If you were the owner of a restaurant located in a highly competitive tourist area and you wanted to promote your establishment to potential customers at hotels and weekly condos in the vicinity, you might consider paying for advertising in one of the local things-to-do guides, or listing on some of the popular websites targeting the tourist market. Of course, if you did that, you'd want to include a pretty snazzy picture of your restaurant, ideally the kind of photo that makes hungry travelers say, "Let's eat there tonight!" Of the two photos, below, which do you think would serve that purpose better?
I really hope you picked the one on the right. Sure, the photo on the left is well framed, in focus, properly exposed and artfully framed... but it lacks the depth and color that are the hallmarks of good advertising, not to mention good photography. The photo on the right features that depth and color in spades. The difference is all about the sky behind the subject of the photo (the neon sign at the entrance to Decker's Kitchen in American Village, Okinawa). That sky was not part of the original photo. It was added later in Photoshop.
If you consider that cheating, try to see the situation from the standpoint of the proprietor, who is paying good coin for the add space, not to mention the photo. Does he care that the photo on the right is a technically a fraud? Should he? Of course not! He just wants the photo of his restaurant to be as beautiful as possible and he doesn't care how it is made. He also doesn't want to pay a photographer to sit around, possibly for days at a time hoping the clouds and the sun will give him what he wants. And that's precisely what a photographer who insists on the purity of producing all his work photos "in camera" would have to do. Unless the proprietor is willing to pay a hefty fee for the picture, the photographer might have to find other means to give him what he wants and expects - or someone else will.
Naturally, there are means of capturing awesome photos that don't involve stitching together unrelated shots in Photoshop. One such method in this case would be to wait for twilight to fall so that the sky behind the building would turn a deep lustrous blue, like in the photo below.
However, that is an imperfect solution, because, unlike the buildings in this photo, the tower, which is a key component of the photograph in question, is not illuminated and the delicate interplay between natural and artificial light would be absent. If the method is more important to you than the final result, then go ahead and be a purist. If the result matters above all else, then why would it matter if the photographer "cheats."
Lest you believe that cheating is easier, consider the time and skill that goes into making a composite that is as believable as the one above. It is not a matter of using the magic want tool to cut out the sky then slapping in another picture in it's place. For starters, it's about carefully extracting the areas of bland whiteness, searching though many potential photos of sky and clouds, choosing the best one and lining it up so that the horizon and perspective are correct. Next is adding layers upon layers of modifications involving tweaks to color, brightness, contrast, sharpness, hue, saturation and all kinds of parameters, each relating to different parts of the photo. All in all, there were about 12 layers, each making judicious use of clipping masks, blending modes, opacity settings, etc, etc. If you want to blend two pictures in a way that looks like it was done in camera, you've got to know a lot not only about Photoshop, but about the behavior of light and shadow and how we perceive color. It may not be photography in the purest sense, but it is artistry of the highest order.
But in the world of commerce, that doesn't matter either, does it. It's all about giving your customers what they want, and if that means "cheating" with Photoshop, so be it. If you don't think that delivering the best image possible to your client is at the core of what being a working photographer is all about, then maybe you'd better choose a different line of work.
Thanks for reading!
One of the things I love about photography is that there is always something you can learn. That's one reason I spend so much time reading blogs and watching Youtube videos. One video I watched recently was a presentation at B&H Photo by Jeff Cable, a great photographer and fantastic photography educator. In the video, he told the audience this:
"The camera sees both ways."
What does that mean? It means that the skills, attitude, enthusiasm and energy of the photographer has a massive impact on the quality of the photographs taken. Some people might argue that there's no connection between what the photographer is thinking and feeling and the end result, and I get it. If you're shooting landscapes or architecture and working alone, then skills, experience and technology are by far the bigger part of the equation. But if you're shooting people, it's another story. People feed off of the enthusiasm of the photographer. If you look and act like you'd rather be somewhere else, you'll never get he best out of your models, whether they're professionals or just guests at a wedding,
But that should be obvious, isn't it? Everybody knows that the way you interact with people affects their performance. I don't feel I need to argue that. The point I'd rather make is that as a photographer, your enthusiasm influences the way you work, how hard you work, how many setups you take, how far you're willing to walk to a difficult location, how fast you're willing to run to get there in time for the action and even how early you're willing to wake up.
If you want to capture beautiful images, whether you're a pro or just an enthusiast, you've got to go out of your way to capture the best images.. More importantly, you've got to be willing to try your best and still go home with nothing interesting. While I usually come back with something I like, some of my pictures are better than others and, indeed, there are times when I come back, review what I've shot and say "Yuck!" But if the location is promising, I'll go back. Maybe for sunrise, maybe for sunset, maybe in the middle of the night if that's the best time to get the shot I want.
So, to recap...no, the camera isn't alive and can't see what you're thinking or feeling, but the people around you can, and so can you, and that makes all the difference in your work.
Thanks for reading.
My simple blog about the art and science of photography.