Defining image manipulation

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Defining image manipulation

Postby PhilC » Sun Jun 03, 2018 12:45 pm

The question is how do we define image manipulation? There does seem to be some agreement recently as to the different levels of what we might do to an image capture. What Ken and Tony have described is editing or retouching, but the term digital manipulation goes one step further. On this topic many sites more or less conclude that there are three ‘levels’ distinguishing editing, retouching and manipulation. I’ve culled this from the Open Look graphic design team…

Photo Editing: of course every RAW file must be edited such as adjustments in Lightroom or Affinity, including cropping, correcting white balance, minor sharpening, exposure adjustments. But this is not manipulation.

Photo retouching: goes a step further – eliminating wrinkles and spots in complexion in portraits, removing unwanted small elements in landscapes, but not adding spots or a buildings to a landscape. Usually this is by cloning small sections and layering. Personally I would include focus stacking and HDR stacks in this category.

Photo manipulation: is where significant changes are made to the original file rather than improving the photograph. Examples may be adding a bird to an empty sky, adding a lighthouse to an empty coastline, changing the background from studio to outdoors, etc.

The latter category is where the controversy lies, because this is where freedom meets responsibility. There has been a changing awareness amongst picture agencies as well as the press, and some photographers presenting at Beacon have allude to the ethics of manipulated imagery. I believe they feel that it is anarchic if all images can be accused of being fake.

Personally I will not accept manipulation if it is dishonest with the viewer – this does not preclude many composites which are obviously impossible. Indeed, many composites can be seen as fundamentally surrealist in outlook.

Glyn Dewis (photographer/educator/author) has a page/blog on this topic at https://www.glyndewis.com/image-enhance ... -thoughts/ and there is another piece at http://www.shariblog.com/2016/02/the-di ... ipulation/ .

We all have our own interpretations – the term Impact can have different meanings, as Bob Train so ably demonstrated at the Awards evening, and John Miskelly showed with his admirable and well received presentation last October.

Do we stand at a similar place?
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Re: Defining image manipulation

Postby LinM » Sun Jun 03, 2018 7:11 pm

Well, I am not sure it matters a great deal. We choose what to point the camera at, what lens and therefore the field of view. FF v crop. So many factors. All competitions are clear about what can and cannot be done. Image taker or image maker? It’s a personal choice. I can understand landscape photographers being polarised ( :mrgreen: ) on this issue.

I can see the ethical reasons for picture agencies choosing to insist on various criteria; I can’t recall the exact detail but an image from the Middle East was published which had been manipulated by the photographer which could have triggered conflict of some sort.

And then of course, there are stuffed anteaters! :D
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Re: Defining image manipulation

Postby richardw » Mon Jun 04, 2018 1:45 pm

Here we go again.
The what do we think is right what we should and should not do does it really matter?

I like to look at a pleasing image I don't care how it is constructed.

If we look back before digital images people were manipulating images in the dark room.
The true reality is the camera cannot see the same way our eye perceives an image. So does this mean we should just use a 44mm lens as otherwise we are distorting people's perspective of an image I believe this is the rough focal length that the human eye perceives.
So no more infrared no more polariser's no more 10 stopper's
No more film as they weren't correct colour balance either.

I can understand news agencies not wanting manipulated images because of the truth factor. But how often is the news we read and see the actual truth not a certain perspective of it.

Even competition rules have become a joke no manipulation of an image what does a 10 stop filter do other than manipulate the image the image isn't what the eye captures so how can it be truthful.

:wink: About time we took up painting an artist doesn't lie with his paint brush or does he :lol: that's one for another day.

Photography is an Art form and rules really should be chucked out the window as long as the photographer has taken the images how he or she chooses to portray them is their own personal choice. I am totally fed up with judges :roll: it's one person's point of view. Rules are very much the same it just depends how you decide to perceive them.
Last edited by richardw on Tue Jun 05, 2018 12:41 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Defining image manipulation

Postby TonyMac » Mon Jun 04, 2018 9:19 pm

Just as a matter of interest if Photo manipulation is the adding and taking away of elements to an image.
In last years charlie Williams competition there would appear to be no advantage to entering composite or for this definition
Digitally manipulated images against straight images I entered 5 of each, my straight shots returned four first places
While my digitally manipulated shots returned 2 first places. Overall there were 6 digitally manipulated images with first places and 5 straight images with first places,
I know this seems odd as there were only 10 themes but the first one buildings had a joint first place . So it’s the final image that matters not whether it is a composite or straight . So there is no need to produce composite images to do well, straight shots stand just as much chance.
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Re: Defining image manipulation

Postby beats » Tue Jun 05, 2018 5:20 pm

When I manipulate images, whether minor exposure correction or blemish removal, through to full-blown compositing of multiple images, my specific goal is to deceive the viewer! If I can make them believe the image they see was captured in-camera (or not give it any thought at all), then that's a fantastically successful outcome in my view.

So no - we stand in *very* different places. But I can still hear you from all the way over there... :D
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Re: Defining image manipulation

Postby PhilC » Thu Jun 07, 2018 4:48 pm

I am listening !

The reason I raised this topic is two-fold and not just about aesthetics vs ethics, and really about competition success or failure.

Firstly is terminology – we ALL retouch/edit images, mainly from RAW files, be it lens choice, framing, improving the initial file in the same way photographers of all ages have improved negatives (deliberate under exposure followed by over development or vice versa to adjust contrast, printing on different grades of paper, dodging and burning). But this is NOT manipulation, which involves bringing into the image different skies, new buildings, different hair styles not present at time of capture.

Secondly, many organisations including photographic competitions and salons have distanced themselves from this type of manipulation in landscape, wildlife and portraiture fields. Several speakers alluded to this during last year’s programme. It is suggested that reasons are ethical.

For me, most composites are not a problem and can be applauded because viewers of images since Lewis Carroll’s fairies are likely to appreciate when images are significantly manipulated – virtually anything surreal from nymphs in apples to ships in the desert. Where there is dishonesty between photographer and audience is where there is difficulty.
If photography is an Art form there should be respect for conventions (even if it is disrespect), otherwise how do we define Art whether visual or performance.

We have an enormous freedom in what we are able to do. Once a test has been passed we have the freedom to drive on public roads across the world, but we have the responsibility to others to drive safely, usually on the left side of the carriageway.

If I can play devil's advocate, surely it is reasonable to understand the boundaries between retouching and manipulation, and legitimate for a large club of adept image makers at the Beacon to consider wider matters, or are we to continue the more anarchic ‘anything goes’ as the typical local club, of course without dissuading members from undertaking complex and inspiring work?
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Re: Defining image manipulation

Postby rogerb » Thu Jun 07, 2018 8:12 pm

And given what can be done in camera on some cameras, the distinction between what comes out of the camera and post-processing is not very meaningful either. I have one camera that can do double exposures and other things, so I could truthfully present it as straight out of the camera!

As someone has said, it is about honesty. If I present a photo as a record of what happened, and a person is taken out, that is dishonesty, so that sort of manipulation is wrong in photojournalism. But in art, we can do what we like, so long as we don't pretend we are not doing it.

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Re: Defining image manipulation

Postby beats » Fri Jun 08, 2018 9:32 pm

PhilC wrote:The reason I raised this topic is two-fold and not just about aesthetics vs ethics, and really about competition success or failure.

Interesting. Competition success or failure in what way? Typically, judges peculiarities notwithstanding, better images place higher than lesser ones. Providing the rules are adhered to, it's all about the image presented. The capture or creation methods and their difficulty are frankly irrelevant. Are you alluding to something else perhaps? Like relatively straight shots appearing to fare less well in comps than heavily manipulated ones? I don't think that really happens (as Tony Mac illustrated) but assuming it is your underlying concern...

If I can play devil's advocate, surely it is reasonable to understand the boundaries between retouching and manipulation, and legitimate for a large club of adept image makers at the Beacon to consider wider matters, or are we to continue the more anarchic ‘anything goes’ as the typical local club, of course without dissuading members from undertaking complex and inspiring work?

I don't think there are "boundaries" as you call them - it's a continuum with nowhere to draw clear lines anyway. So it's "anything goes" for me, providing the rules are adhered to, and that's not anarchic either. Quite the contrary, in fact. I think it provides a rich, creative and (most importantly) varied environment that lets all of us see different approaches in action, learn new skills and even be inspired to strike out in new directions ourselves. Individuals will differ in what interests or inspires them of course, so better a wider gamut of possibilities for our varied membership to choose from. If you want to use a subset of the methods available to make your images, you're perfectly free to do so and I fully understand the satisfaction in that. But if those constraints mean your final image isn't quite as polished as one that used heavier manipulation (for instance), and hence doesn't place as well in a comp, then you need to strive harder to get even better with your chosen approach. That's a positive thing in my book.

Imagine your (even greater) satisfaction and encouragement when your relatively straight shot beats a field dominated by heavily manipulated composites. Surely a goal to aspire to and one that can only help you to improve your photography further, and faster, in the direction *you* choose to take. Others will strike out in different directions, but a love of creating images with cameras at the heart of the process remains the common thread that unites us as a club.

Or have I misunderstood where you're coming from - again?
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Re: Defining image manipulation

Postby IanT » Sat Jun 09, 2018 9:47 am

WIth no insult intended toward any of the contributori, this is a largely vacuuous debate. I offer a few 'Iffy' bullet points which - whilst penned by me - I trust will be seen as common sense rather than opinions:

    - If there is any expectation of truth, don't lie. Simples.
    - If it's art, do what you want.
    - If you like what you see, compliment the artist and enjoy it without dissecting it.
    - If you don't like it, shut up and don't look at it.
    - If you think that image manipulation is heresy, stay away from it and don't moan about it.
    - If you want to win competitions, have regard to the rules and present good,
    impactful (which doesn't always mean 'in yer face'), story-telling images howsoever produced.
    - If by any method you can't produce images that other people like to look at, you won't win competitions.
    - If you don't stick to a competition's rules, you can expect to be disqualified, derided and pilloried publicly.
and off the competition theme...

    - If you like what you do and others don't, carry on regardless.
    - If you don't like what others do, keep it to yourself.
Dissecting and discussing a composite image can be fun and helps the learning process. It is not, however, 'fun' for anyone if you denigrate what you discover/assess/assume to have been done, regardless of the 'worth' of the image. It is an insult to an artist to proclaim to him/her in a loud voice from a self-constructed pillar of pseudo-wisdom that "an un-manipulated image is better than one which has been manipulated" - absolute poppycock, balderderdash, tosh, baloney, hogwash and overall foolishness.

Producing a manipulated image is great fun and very liberating - if you can do it. It has to be done well, of course, to receive general acclaim, or perhaps to win a competition. It is my experience from many, many judging sessions around the club circuit that the most vociferous opponents of such techniques are those who find or have found it difficult or are unable to produce satisfactory output in the genre. In a wet attempt to justify their position as moral rather than weak, they adopt a folded-arms stance with concurrent loud declarations of fakery and falsehood. I find it ever-so-slightly humorous to view their fish-eye or 'intentional camera movement' images which are lauded by them as out-of-camera and thereby 'honest'. Fortunately, such Philistines are relatively few on the ground and thankfully are never likely to dominate.

Trying to ethicise art is likely to be a long-term project. You have 5 billion years-or-so before the earth is vapourised, so get a wriggle on, I suggest.

Finally, the mantra should be "Do your own thing and leave me to do mine".
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Re: Defining image manipulation

Postby LinM » Sun Jun 10, 2018 9:32 am

PhilC wrote:, or are we to continue the more anarchic ‘anything goes’ as the typical local club,?


It's not anarchic, it's freedom' it's amazing, a place to reach towards your potential, to find your style and to delight yourself and, if you are lucky, others.

Beacon is not the typical local club with 20-30 members. Having been only to two others in recent times, it is very far from that.
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Re: Defining image manipulation

Postby richardw » Sun Jun 17, 2018 11:43 am

If there are rules in a competition stick to them if not do what pleases you. That is the simple answer to this whole debate. Remember everyone is different so everyone's likes and dislikes are different. When you accept that simple idea this whole argument becomes redundant.
:wink: You then can spend more time snapping photographs rather than moaning about them :D
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