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When Do Your Photographic Edits Become a Lie?

When Do Your Photographic Edits Become a Lie?

Huge advancements in technology have changed the way we approach editing. But maybe before adjusting our photos, we should consider what harm it is doing.

Boldly Go Where No Photographers Have Gone Before

The world we live in today is not the same as the one I grew up in. We walk around with devices in our pockets that are far more advanced and a fraction of the size of the computers that put humans on the moon. The first cell phone designs were based on the communicators in Star Trek, and they are already far more sophisticated machines than those devices imagined in science fiction.

TV series such as Star Trek are, of course, just made-up tales and don't pretend to be anything different. That is unlike photographs that we expect to be rooted in reality.

Some in-camera techniques show an unreal view of the world.

However, the storylines were important. Star Trek episodes and the later films were often allegories, with the Enterprise's crew facing contemporary moral dilemmas. Alternatively, they were tackling cruel regimes and corrupt leaders. 

What Photographers can Learn from Politics and Business

Once, it would be assumed that our politicians were leaders that had integrity. When their honesty was found lacking, they were treated with universal contempt. But now we elect some who have no honor, and there is almost an expectation that they will be deficient in moral fiber. These corrupt politicians use the same tactics that tyrants have used throughout history during their climb to power. Intent on undermining democracy and the courts, they spread big lies and use intimidation, and even violence to get their way. Furthermore, they employ fear and hatred towards those who are different, garnering support from the weak-minded who are susceptible to bigotry. Yet, at the same time, they claim the moral high ground.

In business, it seems anything goes too. Some companies create fake online accounts to promote their products with positive reviews and disparage their competitors with negativity. You can easily spot those in the comments sections of reviews on photography sites; accounts are created purely to slate their competitors and compare them unfavorably with their brand. Of course, they are shooting themselves in the foot because the comments they make boost the readership of the article, thus helping their competitors; more people read the articles than the comments. What is more, they are less likely to have their own products featured on those sites because of their behavior.

The Camera Never Lies. Really?

But what about photography itself? If some of our leaders and big businesses can lie and deceive with impunity, then why shouldn’t we? Truthfulness in photographs is being watered down and the problem we face is where we draw the line. Not so long ago, it was clear cut, but now the gap between the scene and what the photographer saw is growing wider.

Nevertheless, the manipulation of photographs has been about for a long, long time. Photos were once composited in a dark room. Possibly the most famous is the composite photo of General Ulysses S. Grant whose head was added to someone else’s body, and the background scene was changed. It makes for a weird image with all their soldiers disrespectfully turning their back on their superior officer and an illustration of how faked photos can tell lies not intended by the editor.

Look closely at the image and you will see some strange effects including a ghostly horse.

Of course, the fact that lies can be told in images has led to a lot of ridiculous conspiracy theories that suggest photos and films have been faked. Although most levelheaded people see them as outlandish propositions, these conspiracies are designed to dupe the gullible and uneducated for nefarious reasons. Sadly, it works and ridiculously stupid ideas that were once considered laughable are believed to be true.

Yes, man did land on the moon, and the world is a globe not flat; those pictures shot by Buzz Aldrin are real despite what some would have you believe.

Sometimes, these conspiracies are fed by other nations with evil intent. Consequently, some countries’ schools are teaching children how to safeguard themselves against these treacherous lies. But how do we protect ourselves against photos that lie?

Differentiating Raw Developing and Photo Editing

During the 1980s and ‘90s, portraits in fashionable magazines were airbrushed to give models unrealistically smooth skin. The models looked like plastic. The processing was awful and it was easy to see that the photos were faked. Yet, people still bought the magazines because they sold a dream of perfection, albeit an unrealistic one. Then, Photoshop took over from the darkroom and that airbrushed look was simulated digitally. These days, it’s Instagram filters and other apps that remove blemishes at the click of a button.

Gradually, editing photos became more sophisticated and less obvious. The raw file was seen as the truthful version of a photo. During processing, there was a clear demarcation between developing and editing a photo. Competitions often allowed the former and not the latter, and editing images for use in the news was banned.

Those two distinct operations have become blurred as raw development tools allow edits. In a lot of cases, this is inane, such as removing sensor dust. However, these days, raw development enables changing entire subjects in ways that were previously only available in editing tools. The following edit was carried out using raw development tools.

With some programs, editing is carried out with layers over the raw file. Skies can be changed, faces smoothed, and powerlines removed quickly and easily. No longer does the misrepresentation of reality take skill and time to achieve. An absolute novice can buy a low-end app and completely change a dull and cluttered image into something more appealing. The results are oftentimes over-cooked. They don’t compare to the subtle developments of photographers skilled in developing and editing photos, so the lie is obvious. However, these apps are becoming better at editing photos using AI to achieve results.

The Democratization of Photo Editing

This is where I am torn. On one hand, I am all for making photography and editing easier for everyone and single-click edits have come a long way since the early Instagram filters. Why should great results be the sole right of a photographic elite? Sure, it will affect the income of the pros who make a living from selling pictures – that has already happened – but we professionals don’t have an inalienable right to earn money that way. But there is a dark side to it. This democratization of photography will inevitably end up with the same problem that we have with some of our leaders: dishonesty in the pursuit of personal gain. If someone can earn money by faking a photo, they shall do so.

It's Not a Black and White Argument

Even then, there are degrees of dishonesty. When one is creating an image purely as art, does it matter if the sky has been altered, or the position of an object in the frame has been changed? Except in a competition scenario where it breaks the rules, possibly not because it usually doesn’t hurt anyone. However, one could argue that it is using dishonesty to put one’s work ahead of another’s.

In the following photo, I removed two geese from the photograph because they overlapped and created a large, unsightly blob in the sky. Does it matter?

The header image at the start of this article is a composite of two images; the sky was shot a minute or so before the sea. If you think that such a composite is problematic, then how about the following picture?

That photograph was created entirely in-camera using the OM-1's Live Composite mode. It's a single camera raw file, but the camera took multiple exposures a second and added new light - the lightning - to the original frame. Thus, the overall exposure remains the same, but the flash of lightning appears in the shot.

To my mind, none of those examples matter because they don’t hurt anyone, and I am honest about how the photo was made. There’s no attempt to deliberately deceive.

Moreover, I believe it is okay to manipulate photos if the intention is good. Some time ago I shot a wedding and the bridesmaid had developed a pimple on her chin. I edited it out of the pictures. Nobody would remember it was there and editing it out would do more good than bad. The only person who noticed the edit was the bride. She thanked me for being so considerate. To me, there is a huge difference between doing that and creating airbrushed photos in magazines that have a proven detrimental effect on the self-esteem and mental health of, especially, young women.

Why Barry Manilow Demonstrates the Lack of Interest Anyone Has in You

Interestingly, contrary to what people believe about themselves, in everyday life, nobody is aware of things such as pimples on other people's faces, whereas the individual sporting the spot will be conscious of it. That is called the Spotlight Effect, where far fewer people notice us than we believe to be the case. The effect is greatly exaggerated when the individual is suffering from stress or depression.

In a famous experiment some years ago, a student was sent into a room of his peers wearing an embarrassing Barry Manilow T-shirt. The student was convinced that more than half of the people in the room had noticed it, whereas fewer than 25% had. In a second study, students chose to wear one of three non-embarrassing T-shirts picturing well-known faces: Bob Marley, Jerry Seinfeld, or Martin Luther King Jr. Once more, the students wearing the shirts thought that 50% of their peers would notice the shirt they wore. When quizzed after the event, fewer than one in ten had noticed who was on the shirt.

Are photos any different? Numerous experiments have shown that most people won’t recall accurately the contents of a photograph. Without scrolling up, how many horses were in the picture of General Grant? How many people were standing on the right of the frame? How many free-standing trees were in the shot? (When I ask questions like that in articles, there is always someone who claims they remember. Do you believe them? I've only ever met one person with a truly photographic memory.)

Automated filters make my portrait look faked. Perhaps there are limits to the what AI is capable of; some of us are beyond help!

I haven’t even mentioned images generated entirely by AI. Pictures produced using these algorithms are the ultimate lie, creating a false truth out of… I was going to say “thin air” but what is often created is based on stolen images. By using this tool, I have discovered that many of my photos have been stolen and stored in their database.

The Importance of Moral Integrity and Accurate Photos

The point of this article? Perhaps we should start thinking more about the moral integrity of our photography, and work for the greater good and not solely personal gain. When we edit photos, going beyond developing them in raw and removing sensor dust, when we cross that line where our image becomes a lie, when we make substantial changes that would otherwise mislead, we should be honest about it and include it in the images accompanying text. I try to do that, but have sometimes forgotten when I've uploaded an image to Instagram.

What do you think? If we don't attempt an accurate interpretation of reality in our photos, might we as well hand image production over to AI? Does misrepresenting the world with faked images help us fit in with the current moral vacuum that dominates public life? Or should we go in the opposite direction and not change pixels at all? I would be interested to hear your views.

Ivor Rackham's picture

Earning a living as a photographer, website developer, and writer and Based in the North East of England, much of Ivor's work is training others; helping people become better photographers. He has a special interest in supporting people with their mental well-being through photography. In 2023 he became a brand ambassador for the OM System

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I will remove telephone poles and lines. I'm not doing photojournalism, and those lines could just as easily be on the other side of the road instead of the side that puts them in my way. I also use live composite with the original e-m10. I tell the people who see the photos that it is an in camera composite. For my airshow photos, I often remove people. Not always. Sometimes they add to the feeling of the show experience. At other times, they take away from the subject (the plane).

I avoid most changes that are huge. I think I have replaced a sky once, and didn't feel good about it.

Who actually cares Ivor... If you love what you do you don't put things in boxes to separate them just to do it "right" ... Its all about learning and experiments.. Do you think that acoustic guitar player back in days ever loved electric guitar player with effect pedal?

Ppl just love to control others and rather than being creative they will criticise someone

I care! It depends on what you're trying to accomplish and what your work is supposed to mean to the viewer.

Some photography is represented as an observation of reality, and it's here that the amount of editing is important. As a street photographer, I'm trying to share my view of the world, as it is. If I dramatically alter that view after the fact, it would be dishonest and potentially make the work meaningless.

That said, I would not judge another photographer for having a different goal or ethic - so long as they're honest about the images.

I think that ppl who care about ethic so much should have photos in the gallery here. If you don't have anything on your plate, you can't criticise the chef Brendan... And you forgetting one big thing... By playing around with images in photoshop you are learning just like when you out with your camera... You learn to understand light, colors, depth and much more... I never cared what others had to say because I wanted to see and understand more than others.

That's a weird criticism - I can't have opinions about articles if I don't post to Fstoppers? Feel free to look up my Instagram.

I never made any reference to what you "learn", from photoshop or from photography. I never made any value judgement about editing at all. My point is simply that in certain genres of photography, transparency of process is an issue of honesty and what the work means to the viewer.

Why should ppl take you seriously when you have nothing to share with them except for your opinion Brendan? It is the same as coming to group of people and tell them your opinion without them even knowing you... Sure you could do it, but isn't that feeling a bit awkward to you?

Perhaps you're unfamiliar with the internet - the entire concept of a "comment section" is to share thoughts with people who don't know you.

Rational arguments and logic stand on their own; they don't require some strange identity approval to be valid. That said, you're not arguing in good faith and therefore I can't take you seriously - regardless of how many photos you may have uploaded to this particular platform.

For that simple reason people on social media such as FB and IG locking their profiles... Internet is to share thoughts... Not to share nonses by people who are not willing to make even the slightest afford to make sense to others... Everyone is critical to others, but knowledge is second to sell... If you don't want to share your work, I don't care about your thoughts Brendan.. Plenty of keyboard warriors out there.. For that reason we are here... Ppl care to much about thoughts of ppl like you.. I don't care

I'm looking forward to all the sunsets in the east and the sunrises in the north shots.
So much post-production is to compensate for poor work.

Only when someone asks me if my photo was enhanced, which is never. I'm not a photographer, I'm an Artographer. If I think I can improve an image I took, then I will do it! How about studio shooters that use lights, special reflectors and scrims and filters. I believe we are past Quote-" Legitimate Virgin Photography" in the mainstream. If legitimate virgin photography is what one wants to do, then they should do it.
The Real Reality here is that you know when you like the way an image appeals to you, Who cares, how, with what! Where do you think AI is going?

Well, I guess there is no general answer. Everybody has it's own limits.

For instance, I don't like too much when fake light is created with a brush in Photoshop (like orange spot with soft light where there was no such glow initially). Though, most of the time, I'm doing a bit of doge and burn to drive a bit the viewer where I want (I try to keep it minimal like a few +/- 0.1 of exposure). This is not so far from adding a spot of light somewhere but for me, this is a bit less fake and below the threshold. I think that the original light feeling should be preserved and adding an orange glow to a corner or side of an image is already too much, this is lying.

In the other hand, I also do astro where I blend milky way night shots with blue hour foregrounds. This is also lying because you will never see the scene with such a wide dynamic range. Though, in that particular case, I find that it is usually the only way to make for an epic image while in good light you might achieve it with less post-processing...

It depends, but I don't like lying too much when it's not really needed !

It's not lying to me, or the greater majority of viewers. It's only lying if you post that it's shot as is without any enhancements or compositing!

Edit as such can't be a lie, it's a tool used on a "product". The lie only comes out of how the result is presented/used.
Also we no longer live in a world of photography, it's a world of images now. And the description/caption is more important than ever.

Completely agree. Lies usually happen in the words presented with the image, or in the context in which an image is presented, not in the editing or in the content of the image itself.

Good article, Ivor.

In my opinion, any change to a photograph is a lie. That said, I am guilty of lying!

But haven't photographers been lying for years? Even dogging and burning in the darkroom is altering an image. Adjusting the negative development time to adjust the film density is altering an image. But, maybe these are acceptable compared to what we can do today.

I drove into a parking lot at a lake one morning and saw a gorgeous scene of a person fishing in a small boat on the right, with the shoreline in foreground and a tree on the left. The scene was beautifully illuminated with the warm morning glow. I parked and quickly retrieved my camera and ran into position to make the image. By the time I did this the boat had moved closer to the tree on the left. Even though I was disappointed, I still took the picture.

Later in the photo editing software, I moved the boat back to about where it was when I first saw the scene. I now had the image that I saw! But it's not the image I made.

So, maybe it a "White" lie!

When we compare painted pictures to photographic pictures there is, generally, a difference in expectation of the viewer. We don’t expect a painting to be realistic and accurate but we do with a photograph. Photos that have clear artistically intended warping of reality work fine because the viewer knows the photographer has interpreted the scene to make a statement. Enhancing colours and tones in a landscape photo relays more accurately the emotion than a flat, technically correct photo. So context matters. Photos of people are being enhanced at the point of capture by altering the light and angle of the face and so on. Deliberately suggesting that a photograph of a place or person is a record shot even though key elements have been removed is misleading and dishonest. It should be made clear that street furniture or whatever has been removed.

Again, I have to disagree, as I have said, it's only misleading or dishonest if the image is portrayed and presented in a way that it was captured without enhancements. If you shoot Raw and adjust in post, how and who decides what is an acceptable enhancement?

What if you bracket your images...

Edits are for exaggerating or doing something in the line of what you were experiencing or aiming for at that moment.
When you create something totally else it's fake imo (!).
For me the essence of photography is telling something by working with the given circumstances of that moment. That's the whole game and fun.
Slightly different but also about purity: also i want to have been there at that exact point with my own eyes (through blood sweat and tears or patience to get there). Therefor i've never felt attracted to done photography.

Remember, Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder!

Most artists create their best work only if they don't think about that beholder. And for me that's what the passion is about.

Disagree, You have to like your own work, but I also know that the general public has different perspectives on beauty.

"lie" ... to intentionally deceive or attempt to deceive

If we are using editing or any other method to use our photos to try to get someone to believe something that is not true, then we are lying.

But these days most people know that significant editing has been applied to most photos that are presented for public viewing, so it is not a lie to present such altered photos when the viewership already knows that the photo is not meant as a visual presentation of exactly what was really there at the time the photo was taken.

If I use Photoshop to make a buck deer's antlers bigger, and then send the photo to a fellow deer photographer and say, "look at the enormous buck that I photographed in Montana this fall!" that would be a lie.

If I do the same digital enlarging of the buck's antlers and present the image as a work of art or stock image, and do not say anything to lead anyone to believe that the antlers were really that big, then it is not a lie because it is not my intent to deceive anyone, and most viewers understand that these days any aspect of an image they see may have been digitally manipulated.

Whether a photo is a lie or not is actually a function of the photographer's intent, according to the correct definition of the word "lie".

Well Said!

This photo is one that I could easily lie with if I presented it in a given context, where circumstances of the photoshoot are assumed to be a certain way. In such a case, it would be my responsibility as the photographer to tell the viewer what the actual circumstance of the shoot was.

Anyone care to guess how this image could be a lie?

I'll guess it's a composite of two different images.

Nope. There is no "lie" in the editing. The deception, if any, comes from the way I set things up prior to capturing the image.

Paul Mark articulates this very nicely in his comment down below.

You sneaky bugger...haha

The bird is a very interesting and clever example for the subect of truth but not when the conversation is computer generated imagery. The pretty bird appears in a real photograph, captured with a camera. A credible photographer and publication will make it clear the animal was photograhed in an outdoor studio.

If it's for a client, what ever they want, I'll do.
If it's for me, anything in a RAW processor is fine by me. That's not much different than pushing or pulling film and printing techniques. I extremely rarely alter a file beside clean up. I'll fine tune my colors in photoshop at image level and reopen and adjust the RAW if I feel that a new tif can benefit from it when exported.

With the way Adobe has added so many new features to Raw you can do a lot more in post with Raw than a year or 2 ago, especially the masking.

A Lie? Why frame the question that way? Why not make it a view of the art form--about the who, what, when, why, etc.. Are parents liars when they talk about Santa Claus? Are chefs going beyond nutrition when they cook (edit) the raw ingredients?

Not all photos are journalistic; mostly today, it's Art--personal, social, contextual, and purpose-driven (evoking a mood, a feeling, a brand, or a paradigm).

I'm old enough to remember these integrity issues when digital use overtook film. And the "morality" of dodging and burning during the film image development before that.

And tomorrow... AI-driven tools. It'll still be about Art/Journalism, your "culinary" tools/taste, and a photographer's maturing relationship with the concept of Santa Claus.

Thank you for this article. Well written and a good read. I tend to agree with you, I took this landscape image in overcast day and literally had a thought in my mind should I replace the sky. Rather, I went with enhancing an overcast sky with more drama cause I just wanted to be somewhat true to the image I captured. Tend to refuse to switch skies or make large adjustments to make the image more appealing cause that just tells me the image I took wasn’t good enough. In this day with so many filters on Instagram and now the new iPhone 15 with focal lens, conversations like this won’t matter much anymore. Which it’s a shame in its own right. Good article. Thank you.

There is no rule that states photographs have to tell the truth, what ever that happens to be.
There are certain genres where the depiction of the events as they took place could be considered important as in documentary or wildlife photography. Otherwise it’s up to the individual photographer to decide how they wish to edit then present their image. Anyone who attempts to tell me what I should or should not do to my images can take a run and jump. There is no place in photography for the ‘truth police’.

If a photograph is made to document a situation/thing, then it should be true to its intent. But I think you're missing the point of photography as an art form. My intent for a photograph is to convey the reason for my shooting what I did, and to somehow inject the feelings I had into the image so, hopefully, the viewer will be able to feel what I did. That might be by dodging and burning or increasing the saturation, etc. My aim is to be anything but documentary, but rather to illicit a reaction in the viewer. I agree with you about representing something as truth that's not — that's reprehensible — but what you do to an image does depend on the intent. When I occasionally make a "documentary image", I move around to include certain elements within the frame (& keep others out); if I'm framing a garden scene, I will remove a candy bar wrapper under a flower (& yes, throw it away in the trash can); is that cheating? No, so why couldn't I remove it in processing. It all comes down to intent.

Totally agree with you. Very well articulated.

Yep! Do we poo poo Ansel Adams because he spent hours in the dark room perfecting his shots? No. But this line from Lynn rings true, at least to me: "If a photograph is made to document a situation/thing, then it should be true to its intent." Beyond this sort of photography, it's up to the shooter to decide the final image. My limit is compositing; adding a bird or adding a Moon, or changing the sky. I don't do it, but I don't condemn other photographers if they do it, but it's my limit.

That is unlike photographs that we expect to be rooted in reality.

Why? Anyone who expects photographs to be rooted in reality is delusional at best, autocratic at worst.

I am an artist, nor a documentarian. You think I am lying? Go %{+* yourself.

Sorry to be so harsh, but you called my entire photoclub liars.

If a photograph is for the purpose of Documentation, then altering it in any way for the purpose of deception is certainly a lie, and completely unethical.

If the photo is for pictorial decor display as a form of Artwork, the photographer has the same artistic license as a painter, sculptor, etc. to produce the image in any way they choose.

Of course, if in a Photo Contest entry, deception in departure from the Contest rules would be unethical as well.

I think my favorite edit is a giant moon rising......in front of the clouds. This usually gets oohs and aahs comments. I usually make a remark along the lines of "If you see the moon in front of the clouds, enjoy your last seconds of life."

The deception in a photograph isn't solely confined to the alterations made during the editing process, such as object removal or color adjustments. It extends to elements like composition, artificial lighting, and the attempts to conceal imperfections. Many of the photos we capture unintentionally contain certain distortions, but as photographers we are not conscious, we've grown accustomed to them. Some of these distortions are acceptable to viewers because they anticipate that we've manipulated the image in certain ways, making them ethically permissible. It's when we present a photo to the audience as entirely authentic and untouched, without any editing or enhancement, that these distortions cross into unethical territory.

Thank you for a nice article, again.
As you mentioned in your article , I think it depends on the type of photography and it’s purpose.
In my landscape photography I have no problem removing intruding branches from the side of the frame or removing a plastic bag (if I couldn’t remove it at the scene) in post, using colour balance, applying the orton effect etc. When compositing , I think you have to be honest about it. I made an image of my former home town of Zierikzee where I used two different parts of the town and made a more pleasing scene than it is in real live, I always state that in the description. I think it’s a pleasing image, but people not familiar with Zierikzee should know that it isn’t real. I always compare landscape photography to painting, it’s the artist’s interpretation of a scene.
I think manipulation in news photography is immoral.

Its time for new terminology. Let's stop calling computer images photographs.
Real photographs are an endangered species.
Want to impress ? Shoot a great photo on Kodachrome.

Rex Larson wrote:

"Its time for new terminology. Let's stop calling computer images photographs."

You bring up a great point. Terminology and semantics are so extremely important, in all walks of life. Using words that are entirely and literally accurate when referring to things is of the utmost importance. When one sits at a computer and edits a photo, they are not doing photography. They are doing digital art. Most of the images we see today are a combination of photography and digital art.

And what do we call photos that are edited in the dark room , what do we call Ansel Adam’s photos?

That is a great question. Those images are not pure photography. They are a combination of photography and something else. At the moment I just can't think of the best term for what that something else is.

Don't you think that if someone wants to shoot either analog or digital, then they should get on with it and let others do what they want?

A couple of the best photographers I know shoot with film and on silver plate, as well as digital. I have a collection of film cameras and happily use them. I also have all my darkroom gear, though I rarely get a chance to use it.

I don't think what you call a photograph matters, so long as you enjoy shooting it and you like the results you get. If someone else likes it, it's a bonus. Whether the photons are collected by electronic photosites or grains of silver salts, I don't think it matters. Similarly, if an image is developed in a dark room, or double-exposed in-camera, or under an enlarger, or created digitally, it doesn't matter. Or if it's dodged and burned using darkroom techniques, or with Photoshop, I really have no issues with it.

I remember when color film, especially Kodachrome, was looked down on by black and white purists.

For me the question is when does a photograph stop being a photograph and becomes digital art? Not trying to start a what is art, etc argument, just my opinion is that once photographs start being manipulated ie - adding things, removing things, adding light, filters etc.. in my simple opinion it is no longer a photo. Now I am in my 60's and come from a photojournalism background, so the manipulation of images has always been first and foremost a no-no. Yes, I have heard that cropping an image is manipulation, and again, not wanting to start a war...LOL... I was entered into a photo show and one of the categories was landscape. The winning image was a "photo" of a bridge leading into the clouds. When I asked the photographer where they took the photo, they told me it was a composite of a couple of images... How is that landscape? Again, in my opinion if I take a landscape photo, I should be able to take you to the spot. I am not sure there is any right or wrong regarding this issue outside of photojournalism... just a chance to throw my opinion in the ring. Thank you...

The truth is that it is not a binary thing. Being a photo and being digital art are not mutually exclusive. Most images these days are a combination of photography and digital art, even though many people don't think of it that way.

Ivor Rackham asked,

"What do you think? If we don't attempt an accurate interpretation of reality in our photos, might we as well hand image production over to AI?"

Not necessarily ..... at least not with AI systems working the way they do now.

If creating photograph-based images as works of art, there can be more satisfaction if we create all of the base images ourselves. So AI would be great if we could feed our own images into the AI engine that we use, and then specify that the software only use our images to generate the AI image. I would really enjoy that, as the final result would be comprised entirely of pixels and groups of pixels that originated with my efforts with camera in hand.

Generating an AI image that uses photos taken by other people to create a final image should feel shallow and fake to creatives with artistic integrity. But using AI to generate a final image that uses only one's own images as source material could be deeply satisfying.

The mere act of composition is an "edit" of reality.

How we frame a scene determines what is included in the photo and what is excluded from the photo. Leaving key elements of a scene just outside the frame can, in and of itself, present a distorted view of what the scene actually was like at the time the shutter was actuated. The instant we choose to actuate the shutter can hide what happened just before or just after the image was captured. Framing and timing can conspire to mislead the viewer about what was actually happening around the photographer and the camera.

As such, even a Polaroid can tell an intentional lie.

I've never seen a single photograph that made me think I was looking at an actual scene in the present moment. I've always been aware that I was looking at a photographic representation of a scene from somewhere else and/or from a time in the past.

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