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Where Do You Draw the Line on Image Alteration?

This article from Digital Photography School raises a great question: Where do you draw the line on image alteration? There are many gray areas that surround this debate, and it seems fairly subjective for each photographer. Some photographers go crazy with overdone HDR processing (something that personally makes me cringe, but that's a topic for another discussion). Some photographers enhance color saturation. Some photographers crop or clone out distracting details. Obviously, photojournalists are quite different from landscape photographers, and are held to a specific code of ethics that may not apply to the rest of us. A photojournalist who digitally manipulates a photo of a scene can create an entirely different view of an event they're covering. Some interesting examples and discussion are available here.
Cathedral of the Assumption - Louisville, KY (HDR version)

While I have occasionally done some overdone HDR for a specific purpose, it's rare that I do that. However, one edit that I do frequently do is cloning out power lines. I find them horribly distracting and in my opinion, they often ruin what would otherwise be a good photo. I've been known to spend hours editing them out of a photo (something a friend of mine teases me about frequently). In an odd sort of way, I find that kind of detailed editing strangely relaxing.

St. Therese Church (with power lines)
St. Therese Church (power lines removed during post-processing)

When I take a photo, I attempt to get as much correct in-camera as possible, rather than relying on post-processing to correct things afterwards. I believe this has made me a better photographer overall. It's taught me better composition, better use of light, how to look for distractions in a scene (light poles "growing" out of a subject's head as an example). It's taught me that what may be an ok photo, may be an awesome photo if I just take a step or two in a different direction and re-compose the shot. I certainly don't feel that there's any shame in post-processing - I just prefer to not rely on it 100% of the time.

I don't think there's a right or wrong answer to the debate. If highly-processed photos are what you're going for, great. Edit away and enjoy your end result. If you're a purist and choose to forego any post-processing, that's great too. Either way, if you achieve the end result you desire with your photos, that's the entire point. It's what makes art so interesting. Each artist (and each viewer) is different and has different likes and dislikes.

However, if a manipulated photo is used in a situation that strictly forbids any alterations (a photo contest or a news article, as a couple examples), and the photographer lies about any manipulation, then that's an entirely different matter.

How do you feel about it? I'd love to hear your comments.


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