Photoshop and Photography: When Is It Real?

[from David Pogue's Technology blog] "In the March issue of Popular Photography magazine, the editor's note, by Miriam Leuchter, is called 'What Is a Photograph?'

You'd think that, after 73 years, a magazine called Popular Photography would have figured that out. (Ba-da-bump!)

Actually, though, the editorial is about the magazine's annual Reader's Photos Contest. This year, in two of the categories, the winners were what the magazine calls composites, and what I call Photoshop jobs.

One photo shows a motorcyclist being chased by a tornado;

another shows a flock of seagulls wheeling around a lighthouse in amazingly photogenic formation.

Neither scene ever actually existed as photographed.

Now, in my experience, photographers can be a vocal lot. And a lot of them weren't crazy about the idea of Photoshop jobs winning the contest.

I have to admit that when I saw the winners revealed in a previous issue, I was a bit taken aback, too. I mean, composition and timing are two key elements of a photographer's skill, right? If you don't have to worry about composition and timing, because you can always combine several photos or move things around later in Photoshop, then, well -- what is a photograph?

The thing is, though, this isn't necessarily an open-and-shut case. Ms. Leuchter's editorial points out that photography has never been strictly a 'capture reality' art form. It's never been limited to reproducing what the eye sees.

From the very beginning, photographers have set up their shots, posed people and adjusted brightness and contrast in the development process. So although you may think that some line has been crossed, it might not be so easy to specify exactly where that line sits.

Here's a list of things people do to and for photographs, ranging from the innocent and traditional to the dangerously artificial. If you were running a photography contest, at what point would you draw the line and say 'That's not photography anymore?'

  • You move the camera to get the best possible shot.
  • You attach a lens that takes in a much wider or closer view than you would get with your eyes alone.
  • You choose a shallow depth of field, providing that sharp-subject, blurry-background look of professional photos, which looks nothing like reality.
  • You set up lights to illuminate a scene in a way that nature never intended.
  • You bring in a professional crew to transform a model's skin, clothing and hair.
  • You witness a spectacular event, and then ask the people involved to go back and re-enact what just happened so you can have your camera ready.
  • In the darkroom, you "burn" and "dodge" to make certain parts of the photo brighter or darker.
  • You bring the photo into Photoshop to remove red-eye. (After all, the red-eye wouldn't have existed if you hadn't taken the photo to begin with.)
  • You bring the photo into Photoshop to make the colors "pop" a little more.
  • You bring the photo into Photoshop to shift one element slightly for better composition.
  • You combine two or more photographs of the identical scene, taken at different exposures, strictly to produce a better range of lights and darks (what's called "high dynamic range" photography).
  • You combine two or more elements of different photos of the same scene, taken around the same time, simply to get them all in the frame at once (like the seagulls/lighthouse photo).
  • You combine two or more elements of different photos that were taken at different times and places (like the motorcycle/tornado photo).
  • You use a 3-D modeling program to create a photorealistic scene that never existed anywhere but in your imagination.

Of course, your answer may be something like, 'It depends on the purpose of the photo.' If you're a news photographer, you (and your audience) would probably be O.K. with tweaks to the color and contrast, but that's it. On the other hand, if you're an advertising photographer, you and your audience would probably have no problem with anything on the list above.

The question here is, what should the rules be for a photo competition?

Ms. Leuchter suggests that next year, they'll have a separate category for Photoshop creations. I think that's a good idea.

But meanwhile, we live in an age where Photoshop jobs are commonplace, reality TV shows dominate the airwaves, and news bites are taken out of context and manipulated. Maybe, these days, the question isn't 'What is a photograph?'; it's 'What is reality?'"


What do the readers of Photosynthesis think? Does David Pouge bring up a valid point? Do "photoshopped" images belong in a separate category? Let us know your opinion by leaving a comment below.


Shaun White's Gold Medal Run

[from sportsillustrated.com]: Even after winning the snowboard halfpipe gold with his stellar first run, American Shaun White decided to give everyone a show with some insane air in his second run. Here are the highlights...

Want to know what it's like to be a professional Sports Illustrated photographer working at the winter Olympics? Then you need to read Olympic photographer: Best seat in the house. Photographer Robert Beck has been a Sports Illustrated photographer for the past 24 years!

See more of Beck's work at Robert Beck's Best Shots from Vancouver or more amazing photography from the Olympics at Sports Illustrated's Daily Photos.


Photography & the 2010 Winter Olympics

[from the New York Time's Lens blog, On Assignment: Up for the Downhill]:

To photograph subjects who’ll be moving past him in a flash, Doug Mills spends weeks of preparation.

The regimen begins long before he arrives at a Winter Olympics site. Mr. Mills, just shy of 50, calls himself a “survivor skier,” who must train for a few weeks to ensure he can ski safely to photographic vantages along the slopes. (You thought photographers got there by bus?)

Once at the site — this year Vancouver — Mr. Mills spends days studying the likely medal contenders as they practice, watching for any nuances that might inform how they’ll move during their competition runs, when they attain speeds of 80 miles an hour or more. He also scouts out vantage points that might provide strong images, with complementary backgrounds. Mr. Mills is constantly asking himself, “What’s it going to look like; not just when they hit the gate, but when they come over?”

To read the remainder of this article and to watch an incredible slideshow of Mr. Mills' photography during the Olympics click ---------> here!


Washburn University Art Day

On February 5 (which also happened to be a day off from school for Topeka West students), Washburn University held their annual High School Art Day. Nearly 80 students from surrounding high schools arrived at W.U. at 8 o'clock in the morning (braving yet another wintry snow storm) to interact with Washburn's art faculty and students.

Many art-inspiring workshops were given through the morning hours, lunch was provided, and each student was asked to bring one piece of artwork for a mini-competition. After lunch, at the awards ceremony, it was announced that Emily P. had won second prize (a Washburn University art department t-shirt) for her photography!! All the students enjoyed the day and wanted to thank W.U. for the invitation and for their time.

Taylor W. and Emily S. work together during a cyanotype/spin art workshop taught by Mary Dorsey Wanless.

Megan M. helps Emily W. spin her paper during the cyanotype/spin art workshop.

Emily P. helps Holly H. create her design during the cyanotype/spin art workshop.

Cyanotype chemicals being applied to the paper during the morning workshop.

Erik B. drying his cyanotype design before exposing it to UV light.

Students washing their cyanotype prints under running tap water after exposure to UV light.

A finished cyanotype print left to air dry.

A finished cyanotype print left to air dry (this one belonged to Taylor W., I think).

Faye M. working on a photogram design during a later workshop in the morning.

Emily W. working on a photogram design before working in the dark room.


Shrunken Cameras & Sub-$300 Cameras: New Videos

David Pogue, the personal-technology columnist for the New York Times, shows us the newest technology in digital cameras. Enjoy these two new videos...


New Work: Advanced Photography

Two advanced photography classes participated in their first class critique of the semester this past Tuesday. I am very excited to announce that I feel it is going to be a banner semester! Both classes presented some fantastic work. I have selected 10 pieces to display in the windows of the photography room and I would also like to share those same pieces here as well. Enjoy and please feel to leave comments for the students...I'm sure that would really enjoy the feedback!

Tyler Wade, senior

A.J. Davis, junior

Brandy Booker, junior

Delaney Hurd, junior

Dagan Brichalli, junior

Anthony Flippo, junior

Emily Ferlemann, sophomore

Isla Alvarez, junior

Kyle Owen, junior

Jenna Deems, senior