushes not the other way round. So digital retouching doesn’t really represent anything new in terms of commercial advantage except that it puts the tools in the hands of the photographer rather than a specialist craftsman with the attendant reduced costs.

      As for the visual arms race, might it not also be possible that some photographers choose to claim the ‘moral high ground’ (as Fatali has done) and publicly eschew manipulation in order to claim commercial advantage? (However questionable this claim) In this way ‘purity’ might be seen as a selling point – even if it’s not the whole truth. (Of course if we want to get really mired in nonsense we could choose to describe the exact meaning of truth!) These photographers would be able to charge a premium for their work because it was of a ‘higher standard’. I don’t believe that any of us can really claim that our photographs are ‘true’ (which is why I said that photographs are ‘of’ reality not reality itself) but I can see this as a valuable tactic for some to pursue.

      In any case, the important factor with any photograph is not whether the image is manipulated but whether it is ‘good’, a hugely subjective term that covers aesthetic judgements – which will change from viewer to viewer and from one culture to another – and fitness for purpose in commercial terms. One man’s ‘good’ will almost inevitably be another’s ‘bad’. Only history will tell us which images were really of a ‘higher standard’ and which were also-rans but commercial success in the artist’s lifetime is not likely to be the most important factor that art historians will use – viz Van Gogh.

      It is, of course, still perfectly possible to make amazing images that have not been constructed from multiple sources. Or are you proposing that the skill and eye of the photographer are no longer important?

  36. Well Ian,

    Huge congratulations on an enormously debated image. I wouldn’t have thought this would have caused such a stir. Your image is truly great. Full stop.

    All photography is an interpretation of the true. End of. Always has been. Why the debate? Go to bed you idealists. Ever seen a mono image anyone? Ummm…..surely we see the world through coloured vision? Therefore all photography is an art. Ian you rock. As do all landscape photographers that are true artists.

    I salute you!

    Controversial Rich XxX

  37. There seems to me to be a parallel here between what might be called the “anything goes” school of landscape photography (illustrated by some of the posts above) and the “everything on the internet is free” evangelists. Both are trying to persuade us that the uptake of modern technology has led, and will increasingly lead, to old schools of thought that photographers have always held dearly becoming increasingly irrelevant. For photographic integrity in the first instance read copyright in the second. I would argue that copyright is of the greatest importance to photographers just as the importance of integrity in image-making is. Both are so valuable that they are worth fighting for. The “traditional photographer” is not doomed to lose any kind of visual arms race, just as the concept of copyright is not on its way out.

    • Jeremy

      ‘old school’ idealism maybe but the reality has always been different. Who do you think hasnt manipulated images in the darkroom? Where did you draw the line? What ‘schools of thought’ did you hold dear? Why are you seeking to confuse the whole debate with Copyright? this is a whole different debate? Surely?


    • The logical conclusion of ‘anything goes’ and ‘everything on the Internet is free’ (and therefore fair game) is the landscape shot assembled from a composite of different images – a sky from here, bit of ‘foreground interest’ from over there and, oh yes, I’ll take that nice mountain too…

      Why bother getting up at stupid o’clock and trekking to a remote location when you can do it all at your desk in the warm and with practically no physical effort? In fact, it’s probably already happening.

    • Couldnt agree more. Use of the term “old school” does make me smile though. The implication for me (although I know it was not your intent) is that it’s “old school” to be honest!

  38. Jeremy, I can’t see any link whatsoever between not respecting copyright and digitally manipulating images.

    My day job is working for a Hollywood studio, so my income depends on both manipulated images and robust copyright protection!

  39. Well, if the copyright parallel is confusing then I apologise and you can ignore it. But both issues involve a kind of technology-led approach the result of which is – anything goes!

    To Rich, if you read the whole thread carefully you will see which schools of thought I’m talking about, and how far I and many others will still go and no further!

  40. I know my place here, and I know I am nothing like qualified or articulate enough to engage in the levels shown thus far, Im still a learner and I try to speak through pictures, and I can just about manage that. However, I would like to join in and express my opinion. For me I see no real issue with composites, although I am a little hypocritical here as I can be flexible with that statement. I don’t like it in portraiture, what I call porcelain skin by the heavy re-touching fans, to me that is awful and yes, another subject. I really admire Ian’s skill which what he has done here (and much other on your site Ian btw) and I agree that excellent post skills can really make a difference, I also agree that if one is open about manipulation…so what?

    There is a but… with this particular image, it has an awkwardness for me which is I guess a result of said manipulation. Its about the rhythm, the rhythm of the ‘waves’ are wrong to me. Bringing the three waves as I see it together, the main point (large wave), second point (smaller wave foreground) and the wisp and remnants of the first (spraying over the beacon), corrupts its sense of time. Waves don’t usually arrive in such quick succession? right? I guess it could happen, and here in this image it does but it doesn’t quite sit right in my eye. Its a fine image, good craft and skill applied but for me the rhythm is out and I can’t quite get my head around it.

    • I too thought about the reality of the picture but having looked at waves in the past I’ve realised that waves collide, bounce back, overlap, etc and as such this combination, whilst improbable, is still possible. And it’s the improbable that we often look for..

    • Thanks Martin, I appreciate your kind words. On the issue of ‘rhythm’, although I can understand your viewpoint, I do not have your reservations. I can do no better than recommend (if you are able) that you make a trip to that spot when it is stormy from the south-west. It is the most peculiar place in relation to the action of the sea: when the wind is at right angles to the harbour wall the waves perform an almighty ballet, the maelstrom-like turbulence of which I have not seen elsewhere. The sea floor is not far submerged just there, and slopes up gently to the wall which – at a rising high tide – results in massive breakers with short wavelength (I.e. related to frequency or period rather than the quite different concept of wave length as two words!). Large but not-so-powerful waves will wash up the slope of the breakwater and wall and then fall back in a solid mass of water which often will be hit by the next wavefront resulting in a massive constructive interference wave. as is shown in my picture. In fact that wave is not advancing, but rose and fell on the spot, due to the interference of the two actions. When standing there, I can say that a view very much like my composite presented itself quite frequently before I captured my sequence, except that the sun had not broken through and the result would not have had the same impact. Tim has the nail firmly under the hammer head – the combination of time and wave reflection produces some really weird effects and none more so than at that spot – it’s well worth a visit!

      • Ian as i said above the merging of the three different processes is possible (as Tim suggests) but actually did not happen in reality, certainly to the degree in your composite, or you would surely have captured it – or are you now saying yes it did happen but the light was not quite right? So you have single images of a similar sequence but with no sunlight to provide dramatic effect? Will have to try and visit.

        • No, I’m not now saying anything of the sort. What I said is that a scene ‘very much like my composite presented itself’. From memory, it wasn’t as dynamic as my final image and because of the light I didn’t bother to press the button. However, if the sun had been more consistent, I may well have been happy with another capture of a such a ‘total’ scene. Further, you can see the conditions ‘as seen’ in the RAW images I posted – not particularly spectacular, but with the (normally allowed!) contrast management an altogether more striking picture emerges. Honestly, you will not regret a visit under the right conditions.

  41. Is this debate not a bit academic in the real world? Its great to have us photographers discuss these things in a forum like this but out there in the big wide world, aren’t things different?

    Do any of us attend an exhibition or presentation of photographs and seriously look at them and remain undecided as to whether they like them/it or not until they have spoken with the photographer first to ensure there was not too much doctoring going on for your individual preference? Surely we all just have different values, attitudes and approaches. Mr Lik seems to think it is ok to fool some of the people some of the time but others will take a different approach. Outright lying may be pushing it too far but does it really matter?

    As others have already said, it surely has to just come down to “Do you like the image or not?” If no, move on, if yes great, job done and presumably it has served its purpose. If you then discover a sky was dropped in or a person or ugly telegraph pole cloned out does that make the image immediately worthless and ‘bad’?

    Why is photography considered to be anything other than art? Who said it had to always show a scene as it was taken? And why?

    In my experience, those who trumpet that their images are “straight out of camera (SOOC)” usually produce flat uninteresting images and can’t use photoshop or post production software very well.

    Art is art, take it or leave it. Thats the nature of it isn’t it?

    • So if you found your favourite photographer was using Maya 3D to generate the landscapes on a computer, would it change your experience of viewing the picture at all? Would you admiration of the photographer change?

      • Ah, but would they be parading it in the arena of landscape photography then? I doubt it somehow, as they would be looking for accolades in the world of photo-realistic art, wouldn’t they? I don’t see the point of anyone pretending that a 3-D model is truly a photograph (unless your name is Spielberg or Jackson) in much the same way that I wouldn’t pretend that a snap of mine is a watercolour. Admittedly, we always have to allow for the Liks amongst us, but my BS filter works quite well when I’m looking for good things to look at.

        • Well here is a chap making artificial landscapes.. Let’s say he wanted to test out the reality by creating a fictitious landscape photographer and wrote stories about there adventures, only to reveal the truth at some point in the future..


          Pick the best of these and tell me that you would have known it was computer generated… And then tell me what you would think when you found out the truth..

          • Blinkin’ clever stuff. Some of it’s good to look at too! Can I tell the difference? On a screen, probably not – I would need to reserve my judgement for the viewing of a big print. I somehow doubt even then that I could separate them 100% from reality. As images per se they are fine (even if – by my standards – a little bland!) and why would I question them? However, if I liked looking at them and someone told me the scenes existed only later to declare them to be fictional, I would (1) probably still like looking at them, (2) wonder for a millisecond why he/she fibbed in the first place and (3) marvel at the level of skill and patience required to produce them, perhaps with a wry smile crinkling the corner of my mouth. Would I feel cheated? Nope. Why would I? In that scenario, the pleasure is in the viewing and the process of production is totally immaterial to me. On the other hand, if I was a client who had commissioned a/the photographer to visit Canada to visit and bring back images of the Rockies only to find that the creator had simple sat on his/her arse and clicked a mouse or two, I might not be so happy. But these are completely different sets of circumstances which stray into the domain of the afore-discussed expectations argument.

            I have a (maybe contentious) view that those who proclaim that they feel cheated are perhaps embarrassed at their inability to determine accurately the reality of a scene, as if the ability so to do would confer upon them a superior position in the imagery hierarchy. Well, the world of imagery has progressed to a point where photo-realism in art is a subject in its own right and it is no longer possible to be ABSOLUTELY sure about the veracity of any image. Best not try to decide, then! Just enjoy.

            • You’re an exceptional person then. Most people place value beyond the image – that’s why originals are treasured more for instance. There is also an emotional engagement with place and narrative that many people have – to be told that the place/view/conditions do not exist will detract from the enjoyment of the majority of people.

              That you have completely detached yourself from these connections is possibly to be admired or commiserated – I’m not sure which…

              • Why, thanks, Mr. Parkin! At least, I think so…….

                Perhaps the world is too concerned with value in these matters. Do I need to consider the value of Michelangelo’s ‘David’ so as to truly appreciate its beauty? Or the work of Renoir, Ansel Adams? Is the AA calendar (Adams, not the RAC competitor!!) hanging on my wall worthless because it is not an original? No, I say that the worth of an image to me is based in its appeal. Which is why I think that anyone who spends a million quid on Picasso’s later works is doing it for the cash appreciation potential, not for the artistic content. I treasure my children’s first steps or words, things which are completely valueless to other people. Treasuring something in proportion to what I paid for it is not in the index of my life’s manual. I can treasure a pebble from a beach if it feels nice.

                Or have I misread you….? (or you, me?)

                And – no – I have not completely detached myself from the connections, for the reasons stated in my article. Quite the opposite, I feel a strong need to MAINTAIN emotional connection with the scene being portrayed and this is the basis of my self-imposed ‘creative’ limits.

              • OK, none taken.

                It seems that we have very similar points of view just under the skin, except that I don’t claw back enjoyment based upon the process employed to create the image unless there is deliberate and fraudulent subterfuge employed to empty my pockets, maybe! Don’t we need to separate the emotions generated by the image from any other that might ensue, especially where a declaration of veracity has not been possible? I know that that this leaves us open a bit but I would rather be somewhat naiive in my expectations and enjoy what I see, than (potentially continuously) sceptical.

    • Quite the point, Mr. Ellis! I’m afraid I have little time for those who are not sufficently in command of their medium that they dress up their inability as ‘high ground’ and then attempt to derive kudos from that all-seeing posittion of ignorance. On the other hand, there are some folk who will genuinely not wish to alter their images in the slightest way. Good look to all of them – they are all welcome to the party, but as I have professed up to now I eschew yawn-producing images and this results in me having a smaller portfolio than most.

    • Hi Rich,

      “In my experience, those who trumpet that their images are “straight out of camera (SOOC)” usually produce flat uninteresting images and can’t use photoshop or post production software very well.”

      None taken! Still, sweeping generalisations are always good… RAW files always require some manipulation (simply because of the nature of digital capture) and this might account for the flatness that you describe. The same is not true of transparency film and I have many images that I’m more than pleased with SOOC. How interesting the content of any photograph is will be independent of Photoshop skills. I have seen very many heavily manipulated images that were crashingly boring and relatively few images (either digital or film) that were achingly beautiful or moving. Some photographers sadly follow Spinal Tap’s advice to turn the sliders up to eleven to enhance the graphic nature of the image without paying attention to its emotional content. Ultimately there’s no substitute spending time with one’s subject nor for learning how to really see.

      There seems to me to be a good deal of intolerance washing around from both sides of this argument. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get the image right in camera – in fact the level of satisfaction that stems from this approach is extremely high. Nor is there anything wrong with manipulating images afterwards, it has been part of the photographic process since soon after the first image was made. In the early days techniques were more often employed to overcome technical failings with cameras and emulsions whereas today they are more commonly used to ‘correct’ perceived failings with the initial capture of the image.

      And this is the root cause of some of the friction that has been apparent in this debate.

      For a proportion of photographers getting it right in camera is a matter of pride. It is a mark of craftsmanship, perspicacity and patience. For these photographers mending the image afterwards (or even creating something radically different) is opting for a quick fix. It not only creates a ‘lie’ but also subverts their hard won efforts. They are no more wrong than you are. They just dance to a different tune.

      You ask whether it really matters. It seems obvious to me that if we are to make good art we must be passionate about it and we must care about it. There is evidently passion on both sides of this debate and I treat that as a healthy sign for photography. I would be worried if photographers were indifferent to debates about truth and photography. To me that suggests only a partial engagement with our art form. So, long may we continue to try and thrash things out!

      As to the nature of art, I fear that that’s far too big a subject to cover in a few lines here. I would recommend Nigel Warburton’s book “The Art Question” if you’re interested in reading further.

    • I just can’t resist. No matter how hard I try….

      “Straight out of the camera” in most cases might produce a flat image and I can’t believe there are any serious photographers out there who would deny the need for some basic image processing, at least along the lines of what was possible in the darkroom. I don’t have a problem with that at all.

      However you seem to be hinting here, and Ian does elsewhere (10.20 am post) , that if other photographers were sufficiently skilled in using photoshop they would all begin to produce constructed images. Surely that’s not what either of you mean to say? If so I for one would take it quite personally.

      There is more to an image than whether it produces a satisfied feeling in the viewer, and I come back to the documentary content which is contained even within a landscape. It can give the image an extra dimension. Photography is a way of showing your viewers some aspects of the world about them, if only they had the eyes to see. It’s like saying – “look, this really exists….this is the world we are living in”
      As for the question of “art” which has been brought up several times. Just because an photographic image is created using more than one original it really doesn’t make it “art”. I’m not going to go any further here for obvious (I hope) reasons but I do think we should all be aware of this.

      • David, seriously none meant and I was generalising and I was really talking about digital. You are totally correct in saying that whacking sliders up to 11 doesn’t make for good imagery. But that was and is my point! A good picture, no matter how it is arrived at and provided nobody has lied to anyone surely is a good picture?

        Why is ones painstaking efforts at capturing a scene waiting hours for ‘that’ light or ‘that’ set of circumstances any better or worse than someone elses painstaking composition or manipulation in photoshop? I simply do not get it. It is a good picture or not. It has artistic (in the eye of the beholder) merit or it doesn’t. How it was arrived at is surely largely irrelevant and down to the image maker?

        The degree of each image makers ‘manipulation’ in post processing, be that the darkroom or lightroom is entirely down to that individual. How far each of us are prepared to go is a personal decision that maybe based on ability but maybe based on our own ‘moral code’ as we have invented it. Clearly there is no one universal moral code or we would all be arguing around that! One persons acceptable pylon clone is another’s sacrilege.

        Jeremy, I do believe that a number of SOOC enthusiasts (who do not have a good handle on post production techniques) would manipulate far more if they knew how to. Not necessarily comping images but certainly significantly enhancing them.

        Your ‘documentary’ content surely only exists in your mind. It doesn’t in mine! I know of some of the great landscapers that will manipulate a scene even before pressing the shutter (ripping twigs/branches down, moving leaves, arranging pebbles/rocks cos they aren’t quite in the right place etc etc) is that OK? Is it not? Who decides? The image maker surely. I NEVER take any image of person or scape and profess it is a journalistic documentary of that moment. Why would I? Why should I? Of course, this may not HAVE to be the case. I may take an image and do virtually no image manipulation at all, thats cool, it saves me a lot of time and effort. To me though it gives me no more satisfaction than one I spent hours in post on.

        When I view certain landscapes my eyes ‘tune out’ certain ‘bad’ things don’t they? Red cars, litter, a pylon in Scotland, a person in a blue jacket? When I view that scene I see the natural beauty, not that temporary blip caused by man. In my images, I clone them out. They are not important to the scene. Am I mis-representing the landscape to the innocent viewer? I think not. If you think differently then that is of course fine. However, my photography has just as much validity doesn’t it?

        David, I have no intolerance to photographers who want to produce images that are SOOC. That is their and your choice and good luck to you. But it does not make (as I think you are agreeing) Ian’s image less worthy or better than any of yours. Those decisions are left to the viewer, surely. You personally gain satisfaction doing it your way. I totally concur with that.

        David and Jeremy, I mentioned Art for this exact purpose. For surely whether you agree with or don’t agree with Ian’s approach, you cannot argue that in some eyes his image constitutes art and is appreciated. Whether you or I think it is or isn’t is immaterial. It is out there and some people like it. It is subjective, there can be no right and wrong.

        Sorry Tim but felt I didn’t want to be seen as ‘intolerant’ and apologies if I came across that way!

  42. A line from Clive James’ autobiography (The Blaze of Obscurity – The TV Years) seems relevant : “It’s an ideal of art – make it look as if it just happened.” The comment follows a compliment from a TV critic on catching a particular event on a documentary film – James describes how the few seconds of action had taken days to set up and hours to film, while “the results looked like a miracle of spontaneity.”

  43. Everyone seems to be circling this at their own height with their own view. And that’s where it should be left. I simply presented my article as a personal viewpoint for consideration by others, I have not proclaimed it to be law, or that ‘my way’ will steam-roller the rest of the photographic world. It is undeniable that there are a lot of photographers out there who would LIKE to be able to use software for image manipulation but can’t for whatever reason. Do not tell me that they don’t exist for I have encountered dozens. There is a sub-set of them who – for want of a better analogy – claim that ‘it’ll never catch on’, much like their predictions on colour telelvision and computing, and use this position to excuse themselves from even trying.

    One may choose to do what one wishes with one’s own work and anyone who does so always has my blessing, if the result satisfies him/her. Preaching to others that your way is ‘the only’ is plain arrogant and not going to gain followers amongst the intelligent community.

    Just because an image has not been fiddled with doesn’t make it art either. In a large number of cases such an image will be pretty average and uninteresting – it takes Real Skill to visualise and procure beguiling images and only a few possess this power. I am in awe of those who do!

  44. OK – I think 166 responses is possibly enough now – I’d be really interested in your contributions to an article I’ll be writing in the next issue about Truth and I’ll try to summarise your positions in that article (including extracts from comments if that is OK – please let me know if not).

    If any of you have examples of where you draw your own personal line (i.e. pictures that are just pushing the edges of where you are happy) please let me know and I’ll add them to the article as well (or at least link to them)

    I’m not asking the comments to stop – if anybody has anything substantive to add that hasn’t already been said, please do so. It’s just that the comments may be better placed in the next issue’s article.. ?

    • Oh, can’t I just have the last word… can’t I, can’t I??! ;-)

      I look forward to reading your thoughts on truth and photography and will rejoin the debate there! (I’d better get on and finish my article as well I suppose!)

    • Tim,

      It has been very interesting and one feels it could go much further. Strong opinions indeed but I do feel that those who wish to change the status quo should have to justify why it is appropriate to do so.
      How far would I go, personally? I wouldn’t combine more than one image if either or any of them wasn’t good enough on its own. I would combine two or more images of the same subject matter if taken within the same second or two if it overcame the limitations of the medium (although I currently don’t). I wouild , and do, clone out extraneous items within the frame if they reasonably could have been absent. For example bits of rubbish, walkers in red cagoules, red post office vans, anything that is a temporary presence in the landscape. There’s probably more but I can’t think of anything at the mo’

      cheers, jerry.

        • …oh and there has been no attempt on my part to change the ‘status quo’, whatever that might represent at any instant. All I have done is tell you what I do, not what you should do. You can choose to do what you like…though your last post might give the impression that you’re teetering….maybe….just a little….teensy weeny bit.? And – what? YOU CLONE OUT EXTRANEOUS ITEMS!!!

  45. “Most people place value beyond the image – that’s why originals are treasured more for instance. There is also an emotional engagement with place and narrative that many people have – to be told that the place/view/conditions do not exist will detract from the enjoyment of the majority of people.”

    Tim, this is currently a hot topic in the motion picture industry, I’ve seen a great deal of consumer research in this area, and it strongly suggests that actually the general public places very little value on “authenticity”. In the same way that they never really cared if a star used a stunt double, today they don’t care if scenes were produced “live” or via Computer Generated Imagery.

    Some film makers however care very much, there’s an old guard in the film industry just as much as in the still photography world, who believe digital manipulation is a retrograde step. However, the reality is they are slowly but steadily losing the argument.”Unstoppable” was a recent action movie that emphasised all the special effects where played out in front of a camera loaded with Kodak stock, in other words it was produced in the good old way. But the research results from test screenings were conclusive, the audience really couldn’t care less. I’m convinced the same sentiment is basically true in still photography. The viewer will place visual impact, innovation, and emotional response much higher than complex, arcane, and arbitrary rules regarding authenticity.

    The second lesson that can be drawn from the motion picture world is that the image manipulation technology is developing very fast (compare Toy Story 1 with Toy Story 4) and will inevitably improve further and flow down through future versions of Photoshop and independent plug ins.

    This is what I mean by a photographic arms race.

    Photographers who decide not to use this technology will carry on producing three or four exceptional shots per year (or whatever their own personal batting average is), where as phoographers who embrace the new technology will see their succesful ouput increase significantly, delivering outstanding images much more consistently and frequently.

    If there was a crystal clear divide between manipulated and unmanipulated images then the traditionalists might be able to hold out longer. But in reality that dividing line is so fuzzy and permeable that they won’t have a clear moral high ground to stand upon, and furthermore they’ll see that their buying audience, commisioning editiors, and even their peers, really don’t care all that much.

    Consequently we’ll likely see a steady, but anguished and acrimonious, migration from traditional photographic image making to a new paradigm. One that feels free to use whatever digital tools are available to deliver the desired result.

    • …but there’ll always be room for the guy (or gal) who wants to use the ‘old tools’. Where is the problem with that? None, in my view. Let the carousel turn…..

  46. “If any of you have examples of where you draw your own personal line (i.e. pictures that are just pushing the edges of where you are happy) please let me know and I’ll add them to the article as well (or at least link to them)”

    Clive Head, “Sun Setting Over Victoria”,

    I’m very happy with this. It contains all the documentary versimilitude I could wish for.

  47. ” In my images, I clone them out. They are not important to the scene. Am I mis-representing the landscape to the innocent viewer? I think not. If you think differently then that is of course fine. However, my photography has just as much validity doesn’t it?”

    If you clone out permanent structures in the landscape you are misrepresenting it. A pylon in a landscape is of a different nature altogether to a red cagoule or car. Both the latter are on their way somewhere, and in five minutes will be gone. A pylon is there for ever. It is part of that landscape for better or worse – most would agree worse. But it supports our lifestyle. It makes us realise what that lifestyle is costing in terms of the landscape and by extension nature. It is in that way that a photograph can be a document and it therefore needs to be true to its subject matter. Therefore your cloned image, in this case, will have less validity.

    I’m sorry to say it – and I hesitate – but I think you are wrong.

    • Blimey. You’re sorry and you hesitate now; you clone out items; you would combine two or more images….. Watch it – I think you are softening towards The Way. ;->

      Rich Ellis is not wrong – he just has a different opinion. But then, if you define that as ‘wrong’….

    • Jeremy

      Are you not capable of seeing that you have your opinion, I have mine? How then can I be wrong? Why on earth did you assume that any of my photographs are documentary? Who told you that? I certainly didn’t! “…and it therefore needs to be true to its subject matter…” forgive me but poppycock! Your logic is weird. A person is moving somewhere so will be gone so is ok to clone? A piece of litter is? What happens if it doesn’t decompose? Do you leave it in as it might be a plastic bag and remain there for 10’s of years? A pylon is on this earth for only a fraction of that landscape’s lifetime so I choose to clone it out? It wasn’t there 1,000 years ago, 200 years ago, 100 years ago. I decide to take it out, it doesn’t ‘truly’ reflect the landscape as i see it.

      I am not wrong sadly for you, I just have different beliefs to you.

  48. “A pylon in a landscape is of a different nature altogether to a red cagoule or car. Both the latter are on their way somewhere, and in five minutes will be gone. A pylon is there for ever.”

    Jeremy, where precisely do you draw the line?

    A camper pitches a lurid tent in a wilderness scene, it’ll be gone in a week or a fortnight. Is it okay to clone that out? A farmer desecrates a picture of bucolic loveliness with an old tin bath for a watering trough. It’ll rot away in ten years or so, can that safely be edited out?

    And on the other side of your position are even more intractable photographers, I met one chap who said it was it okay to physically remove a crisp packet from a scene before pressing the shutter, but not to digitally remove it after the shot was taken.

    And there resides the weakness of the traditionalist view. There actually is no traditional view, because there is no concensus on what the rules are to safeguard this notion of visual integrity. It’s just one long spectrum of opinion in which everyone defends their own particular station.

    My father used to think that everyone who drove one mile per hour slower than him was a Sunday driver, and everyone who drove one mile per hour faster was a dangerous maniac!

    • Hi Custard,

      “My father used to think that everyone who drove one mile per hour slower than him was a Sunday driver, and everyone who drove one mile per hour faster was a dangerous maniac!”

      This really made me smile!

    • All I did was to make public my lines in the sand. If it is permanent, don’t clone it out; if it is temporary, clone it out – if you wish. Of course there is a grey area between the two and Custard has given two useful examples which fit very well into this. I couldn’t actually say what I would do in these circumstances. I would remove rubbish and I would fold back branches or vegetation if they were in the way. I also take the point that a piece of plastic may remain in the landscape for many years before disintegrating, and might therefore be considered semi-permanent.

      If my intention was to make a photograph within a landscape which contained a line of pylons, I could do one of two things. I could include the pylons if I wanted to truly document that landscape with its pylons. If I wanted to document that landscape without the pylons, and I could do that with a particular focal length and viewpoint, then I would do so. I don’t have a problem with that. It’s what photographers have always done.

      What I would not do is to clone out the pylons. To do so would be dishonest and the resulting image would lack integrity. I know “wrong” is a difficult word to use in relation to someone else but I truly believe that the image without those pylons would lack validity. Just because there is a grey area within which people may disagree in a minor way does not mean that anything goes in all circumstances.

      And notice that I continue to use the word “document”, because like it or not most photographs ARE documents. David Ward had discussed this at length, I believe, and I agree with him.

      • “All I did was to make public my lines in the sand…” Ummm… no you didn’t, you also said I was wrong! You are also saying that by default, I am dishonest because I alter Landscape images in a way you wouldn’t. You will be irking a substantial number of people if you really mean that.

        You are entitled to draw your lines in the sand wherever you like (although you already admit to being unsure quite where that line is drawn regarding certain issues). Granted. I (obviously) draw mine in a different place. Why is that not OK? Why does that make me wrong and you right? Where did I say that my values should be anyone else’s values? I didn’t, haven’t and never would be that arrogant.

        You are basing your whole argument around a fictitious and spurious, self imposed “documentary” element of taking a picture. Around your interpretation of ‘honesty’. I am not bound by that same feeling or values, that I have to be ‘true’, in every single aspect, to the scene in front of me. I am producing an image, I would never tell anyone that it is exactly as the scene was in front of me, but then, when would I ever have cause or need to? Why on earth does that make me dishonest? Surely you can see that your choice to clone ‘temporary’ items could equally lead to claims of dishonesty to others with different values to your own couldn’t it?

        Mmmm….I need a cup of Earl Grey!

        • OK – thread closed… very interesting up to a point but, like I said previously, things are getting personal rather than abstract. Good to have a break and think about things before the next round starts in the next issue. Thanks for all of your comments – it’s been very interesting and and provided a lot of food for thought. I hope you all understand why it’s best to keep responses as ‘unemotional’ as possible. Lots of questions marks and exclamation marks are a sure indication that things are going astray..

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