Would you clone out a few unwanted objects in your landscape photos? Is it OK, and are there times when you shouldn’t alter your photos?
Photo: (Above) Morning mist in the Alhambra Valley, Contra Costa County, California Purchase Prints or License Usage.
Photography is an art form, and in ART, all things are fair game. But photography can also be a truthful editorial representation of a scene, especially when it comes to landscape, travel, or nature photos. To set the spectrum, not many people will think twice using a clone tool to get rid of a stray hair or freckle from a model, but in photojournalism, even that minute fix crosses an ethical line in the sand. I know photo editors who will say you that for some wildlife publications, you shouldn’t even clone out a distracting twig. While many of us might not think such strict ethical guidelines are required, I’m curious where you might put that shifting gray line in the sand.
I recently captured this wonderful misty morning sunrise shot in the Alhambra Valley not too far from where I live. When I got all the images uploaded into Lightroom and previewed at 100%, I noticed a few details that I didn’t see when I was taking the photo. Had I noticed these few undesired elements while in the field, I can safely say it wouldn’t have stopped me from taking the photo, especially since it wasn’t really possible to recompose the shot.
The first most obvious element is this lone ‘flag-like’ object in the near-mid-ground. My guess is that it might be a bird box. The other objects in the background aren’t as visible but are much more permanent physical structures, namely high-tension electrical towers.
For myself, thinking for a fine art print of this image, it seems like it should be a no-brainer: Get rid of the ugly stuff.
But what happens when someone sees your image — of whatever it may be — and wants to get their own version. Arriving at the location they suddenly notice a large structure that didn’t exist in your image, i.e., power poles, smokestacks, a house, etc.. Is there an internal or ethical price or penalty we pay when we choose to erase things out of a photo when we’re trying to present that something as the way it really looked?
For myself, I think my editorial background seems to dictate that the electrical towers will have to stay. They are fairly discrete thanks to the mist partially obscuring them. However, I wrestle a bit more with the tiny but highly visible bird box. It’s not such a permanent item and it could easily be cloned out. In my workshops, I often talk about visual weights within images, even for very small objects. This little black square has a pretty strong visual weight. It definitely catches one’s eye and forces one to visually stop there for a moment. That could be a good or bad thing, but I’m still not sure which. I’d love to hear your opinion.
What you would do if this was your shot; would you choose to clone out all, some, or none of these objects, and why?
Thanks in advance for sharing any thoughts with me in private or through the comment box below.
– Gary. 🙂
Gary Crabbe is an award-winning commercial and editorial outdoor travel photographer and author based out of the San Francisco Bay Area, California. He has seven published books on California to his credit, including “Photographing California; v1-North”, which won the prestigious 2013 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Gold Medal award as Best Regional title. His client and publication credits include the National Geographic Society, the New York Times, Forbes Magazine, TIME, The North Face, Subaru, L.L. Bean, Victoria’s Secret, Sunset Magazine, The Nature Conservancy, and many more. Gary is also a photography instructor and consultant, offering both public and private photo workshops. He also works occasionally a professional freelance Photo Editor.
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