Most professional photographers I know make every effort to get their images “right” in the camera to make the best possible photographs and to avoid extensive post-processing using Lightroom, Photoshop, or other software. Post-processing, in my view, should be limited to color correction, a touch of sharpening, and maybe a few other small adjustments. I’m not even a fan of removing a light pole that’s obstructing your subject slightly. If the light pole is a problem, recompose your image so it won’t be, or merely consider it as part of the scene you faithfully recorded.
I’ve seen some photographers manipulate their images to the point where the finished product looks nothing like the original image. They move people and objects around in the picture, and they use parts of other photos to add to the final product. The result is a “photo illustration,” instead of a photograph. In the future, someone will likely look at the picture and think it is real, even if the photographer initially records and communicates that it is not.
Now, if the bulk of your work is creating material for graphic movie posters or you’re working in the realm of fantasy, that’s a different story. In this case, your Photoshop skills will likely be as, or even more important than your skills behind the camera. Unless this is your line of work, however, if a client asks you to make significant changes to an image to achieve a specific outcome, I would be wary of doing so.
These powerful post-processing tools enable photographers to make small enhancements to improve their images, just like Ansel Adams did when printing his beautiful black & white pictures in the traditional darkroom. These are vital in the “digital darkroom.” However, they place an extra responsibility on the photographer to ensure that their images are genuine and to let viewers know that they do not create photo illustrations.
The practice of making photo illustrations erodes the viewer’s confidence that the image is what the photographer saw. For example, consider an image that was created inside of a house, looking out of a pair of windows. And, you see a giant moose peering in from the outside, it’s hard to know for sure if the image is real, or if the background and moose were taken from another picture, and dropped into the window frame in the final image. This manipulation treads on dangerous territory, and the credibility of all photographers is at stake.
One example of the real problems this practice can generate is a situation where an architect won first prize in a prestigious design award competition, and the judges determine award winners only by looking at photographs of their buildings. After the architect received first prize, others learned that the photo of his/her building had been manipulated in Photoshop to eliminate large air handling equipment on the roof, which detracted significantly from the aesthetics of the structure. Moreover, many architects pointed out that a different design of the air handlers could result in them not being visible on the roof. This point struck at the heart of the issue – would this architect have received the design award had the air handlers been evident in the photograph? I don’t know the outcome of this debacle, but there was some discussion of rescinding the architect’s award. If I find out, I’ll tell you in a future blog.
David C. Lester