Picture the scene if you would. You have travelled hundreds if not thousands of miles to your dream photography locations. You have been filled with anticipation about visiting this place, can't wait to get the camera out and capture the image of a lifetime that will be worthy of your portfolio. You can visualise the waterfalls, the rapids, a setting sun behind the mountain with amazing colour in the sky. You have set yourself the goal of finding a unique composition. Everything is going to be amazing.
As you approach your destination in the car, a sinking feeling starts to overpower the excitement that has build up inside you. The light is terrible and its only going to get worse. Still you are here and the weather forecast could be wrong, you are going to make the most of it, secretly keeping every finger crossed that you might get the briefest of breaks in the clouds. You find you composition and frame it up exactly the way you want, test shots taken it all looks perfect. Another quick prayer to the light gods that they will afford you a brief moment of perfection. They don't oblige and the light only gets worse. You end your session, happy that you have visited, slightly deflated that the light was rubbish and vowing that you will return to get your killer shot.
In reality we have to be really lucky to go to a location for the first time and get perfect light. I have been to venues where it has taken many many trips before I got prefect conditions. That's the thing about landscape photography, nothing is ever guarnateed. I am still waiting for the perfect conditions at Kirkjufell and despite visiting Iceland many times have never witnessed the Aurora over the iconic mountain either. I am sure that will change in 2022!
So back to the story, you edit your images from the day and they come out ok. They are an accurate representation of what you saw but are just lacking the wow factor that you wanted. Anyway you settle for what you have got and then a few months later you dig the raw files back out on a cold winters evening and start editing the images again only this time you start to manipulate the image, which ends up looking nothing like what you actually saw or photographed. The question is, is it wrong to create a composite image?
Let's take a look at the 2 images above. On the left you have one of the 3 raw files that I used to focus stack the image and to the right, you have an edited image. As you can see the image is ok, its nicely composed but is very flat. There is too much negative space in the sky. Now compare it to the image at the top of this blog. In essence it is still exactly the same composition, but the sky has been replaced, I have removed the little fence posts, there has been some selective dodging and burning, I have added some colour to the water to make it look more natural and I have also sharpened it to create more movement.
Thinking about the RAW image again for a moment. If I gave this image to 10 different photographers and asked them to edit it, I wouldn't get 10 identical images, no of course not, I would get 10 different ones, where each photographer has applied their own individual style to it. That's the beauty we can get as creative as we like and over time we develop our own unique style, to how we edit our photos.
I am not aware of any rule book that says when editing photos you must do this and can't do that. As the book doesn't exist and we are free to express our own creative talent, is this the point at which photography becomes art?
I class myself as a photographer not an artist, I love being outdoors with the camera and as a general rule then I always to try to capture a very true representation of what I have seen. Indeed, I will usually not edit my images properly until a few months have passed. They need time to mature ( well actually, my mind needs time forget). What I mean by this is that if I succumb to the temptation of editing an image immediately after I have taken it ( and yes I do edit images not long after taking them, especially when running a workshop or when I am away on a trip), then I usually end up with an image that is over saturated, too vibrant as I am trying to replicate on the screen what my mind remembers. I have found that when you leave the images for a period, you end up with a much better and realistic edit.
When editing an image, I will also do edge patrol to make sure there isn't anything coming into the image that look unnatural. I also don't have a problem with removing little things from an image so long as it doesn't change the overall composition. I will happily post these as a true representation and the very best of images would end up in my portfolio. In a good year, I might get 4 or 5 of these! I will never add anything to an image though and call it real.
So back to the title image. Would I ever post this online? Sure, why not. But and it is a massive BUT. I would always state that it is a composite image and explain what has been done. Why? Well it's all to do with integrity. Why would I ever want to post a photo claiming that it is real when it wasn't? There is just not point. Trust me, I have seen plenty of images online, claiming to be real which clearly aren't. Once upon a time, I would have called this out, nowadays I just smile, it's not worth having the argument. There are plenty of people online who will, personally I have better things to do with my time. In stating that the image is a composite then I am not only protecting my reputation as a photographer, but I am also showing potential clients that I also know how to edit images and am fairly competent at using Lightroom and Photoshop, this is knowledge that clients want and on week long workshops we do lots of editing, its all part of the package.
So what are your thoughts? Let me know by leaving a comment below.