Good questions Lee. Well my opinion has changed considerably as I learn my craft and try to perfect the art of image making. Yes as a photographer we make images. First we pre-visualise an image, then capture the scene using our camera, and finally we process the resulting image to some degree. This can either happen in camera by the camera’s software (yes jpg’s are actually processed by your camera which adds contrast, applies sharpening, sets white balance), in a RAW editor, in Photoshop, or indeed by processing the film and exposing photographic paper. So when you are looking to enhance an image using the likes of Photoshop when is the right time to stop? When does an image turn from a photograph to an illustration? Well….in most cases this is subjective, it is up to you, there is no right or wrong answer.
At first I didn’t use Photoshop, then I used it but I used it badly, now I live in it. In my naive early Photoshop days I used to shy away from pushing an image too far saying “ooh you can’t do that!”. I didn’t know the photographers I admired (and still do) extensively use Photoshop to create the amazing images I saw…I thought there something I was missing in capture. These days I don’t seem to carry the same guilt as I used to allowing for ‘artistic interpretation’ of a scene. I still favour that realistic look but know to get the most out of an image, to make it stand above the rest I need to somewhat process it in Photoshop (there are exceptions of course). So is the final post processed photograph what I actually saw? Sometimes. I could say it is how I interpreted the scene but that’s just a justification for the evil doings of Photoshop wizardry. Again I’m of the opinion that the degree to which you post process an image is up to you, don’t let anyone determine what you can or can’t do. This will be how you create a style and people will either love or hate you for it.
Anyone who has used Photoshop knows it takes a long time to master and as I’ve got better I find myself pushing my images further. I can’t say I spend more time on them, I’m just better at what I do (currently averaging at about 15 minutes per image). There are the exceptions to the rule and some images take me hours to process. I have been known to remove elements from a scene however I have never replaced a sky. It’s interesting, there seems to be an ethical boundary or limit among the photography community, there are those who will replace a sky (replacing a sky with a better one from a different image) and there are those that the mere thought would disgust them. I’m not apposed to replacing a sky…I just haven’t found the need to yet. How far I post process an image depends on the image, does processing it improve the image if I push it a bit further or am I trying to make something out of nothing? The basis of a good image has to be there in the first place and that can only happen at capture.
The image below shows a considerable amount of processed image. All the elements are there, I mean I haven’t changed the sky or anything, just removed some boats and darkened it down. Some people may think this is already too much, I would love to know your thoughts. I chose this photograph and to write this article as a similar (but better) shot was selected as the winning image of this years Take a View – Landscape Photographer of the Year competition. After it was soon discovered the photographer, David Byrne had used Photoshop to drop in a different sky the image was soon disqualified (read more here). This brings me to my one exception regarding the use of Photoshop, don’t over process an image if there are competition rules dictate it….otherwise knock yourself out. I believe that regardless of whether an image is heavily processed or not, Photoshop is part of the creative process. Who cares how an image was created, it’s about how it effects you at an emotional level. I would still award David, he’s an awesome talent but I’m sure the purists would disagree. Leave a comment, tell me what you think.
Lee teaches Photoshop online, for more information please browse to his Education page.
great article. Looking at your two examples, the original to my eyes is boring, the photoshoped version is amazing, interesting, dramatic. As for competitions and being disqualified for dropping in a sky, in my opinion any editing no matter what, to enhance a photo ( according to whats pleasing to the eye) should be allowed. I think it would be wonderful if judges looked at an image and could say WOW that is something else, it stands out, it says something, its wonderful to look at! Rather than oh dear the composition is not right, the vignetting is to dark, the highlights are to bright, etc etc.. Anyway thats my personal opinion. Love your work.
Very true Linda sometimes judges should take things at face value. They obviously liked his photo enough to award it first place so what should it matter how he arrived at the final image. Thanks for the comment, much appreciated.
My conscience allows plenty. For me the photo and skills to compose it are just part of the creative process to produce a final piece of art. In general I’ve found the loudest detractors of post processing are those who can’t use it how they would like to so it’s easier to talk it down instead. Maybe a few more people need to get along to your courses so we can all move forward 😉 This week I went to an all day seminar with Adobe Masters Russell Brown and Julieanne Kost. It was mind blowing and just inspires me to learn more and make better images. In the long run I guess it’s horses for courses but I like the journey my pathway is taking :))?
Thanks for the comment Grant. That Masters class would have been great, I thought about going. Very true, it’s the same with everything…easier to belittle something if you don’t understand it.
I was reading about that competition last week, and I agree that replacing a sky seems to be the line that shouldn’t be crossed. I’m a firm believer in using whatever technology and tools you have available to produce the best photo/image/art you can. And I need all the help I can get ! 😉 Art is art, I think some photographers these days get a little hung up on the whole purist “straight from the camera” mentality. If you like the finished product and it moves you, great. If you don’t like it, move on and find something that does move you.
It’s work like yours Lee that inspired me to seriously explore PS and software like it to enhance and improve my photography. I’ll never do it professionally or for money, but if I can produce work that people find pleasing to the eye and would consider hanging it on their wall, I’ll be happy with that. And I won’t have any hesitation in using any and every trick in the photoshop book to get there. 🙂
Too true Glenn. Agreed move on, stop hating, it’s a waste of time. Check out marcadamuslies.blogspot.com.au perfect example of people needing to move on!
I’m sure there are many people happy to have your work on their wall already Glenn.
Hello I am some what new to the seen, but I am a believer that one should use any and all technology, software that is available to make an image look the way they see it…..
I am doing a bit of HDR now, and I know of people who shy away from it saying its not from the camera etc…Now my 5D MIII does built in HDR, where do you draw the line??
Hi Paul, thanks for the comment. Yep each person has their own limits as far as processing whether that is in camera or using software.
Photography has always been “Fine Art” in the old days the manipulation was done by hand colouring negatives and final images, skilful burning and dodging in the dark room. Now its done with software and the boundaries have just gotten wider a camera has never really been able to record an image the way our eyes and brain can so as photographers we try to achieve that by using software, multiple images, filters etc. then we have one extra thing today imagination as long as the pictures you use have been taken by you I see no problem in using one section of the image from one pic and merged with another pic. My first winning picture was a sandwich of 2 images done by Churchill labs in Subiaco a very long time ago.
Hi John, was it two exposures or two different images? Hand painting negatives, that really was in the olden days! I think camera technology will catch up soon and will be able to Photograph what the eye can see….then I’m in trouble 🙂
Haters gonna hate!
I personally don’t mind the use of PS to make something look better, but for me personally I still like the final image to look realistic and believable. You’re one of the best at it.
Not so much a fan of the old “ton mapping slider and saturation to 100%” trick.
Have you considered posting a tutorial for the post of this shot?
Hi Josie, yes I don’t like the ‘max saturation’ look. I will post a tutorial on how I processed this, it will be part of a series I’m doing on Black and White.
Hi Lee it was 2 different images one was of fireworks the other the city I was at Kings Park. The first year they used Lasers showing an image of 96FM & HBF Logo. I wanted a fireworks shot with the trails from the fireworks pointing to the Laser image on the building as if the fireworks were projecting the image.
Hi Lee….Agree with all the above…I like to think of myself as an artists that can use a camera to capture an initial image. If that image looks great out of the camera with a tweak then that is very satisfying but I also have found that Photoshop is invaluable and occasionally work layer after layer and “create” the image I want to see. I like to use a graphics pad to “paint” light in and out of images as well as the double exposure techniques. I also have come to realise that many (most/all) photographers I admire do the same! I can fully understand competition rules ruling in or out techniques and so long as the rules are clear that is fine to. Why not just have straight from he camera competitions all the way through to manipulated images in categories the more the merrier! I have a friend who creates images from several images and works hours on them to create pure fantastical images, I think they are great and have no problem that they are created as such? Its all art and art, as always, should create discussion so all is well! P
Thanks for your comment. A straight from the camera competition would be interesting…I wonder what people would think of the shots. Would in camera HDR be allowed, would filters be ok. I guess that’s the challenge, mmm maybe I’ll organise something just for fun.
I’m a huge fan of David Osborn, his images are heavily processed and look amazing, very artistic.
How can anyone say someone else has over processed an image if the processor likes the image? You may not like an image; if so, it is not because it is “over processed” – it is because you do not like the image.
If the creator likes the image that is all that matters!
Having said that, creators of contests are entitled to set the rules for their contests. To complain about the rules of a particular contest is childish and immature – if you don’t like the rules don’t play the game.
Lee, glad I found you through my mentor Kah Kit’s post regarding the hangout. Very much like what I have seen.
Thanks very much for your comment. Yes that’s very true, who are other people to judge? Although when you put photos out there you are opening yourself up for criticism and we all have opinions.