I took this landscape photo during our workshop at Nine Mile Pond. My goal was to capture the beautiful light in the sky, and it’s reflection in the water. I wanted to simplify the image as much as possible, but ripples on the pond made the surface choppy, and made the scene seem too busy. The solution? A long shutter speed. I placed a Neutral Density Filter on my lens to reduce the amount of light reaching the sensor, and set my aperture to f/8. A shutter speed of 30 seconds removed any trace of the ripples on the water – leaving the surface smooth and soft.
So – just to stir things up a bit… what do you think? Is it ever OK to manipulate a landscape photo? In February, one of our students came to me with a question. “Isn’t processing a photo using Photoshop a ‘manipulation’?” he said. “Isn’t that tantamount to removing the integrity of a photograph?” Let’s put aside for a moment the general lack of knowledge that led to this question. To be fair – this student had very little background information to draw from, and didn’t know how a camera processes a JPG photo, or even the difference between a JPG and a RAW file. His question wasn’t meant to be offensive – though I’m sure many of you are cringing out there.
Still – it’s a loaded question if I ever heard one. It used to be that you weren’t considered to be a “real” photographer unless you developed your own film, and printed it in a darkroom. Sending it off to a lab was the sure sign of an amateur. (Now, there’s a whole different argument there, I know! And for the record – I don’t believe it’s true.) So, by that logic – does it make sense to say that one who processes their own photos using a digital darkroom – the RAW converter or Photoshop – is less of a photographer than one who allows the camera to choose the settings? Is a photographer who puts in the extra effort to finish an image doing something wrong?
All right – so, what does that have to do with this photograph? Well – the fact is, I manipulated this scene. But not in Photoshop. I manipulated it in the field. The scene didn’t look like this in reality. The colors are true to my recollection – but the surface of the water was certainly not smooth. I used a Neutral Density filter and a long shutter speed to completely alter the reality of the scene. So, is this any different than manipulating reality in the dark room, or in Photoshop? Is the photograph a lie? Or is it simply art? No more and no less.
Here are few other ways to manipulate the photo without using Photoshop:
For me, the answer is simple. My landscape photographs are just art. And that simplifies things even further. When you are making art – the artist gets to make the rules – and worrying about what others think is just a distraction. So I’ll continue to make art – with a little help from Nature. 🙂 But, what do you think? Is it “fair” to manipulate a landscape photo? Does it make a difference if the manipulation happens in-camera or in Photoshop? I’d like to hear what you have to say. Seasoned photographers and amateurs alike. What do you think?