So the point and the question that I'll be looking at in this post (and would love to hear your own opinions in the comment section) is - how much is too much and where would you personally draw the line in editing?
Removing Objects and Distorting the Scene
My personal views, when it comes to landscape photography, is that you should make an image as beautiful as you can without changing the physical/constant landscape. This obviously involves some grey area but I'll clarify what exactly I mean by this.
A few examples of what I would remove/distort:
- Shooting panoramas you will often find more things going wrong in terms of matter that you didn't want to include but had to due to the extremely wide field-of-view. For example when photographing at Ralph's cupboard recently, I was with two other photographers, who were standing on the same cliff edge as me. This meant that in the final stitch, I had a camera bag on the floor to the left, a photographer on the right and my own tripod leg in the very central foreground. All of these, I removed in post. However, there were some cows, which due to the long exposure were blurred and I felt (even though they were very small in the frame) that they ruined the image, however I couldn't remove these as they were part of the constant landscape.
- Accidentally leaving a flash in the foreground of a panorama I shot at Kynance Cove, was a rookie mistake and due to me rushing, I didn't notice until post. However I was willing to remove this.
- The previous post I made on my blog was about stitching and blending my vertical panorama of Bassett's Cove. In this I posted a video of the blend and you will quite easily notice that I had to distort the scene to match the two exposures. Some may say that I have changed the scene and it wouldn't be identical to the real-life scene. However I would say that this is perfectly acceptable; I haven't changed the scene i.e. made the cliff taller, introduced a new sky or something along those lines.
- Finally, it can be hard to avoid flare in sunset/sunrise shoots and so you may need to copy and blend another piece of land over the top of the part with the flare. For the purpose of removing flare, I would say that it is fine; if you were purely doing it because you didn't like how a flower was dying and would prefer to have a living one in the foreground, then I would say that this is too far.
I mentioned the 'constant' landscape in the introduction to this section and what I mean by that term is, you can remove objects such as a flash which you forgot you left in the foreground, or a tripod leg which got in the way because of shooting such a wide-angle. But you shouldn't remove anything which you haven't introduced to the scene. An example of this - in my image of Bassett's Cove, there is a rusty, white fridge in the gulley down the right hand side of the image. I wouldn't remove this as then I have changed how it would look to someone would see it through there own eyes if they were there (even though I doubt anyone would be that eagle eyed, or even care enough to spot the fridge and realise that it wasn't in my image!).
Colour and HDR
For photographers; colour, lighting, time of day etc, are often the most important factor for their images. I would say by all means enhance colour until it looks like your screen is broken, I mean my images are probably brighter than most would make theirs. Bright foregrounds and colourful skies are something I love, but they can be over done and I often find myself sliding the opacity of layers back a bit before saving the final image.
When talking about oversaturating, I can't help but bring up HDR photography and how its purpose is to capture a greater dynamic range (it's in the name, High Dynamic Range), which will help obtain accurate highlights, shadows and midtones - not make your image look like the most detailed and colourful scene possible. This is the reason I choose to create HDR images by blending with brushes and gradients and picking the parts I want to compliment the scene; instead of stacking the exposures and playing with the sliders. A lot, if not the vast majority of photographers use the latter technique and produce images far better than my own, but I find that I can't use that technique to my own benefit and have become accustomed to my own style of edit, which I can only recreate using the way described before.
I draw the line of 'too far' at changing colours. If you have a blue plant on green grass but would rather have a purple one and so you grab the colour picker and slide the hue from blue to purple, then I would say you have changed the scene too much to call it a true landscape.
Blending Different Moments of Time
An argument that those against a 'heavy edit' would say, is that copying a sky from a different shoot is just as bad as waiting for the sun to go down, photographing the sky and then stitching the two in post. Personally I believe that this is fine. On many occasions I photograph the foreground whilst the sun is still visible and then the sky gets much more colourful about 5 minutes after. I have no problem with blending 'moments of time' in this way. The justification for this comes in the form of how I remember the scene whilst I was shooting. When we look back at memories, we tend to exaggerate what we liked and remove the bad aspects. I wouldn't remember the foreground looking really warm and the sky looking okay - I would remember the sky at it's best moment and the same for the foreground. So I guess, my landscape photography can be classed as more artistic than documentary.
Changing subject matter from landscapes to wildlife and my views change slightly. I would still never add anything to an image without having to then call it a composite, but I am more lenient toward removing unwanted matter. I actually can't find an example on my website but I know for a fact that I have done it; imagine a very plain scene - green background, single stick as a perch and a robin-sized bird sat atop - but there is about an inch of stick coming in from the right (where the bird happens to be looking) and cropping it out would throw the balance of the image, well then I would remove the stick. I don't make a habit of removing objects unless they are really distracting, because as I said before there are no example of this currently on my website.
Where else does it matter?
I have just talked about landscape and wildlife as they are what I know about and spend all my time photographing, however they are not the only forms of photography that I would apply these 'rules' to. Anything documentary based; news publishing and sports pop to mind - I would apply the 'rules' to. More 'arty' photography (for lack of a better term), for example, portraits and advertising, I would say is far, if not infinitely different, in that you can distort reality to whatever crazy thought comes into your head.
That's the end of this post, I could have gone into more detail but hopefully you now understand my viewpoint (which I would say is a lot more lenient toward a heavy edit than most photographers would be). This topic hasn't come completely out of the blue; I have an assignment to do over the next few months, of which I have complete control over. My current train of thought is looking at the change in landscape photography in the past 100 years or so. The series would include technological change, different eras of art and different styles of photographers at the time and would involve me replicating these styles in a portfolio. At the moment, this is just one idea of a few and so I'll be checking how feasible it is and whether or not the results will be worth the time spent completing. But I'll have another post to make soon and so I'll try and talk again about what's coming up!