Picture: High Tension Power Transmission Lines and Towers in the local hills, near Martinez, California
After taking time this year to move my office and catch up on a number of back-burner home & office projects, and the hell that was last year, I’m slowly starting to de-lurk and poke my head back in a few of the online photography forums.
While poking around, I came across a thread at FredMiranda that struck a chord with me. A photographer had this great bucolic scene of morning fog over a field with trees, hills, …and powerlines. He also posted another version where he had erased the offending poles and wires. The image obviously looked better without them, and viewers, including me, concurred that it was better, visually.
Yet this brought a point up to me, since for years I’d been sitting on a similar nice scene, but never thought it would make a good print because of the power lines. Morning fog over hills from Fremont Peak, near Hollister, California:
One problem kept this image from being “print-worthy”, namely the tower and power lines.
Now the newest version of PhotoShop CS5 has the Content-Aware Fill tool. And with a few waves of the proverbial magic wand, the tower and power lines vanish into the fog.
The FredMiranda thread made me re-examine my own ideas on what is OK or not. Is there a time when cloning out ‘offending objects’ is OK? The answer is “Of Course – when it’s Art.” PhotoJournalism offers the other easy answer; “Never.” But for us editorial photographers who also sell prints, the answer just doesn’t fly so easily. What about that one little powerline, or a big powerline, or a few blurred birds flying through an otherwise clear sky? What’s so bad about getting rid of that, right?
As a Landscape & Travel photographer, trying to show a scene for what it is, yet still show it at its best, I’ve developed my own two prong litmus guideline before removing anything from an image. The first is what I call the “Client Drive-By” test. If a client were to show up at the same scene, with a copy of a print that I sold them and held it up, would they instantly see an obvious disparity between the print and the view in front of them. If they suddenly see something “not right”, they’ll suddenly question any sense of authenticity and truthfulness about all of your work. That’s not a perception I want to risk my clients having about my work.
The second guide I follow is what I call the “Fingernail Test“. If you walked past a person on the beach, how quick would you be to notice they were missing a fingernail? Think of the area of your photo as akin to your body. If the area you want to clone out is akin to a fingernail out of the overall body, that’s one thing. But if it goes to the point of covering up or cutting off a hand, foot, arm, or leg, then that becomes a much different story, as one would be likely to immediately recognize such a deformity.
Fixed – but is it OK?
I would love to hear your thoughts. Where’s your line? Is there an OK point, or a line you won’t cross when it comes to removing distracting or unwanted elements in your photo? Is it a question you’ve wrestled with? If so, what answers have you come up with?