Friday, November 13, 2009

The ethics of moving leaves

click photo to enlarge
One of my early blog posts briefly discussed the ethics of removing, adding or changing objects within photographs - the practice that has become known as "Photoshopping". This issue is something I've thought about quite a bit in recent years, usually when I've been looking at newspaper images or photographs that have been posted online.

Photographs have been manipulated in one way or another since the advent of the medium, and many take exception to criticism of the practice, asking what the difference is between increasing the contrast of an image and adding a more photogenic sky. I come to this question from the point of view of an amateur who creates photographs that show the world as I find it and as I create it. So, I think that if I'm photographing a landscape and there are telephone wires or parked cars in places I'd rather there weren't, then they stay. But, if I'm photographing a still life I will arrange everything just as I want it. The point where I become a little inconsistent is where I adjust tonality, contrast, saturation, etc. When I do that I've certainly changed how the camera captures the world. My defence is that there is a long tradition of doing this, and it is significantly less manipulative than removing or adding things.

Today's photograph was the prompt for that reflection. It shows large leaves from a London Plane tree on some steps by the River Thames. I selected this particular group because it made quite a good composition against the straight lines and shadows of the concrete. However, as I framed my shot the thought went through my head that I could move the leaves slightly, or find some more colourful examples, or turn over those that were upside down, and in so doing contrive a "better" image. But I didn't. That seemed like "Photoshopping by hand" and if I presented the photograph as an image based on a found circumstance, then it was deceitful. If I'd been photographing these for, say, a commercial advertisement I'd have no qualms about re-arranging the leaves because there is little expectation on the viewer's part that what is seen in an advert is real. But, photographing them with the purpose I had in mind it seemed wrong. I'm sure there are those who agree with me, and I'm equally sure that many think I'm both inconsistent and mad. What do you think?

photograph & text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Olympus E510
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 20mm (40mm/35mm equiv.)
F No: f6.3
Shutter Speed: 1/40
ISO: 200
Exposure Compensation: -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On