Feb 25 2010

documentary photograph & photoshop

Update: New York Time tech writer David Pogue raised the question of Photoshop and Photography: When is it Real? The subject came up when two winners in Popular Photography’s annual Reader’s Photos Contest had two winners that clearly were Photoshop compositions.

The question is when does manipulation take an image beyond a photograph? Next year the magazine handles the issue by having a separate category for Photoshop creations?

What do you think about that and the questions raised by my examples below?

One way that I describe the way I work is that I’m a documentary photographer that both knows how to find and see great light, and knows how to make it great when its not.

When I doing a commercial job part of the process is going into a real situation and making it look better. If that involves doing a head transplant from one frame to another or cleaning up a distracting background in Photoshop – that’s just part of the service that’s offered.

But what about when I head back out into the streets? What sort of alteration is fair game? Most serious journalistic publications only allow what could be traditionally done in a darkroom. Perhaps there is a vigorous discussion that is raging in the fine arts world about this issue that I’m not following.

What do you think is fair game from the two examples below and an earlier post about a Moulin Rouge photo?

20040319 STK 7271 documentary photograph & photoshop

An altered documentary photo of an Upper Eastside socialite walking her poodle

20040319 STK 7271details1 documentary photograph & photoshop

The grate was behind her foot and the sprinkler sign was removed

This Upper Eastside photo of a society women taking her poodle out for a walk was only slightly altered. The red sign above the fire-hose plug and the sidewalk grate were removed to cut down on the visual distraction. I personally only have a slight problem with this one. Would it be better if the alterations were indicated similar to what I did with these photos?

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A subway mime preparing for her performance

20061111 stk 1444 81 documentary photograph & photoshop

One frame has the great reflection in the mirror.....and the other has the reaction of the passengers

The subway mime is more of a stretch. Instead of just cleaning up stray distractions this is a blend of two moments where the charm comes from actually being there and capturing the moment. I could say that I indeed captured the moment and the convergence just happened a different times. In my heart I feel its cheating. But is a much better photo as the combination than either one is alone.

What do you think? Where would you draw the line?

Mark Harmel

harmelphoto.com

@MarkHarmel

14 responses so far

Mar 19 2009

when is cheating fair-1?

Some of my students recently were appalled that I would ever alter any part of a photo. They were beginning students and still very new to working with photos on a computer.

Normally I limit myself to cleaning up faces and removing power outlets from the background, but every now and then I allow myself to think more along the lines of a photo illustration.

A few years ago I was renting an apartment in Paris up the hill from the Moulin Rouge and I knew of a photo my travel photographer friend Glen Allison shot of the famed club through the art nouveau archway of the metro stop.

pair when is cheating fair 1?

The two elements of the final illustration

I didn’t quite know how to make it different. I was both frustrated that the lights on the archway were out in the evening, and didn’t like a big Coke billboard that was in the frame. Then I noticed that a famous painting in my tour book and that many of the artists selling their work on the street had moved some famous landmarks around to suit their compositions.

I decided that I could do the same – it just required me to move the metro stop. I wasn’t sure I had the compositing skills to do this, but I have friends that can.

moulinrouge when is cheating fair 1?

The final composition with everything in the right place

I shot the individual pieces and asked my friend Dennis Dunbar to use his Photoshop skills to help me execute my original vision. This was my first big step into more of a photo-illustration look. I still prefer to capture what is actually in front of the camera, but this experience opened me up to the idea of creating an illustration.

Mark Harmel
harmelphoto.com

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