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What constitutes a photo manipulation?

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  • What constitutes a photo manipulation?


    I've been recently asked to moderate an online art community. One of the tasks I am dealing with is to define the difference between a photograph and a manipulation. Of course, obvious manipulation is easy to define, but what about subtle manipulation where it's not so easily detectable. Like combining two images to make one -- photo or manip? Look at this photo for an example:

    In fact look at all my photos in my gallery. Almost all of them have some amount of retouching done to them. Do they belong in the Photography section or the Photo manipulation section? How much retouching is too much retouching.

    I have my own opinions, but I'd like to hear others.

  • #2
    In my opinion it depends on the purpose of the manip and photography 'sections'.
    I think perhaps it would be better to have either subsection of the photography forum for retouched photos that arent manips - ie colour balance, retouching the model etc, perfecting things that didnt quite come out as you wanted in the picture but not major manipulation.

    If it were me I would want to keep the photography section purely for 'straight out of the camera' shots. A place to showcase your photography skills. The subsection would be more for 'concept photography' where you show the reworked picture as you wanted it to come out. Then have the photo manipulation section for more 'obvious manipulations'


    • #3
      We don't blink if a writer runs a first draft through their spell-checker, or gives it to a proofreader to look things over, or makes their own revisions for the purpose of clarity. No one complains if a sound engineer filters out static and background garble to make a recording more coherent. It's no different with images: the medium can serve to convey content, it can distort content and it can fabricate content. It all depends on the content that is being conveyed and its intended purpose.

      What is the intent of the photo? If a family picture has mom looking the wrong way or Aunt Nelly with her eyes closed, and you splice in a better head or face, I'd say that's a creative enhancement, not quite a captured moment of reality perhaps, but cetainly not a deception or distortion of the reality meant to be captured. On the other hand, if you splice in a hooker sitting on Uncle John's lap, and Uncle John didn't know anything about it, then you've got a ethics problem, and so will poor Uncle John. If you enhance contrast or make the colors cleaner, those moves serve to make the content clearer. On the other hand, if you, the photographer, are being judged on the quality of your shots right out of the camera, and you help things along with a curve or two, that's cheating. The fact that we CAN improve quality means that we will. We're still stuck with the responsibility to judge for ourselves whether or not, in the context of what we want the image to convey, we are illuminating our message or inventing it.


      • #4
        This weekend I took some pictures of my family with my mobile phone camera.
        After running them through noise ninja they're fine from my familys point of view. Just your standard snaps and not bad considering where they came from.

        In photoshop I could turn them into some amazing pictures, but if I posted them on a photography site then that would be deceptive.

        For those that care about the 'content' they're fine as they are. But in on a peer to peer level its not about the 'content' its about technique and skill, straight from the camera should be separated from retouched pictures but they shouldnt necessarily be lumped into photo manipulations.


        • #5
          I think this to be a highly subjective question, as Nancy suggested, by defining it in terms of your own use.

          Technically speaking, especially now that digital imaging is so prevalent, and the software used to acquire images from a camera (or scanner for that matter) manipulates the photo from the onset one could argue that all digital images are in a sense manipulations. Drawing a line between what one considers a photo and a manipulation would be hard to do on a large scale.

          On a not so technical scale, I personally am of the opinion that a manipulation involves some major change from the original. I think that basic adjustments, touching up areas that are original to a photo are not manipulations. But again I am sure that someone will say that anything done to an original image is a manipulation.

          I think for all practical purposes I would say that the example you gave would be best served by being in the Photography section as it is well done and as you described, it is the same hat from the same shoot.

          Just my opinion, I'm sure there will differing ones and I'm likely to agree in one way or another with mostly all of them
          Last edited by garazon; 11-09-2005, 01:02 PM.


          • #6
            Hi there, garazon. Welcome to RetouchPRO
            (nice contest entry too! )

            In the "old days" (which at the rate things are changing means 10 / 20 years ago) things were easier. Taking a parallel from sound processing (like edgework), we used to have an LP, a single, a tape or maybe even a new-fangled CD - but we always had a physical medium.
            Nowadays the content is separated from the medium. We have an .mp3 file, but it could be anywhere - on your drive, a CD, a DVD, an Ipod or flying over the internet. If you want to get philosophical, you could even say that you don't actually have anything - just pure information.

            Photography has gone the same way. It used to be easy to know what a photograph was, it would (usually) be a physical print made from a physical negative. Now, with digital camaras, there is absolutely no medium - only content. The end effect is that we have no way of telling the difference between the "original" and "manipulated" versions unless....a) the manipulation can be detected because it was badly done or, b) the manipulator owns up.

            In your case, I'd say that the best you could do is to say, "Post your manipulated images here and the straight-out-of-the-camera images there" and just hope that everyone is a honest as Nancy.


            • #7
              Oh! Here it comes again!!

              This type of discussion comes up every so often. So let me add the following:

              First of all how do you define "straight out of the camera"? A lot of the time folks kind of think that means like with film, images that have not been manipulated in PS or other types of progams like that. As one who spent over 30 years in film based photography before going digital, and who printed almost all of his own negatives, I manipulated my prints like crazy in all those darkrooms! I was always sticking my hands into that beam of light and dodging some area of the print or hitting the timer again and burning in something etc etc. In a strict meaning, croping a print is a manipulation. And what about shooting black and white? If thats not a manipulation of a scene what is?

              So with film, about the only way one can get a "straight out of the camera" image is by using slide film, and that only works if you do not use any kind of cross processing....

              So while I do believe that one should strive to get the best possiable image from the start, why does it matter? In the trip to a great final image, manipulation is but a step or two.


              • #8
                ....yes, agreed, what came straight-out-of-the-camara wasn't the print (except Polaroid, maybe).
                It would be the negative, but even that has to undergo some processing!

                I always find it rather amusing when we say that we are posting a "photo".
                As you say, the print is not actually the starting point in the process - and then it got scanned, quantized, pixelated, resized, and JPEG crunched to 100k.
                And after all that we call it the "original" image!


                • #9
                  I think the question is answered by the intent of the manipulation of the image.

                  Yes, putting an in-focus hat made your daughters pretty brown eyes show better but the level of manipulation was to do what the image was for in the first place; show the pretty eyes on the pretty girl.

                  Had this shot been for some other purpose -perhaps a forensics or photo-journalistic or even a scientific use then; the manipulation would have had to have been labeled.

                  Although we can't allow this question to destroy photography, The selection of the speed and stop is a manipulation in the strictest sense.


                  • #10
                    A good rule of thumb is to find out what major newspapers and news journals have as photo correction guidelines. In their case there can be severe penalties for crossing the line between correction and manipulation so newspapers and news journals have to have well defined criteria as to what constitutes a photo manipulation. Obviously it is a subjective questions and it does depend on your intent but this may be a good place to start.

                    In order to keep things simple you may just want to reduce it to global corrections vs. masks, screens, cloning... etc.


                    • #11
                      This is a good resource to get you started


                      You can click on the links to the left for more information.


                      • #12
                        where can one find access to the newspapers' photo correction guidelines? Do you just ask for them?


                        • #13
                          I just typed in :Newspaper photography guidelines" in Google and found a lot of information there. You could also try calling up your local paper and asking.


                          • #15
                            As moderator, you're not expected to be the manipulation police. If Uncle John tries to pass off that image with the hooker as a manipulation, it's not really your job to bar him from the forum.

                            All you really care about is that discussions are on topic. An image discussed from the point of vue of its photography goes in the photography forum; an image discussed from the point of vue of manipulation goes in the manipulation forum.


                            PS: Edgework, you forgot to post the photo with Uncle John .


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