When Is Image Postprocessing Cheating?

Harold Merklinger over at Luminous Landscape has an interesting article titled “The Game of Photography — What Are the Rules?”

It’s about whether digital manipulation is cheating or acceptable photography. He makes an excellent point about the difference between amateur and professional photographers. As an amateur photographer, you follow no rules except your own. So, if you digitally manipulate a picture and the end result gives you great pleasure, then why not? [No rules to break = no cheating.] On the other hand, a professional photographer (as in one who does it for a living) must follow the client’s rules. [Photojournalism, for example, accepts absolutely no digital manipulation of a news photo; they break the rules, they cheat.]
Though I understand and agree overall with his reasoning, I still am left wondering: when does one leave post processing and starts to engage in digital manipulation? When does photography end and digital painting starts? I’ve seen beautiful works of art where the artist has painted on a photograph. Is the end result a photograph or a painting? The end result is art, but [obviously] not a photograph anymore. Likewise, I am of the opinion that as soon as one starts cloning part of a photo, removing elements one deems extraneous, adding colors, moving elements… one is leaving the world of photography and entering a related world, still producing beautiful works of art.

I still struggle with this and find it difficult to call the end result of a digitally manipulated image a “photograph.” But I don’t feel there is anything wrong in digital manipulation if you own up to it; you are not cheating. You are the artist, you can choose your medium and manipulate it however you want. What do you think?

Read the article at: Luminous Landscape.

1 Comment

  • You do what Lew Lorton did and what Harld Merklinger did–you switched off the topic. At the end you substitute artist where we had been talking photographer. I think this sliding of terms is what allows some to be deceived, some to be mislead, and like you some to be confused or uncertain. While I see the value of heavy post processing because where would graphic artists be without it. But that’s where I am with it. When one does more than can be done in a darkroom with one exposure of film then that one has left photography, which stopped at the light-as translated by the camera, to writing or data written/stored for transfer, and has entered graphic arts.
    What we have is photographers who use graphic arts or digital manipulation to, in some cases make-up for what they lack as photographers. Others to get more of a significant product than they got.
    Photography is literally light writing or writing with light as ink from a pen on parchment (or the such). We capture the moment that is the opening of the shutter. The shutter being open. And the shutter closing. The balances of light at this intensity of concentration and the stillness of the lens go into what the image is.
    Some might have tried to legitimize what they do so they can pass themselves off as photographers with the-it can’t help but be manipulated angles. In this deception or misconstruing, they might transfer needing to use a camera, to continuing that, with post processing. Except that post processing uses the captured image from photography–the shot. Using the camera gets the shot. Are we trying to duplicate the doghouse as one might put? Not likely which is how people speak convincingly. What is more at the point is that we are using a light recording capturing tool to convey the visual of the dog house or the image. Reasonably to duplicate the dog house we would use hammer saw and nails and wood. Tools which can be used to achieve our goals.
    Writing this I admit noticing lying on the part of the photographer in adjusting settings to give an untrue reveal of the scene. However, the photographer’s tool–the camera, with all the aberrations, adjustability and settings canNot change the structure of the shot. The shot is where things were and their light or reflective value visually marked. Whether RAW to be converted later or a more usable format and converted to a file format that is media compatible (done at the camera stage). Depth of field and focus needs to be handled at the action phase of the shutter button press. Creativity and skill and Luck of a photographer ends near the camera recording and or or translating data to a file format, from the received light adjusted by the lens design, cleanliness and steadiness.
    Lew Lorton brought-up, as I recall, from a talk:Street Photography, to the Antietam Photography Society Hagerstown, MD, October 9, 2014, “Who said, that creativity stops when you press the button?” seeing it now I think he was speaking along the lines of slipping the point and substituting that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Yet, I can also see a concept a person of his experience, given his enthusiasm, might have-which might be that-one uses camera settings to get a shot and it doesn’t look like what we are seeing out-of- the-camera. So if we are altering the image of reality with the camera, then significant post processing is a natural extension of our photography.-Ernie Moore Jr.
    As to Lew Lorton saying, “who says creativity stops when you press the button?” I say he’s a presenter with a cultural style, and that creativity has many fans and the question was; where does photography end and graphic arts begin. Given that the graphic arts by definition deal with tone And line, then I might say that photography stops being photography when one affects image composition-adding or removing lines. Cropping is essentially making a new image.
    Cheating depends on the goals. If crossing the finish line in a race for the purpose of crossing the finish line during the race is your goal then taking a cab to the finish line during the race and crossing the finish line achieves your goal and should not be considered cheating. If the goal for crossing the finish line during the race is to show others your fitness, then taking the cab and crossing the finish line should be considered cheating. If your goal for crossing the finish line during the race is to prove to yourself that you have the determination to finish something, then either way to that end could leave you with the satisfaction of achievement depending on one’s mores or other inner perspectives.-Ernie Moore Jr.
    Those who realize an opportunity to make something beautiful that can be shared. Or realize a living could come of this might forgo the purist way of developing all skills possible to the highest with the use of a camera, and find a level of skill from which to deviate from photography to graphic arts which can incorporate photodigital pieces into their digital image arena.-Ernie Moore Jr.
    Purists of the way of Photography (if you will), are likely to be corrupted by using the filters, lenses and settings initially used to address ambient light to better see (for presentation) a thing, a subject, a scene and go to a place of learning from missed intent that tone and tones can be presented differently than what is observed out-of-the-camera. This allows a purist photographer to express creativity other than the originally highest form of creativity of the way of Photography-getting composition of a scene or subject within the recording confines of the lens-to-file-format–getting the shot.-Ernie Moore Jr.

    Ernie Moore Jr