So this article may open up a can of worms and from the start I need to say that this is just my personal opinion. How you choose to edit your photos or indeed portray them to others is entirely up to you.
So what am I talking about? If you have Adobe CC and have downloaded the latest version of Photoshop you will have no doubt seen that there is a new feature called sky replacement. This update gives you the ability to change the sky in an image with either a preloaded one that Adobe have supplied or you can import your own. Whats more it does a bloody great job in doing it and with a few tweaks, especially around the edges it can look amazing. But and it is a huge but, is this really what landscape photography is all about? Let's also be clear Adobe aren't the only software supplier that have this feature now available.
When clients attend my workshops, they are not only paying for my advise on how to get the most out of their cameras and understanding how to create better compositions. They are also paying for my knowledge and understanding of the elements that will hopefully get them into the right place at the right time to capture a great image during the optimal light conditions. This doesn't just happen by chance, it is delivered by understanding the weather patterns, by knowing what location will work best in what conditions. This is one of the reasons why I will never advertise a workshop without having visited a location to gain local knowledge and even then I will have done a lot of research online to increase this. The only exception is when I run development workshops which is where a visit a new location for the first time and with a couple of clients we explore the area together. In so doing, I gain an understanding of how it will work for future workshops, find compositions and locations for future use and store away vital information. Clients also get to see me working a new area and also get the workshop at discounted rates ( look out for details of the Lofoten Islands in Norway coming soon).
Anyway back to AI software. I can see the benefits of it, in that if you have been out all day, have taken images, yet the expected sunrise or sunset hasn't happened, you could be left frustrated. You know before you even download the images to your computer that they are not going to be brilliant and with the new AI software you now have the ability to create a great image. Replacing a grey and featureless sky with a one filled with colour and wonderment. To be honest there is nothing wrong at all in doing this and it is not my place to say what individual photographers should or should not do. Where I would however have an issue is if someone was sharing it on social media as a real image as opposed to a composite. If they do say it is a composite image then no problems. On the other hand saying its real is a no go in my book. I will be watching social media very carefully over the coming weeks and months and can almost guarantee you that there will be heated debates when photographers start calling one another out over this very issues. Some will be easy to spot whilst others won't. I for one, am not going to pass any comments online , this blog will be my only discussion on the matter.
The part that really troubles me is that if someone substitutes the sky then what else are they doing to manipulate the image. It would leave a very empty feeling inside me, every time I looked at the photo, knowing that it wasn't what I have actually experienced, it would be even worse if I have used a sky that someone else had taken, That in itself opens up another debate. With Photoshop giving you the option to use your own sky photographs then is it then slight more acceptable to substitute the sky with one that you have taken. In the real sense you have taken all elements of the image and then used your skill to create an image. To me this is art with elements of photography.
Now before you all starting complaining about this article then let me balance the argument slightly. I like many other photographers will use filters when needed, I will also bracket images to get round the dynamic range limitations of my camera. I shoot in RAW which by the very nature means that editing of the image will be needed. In post I will dodge and burn, I may remove a things that interfere around the edges or occasionally it may be a car or a telegraph pole. Quite rightly then this could be called manipulating the image. Some may even argue that there is no difference to replacing the sky. The great thing is, is that everyone is entitled to their own opinion and everyone should respect this. To me though there is one difference and this is, all of the information that I need to use is contained in the image or the bracketed images. I may take a couple of bits away but I am not adding anything to an image nor am creating an image from two separate days or locations.
Ultimately to me, the single most important thing is the effort and planning that I have to put into creating a great composition. Yes of course great light and compositions sometimes just happened, but on the majority of occasions lots of planning has taken place, a venue may have been visited on numerous occasions and you understand all of the elements that will be needed to make it a portfolio worthy image. You may have to wait weeks, months or years to finally get your image, there may only be a few days a year when all of the aspects needed could happen. When it does however, there is no better feeling and the sense of accomplishment is just amazing. Seeing your vision become a reality is unsurpassed in my opinion, knowing that you have had to work so hard to make it a reality. On my wall at home I have 12 images that I want to take, but so much needs to come together in order for just one of them to happen. I am sure that if I am still writing this blog in a decade then quite a few of the 12 will still not have been achieved. To me that is the whole essence of landscape photography, I have said on many occasions if the light doesn't happen then ok that's just part of the game. Frustrating yes but ultimately no big deal. I would far rather experience this and have enjoyed the great outdoors, exploring new and old places then have that empty feeling every time I looked at a photo where I knew I had replaced the sky.