1 year, 9 months ago 21
Posted in: Uncategorized




How do you feel about gardening?  No, not planting tomatoes or herbs in your garden, but arranging items in a composition.  We think nothing of asking people in a group shot to arrange themselves so everyone can be seen, or removing a soda can in a scenic. So why do we get the heebee jeebies when someone places a leaf somewhere, as in the image above?  I’ve spent the last ten days walking around with my eyes pointed down at the ground, it’s fall leaf season, and I love to photograph them where they land, and sometimes where I wish they had landed!!


I subscribe to the time tested axiom, “Do no harm to make a photograph.”  I would not pull up a living plant or remove a branch just make a better composition, but I would, and do, cleanup small distractions in a close-up image.  If a small twig or bright leaf is in a composition, and it will be distracting, I simply lift it out.  Some would argue that nature is special enough without our help, and this true, but I point out all the time, in image reviews, that a little content aware would clean up a shot, so why not just pick the stick up, or add a leaf?


I’m not sure there really is a good answer for this, maybe you would like to take a shot at it!  I just know it doesn’t bother me to do little gardening, if it bothers you maybe you should not do it, but is it fair to criticize someone that does, it’s a good healthy debate that, unlike politics, we can have and it won’t end in violence!  Sound off if you would like in the comments section below!!




the pilgrim


Now, about this shot above;  We had a attendee that was unable to walk very far to make an image.  They used walking canes and they expressed they loved the birch logs with colorful leaves, so we added a couple that had fallen close by, so she could get the shot.  If that was wrong I plead guilty, but it sure made her happy and allowed her a chance at the great image she had been dreaming of.  For me it was worth moving a leaf or two.  Your thoughts are welcome!

21 Responses

  1. Scotty B says:

    Good points, Bill. As a photographer, we’re making art, and your small act to help out a fellow photographer was indeed a blessing to that person.
    While I agree wholeheartedly that news photographers – or those intentionally recording “history” (ie war photographers; capturing the results of a hurricane) should not alter what appears in front of them, we’re not doing documentary photography.
    Making art is hard enough as it is….I don’t see how giving it a helping hand is any different than creating a painting that shows the world as the artist wants to see it.

  2. Rodney McKnight says:

    I agree with both you and Scotty…

  3. Rodney McKnight says:

    BTW..I love that birch with the colorful leaves….

  4. Mike Roberts says:

    Aren’t we also part of nature?

  5. It’s a lovely image, “made” special by the story behind it’s creation.

    I could find no definition of composition — specifically : arrangement into specific proportion or relation and especially into artistic form — which would have excluded this arrangement of the leaves and bark. I’ve done this many times.

  6. Bill Fortney says:

    Thanks Kurt, I ‘be seen your work and it’s exceptional!

  7. David W. says:

    All photos are a distortion of reality to some degree. For documentary and journalist images we try to minimize the distortion and the distractions to the what we are recording. On the other extreme we have abstract images that seem to have no basis in reality; only colors, patterns, and tonal ranges. Where the objective is to create a pleasing and interesting image, adding or removing physical elements is part of the process. Sometimes we change camera angle or switch lenses or change shutter speeds and apertures to achieve the goal. Other times we move a physical object into or out of the camera’s field of view. In short, the intention of the photographer dictates what is and is not permissible.

    With the image you presented, it is not a documentation image of the leaf litter on the forest floor. It is a creative work. As such, arranging elements on the forest floor is no different than the still life image of arranged flowers in a vase or arranged fruit in a basket. My vote is that it is a successful image the photographer should be proud of making.

  8. Richard Browne says:

    Every photographer who shoots in a studio setting doing portraits, fashion photography, food photography, etc. arranges the elements of their shots – not to mention controlling the lighting. Why is it all of a sudden improper for a photographer shooting (hopefully) artistic compositions in the great outdoors to arrange the elements of their shots? I certainly agree that someone doing documentary photography – expressly stating to the viewers that their photographs represent the scene as it was without any modification – should refrain from altering the elements of their compositions. But if we change things in post-processing to make our “art” (pumping up the color; removing things with cloning or content-aware fill; de-hazing; darkening reflections) I can’t see any real difference in making the changes in the natural setting – as long as we don’t try to claim we didn’t make any changes!

    • Bill Fortney says:

      I think you hit the most important point, always be up front and honest about your actions!

    • I think the operative question is whether you are creating art or engaging in photojournalism? For a nature photographer it may be a bit of both in that we don’t want to have something that is unreal but in today’s environment we are able to improve many blah images by overcoming the barriers inherent in the image. The haze removal tool, for example, awakens life in many a blah photo. Is it wrong? It’s not putting something in the photo that wasn’t there but perhaps is developing what was there all along but hidden.

  9. Johnny Boyd says:

    Bill, I hope no one actually criticized ya’ll for what ya’ll did to help make that image. After all, it helped a human being feel a sense of accomplishment that maybe they would have not otherwise been able to accomplish. BRAVO FOR YOU GUY/GALS!!!!

    In my book there is nothing wrong with gathering elements to create an image. To me that is called “natures still-life”. If us photographers could be treated in the way painters are it would be great. After all almost 100% of what a painter does is not real and made up to one degree or another. Where as an image shot by a photographer is almost 100% real until he or she takes the image in to post processing where their artistic interpretation takes place from very little change to a lot of change. Most folks do not understand the tools of a photographer in the field (ie. filters) how they work and what they allow the photographer to accomplish. Just as a painter has many different brushes and even sponges and exactly what they allow the painter to accomplish.

    As long as a photographer acknowledges what they have done in post and doesn’t attempt to pass it along as really being present at the moment of clicking the shutter. such as changing the sky, adding a horse to a scene, removing a vehicle, people etc. nothing wrong to me as long as it is not portrayed as being the way it was when the shutter was pressed.

    I shot along side a former Nat Geo photographer who was quite vocal about another photographer adding a few horses to the scene and changing the sky out and not mentioning that manipulation when it was posted to FB and many folks considered it as being real and no acknowledgment that the image had been manipulated as artistic interpretation. I had to agree with him.

    Oh how I love the Fujifilm profiles in our Fuji cameras but I wrestle with this a few times on every outing especially at sunrise and sunset. I have to admit a lot of times I dial back the Velvia colors in post to try to represent what my eye remembered seeing. But that is just me.

    i’ll stop by in Townsend and tell you, Jack and Jacki howdy.

  10. Mike E says:

    For some reason many people expect a photo to be a sacrosanct representation of whatever was photographed. I would imagine this stems from the invention of the camera and the “expectation” it was a faithful reproduction of whatever was being photographed — as opposed to the interpretation of a painter. This expectation seems to continue to exist in spite of the many ways a photo can be manipulated – and have been since the first image was dodged, burned or masked during the printing process.

    As far as I am concerned, 95% of my photography is to produce something that it visually appealing to myself and those the view my work. If I have modified an image in post I will (usually) not indicate that I have done so. By the way, I don’t really expect the “journalistic” photographers to tell me what is just outside the frame (that they purposely ignored since it did not meet what they were trying to illustrate).

    Now if I am presenting an image and saying “look at this strange/weird/beautiful scene that I happened to see” then I won’t manipulate it and would certainly explain any such “enhancements”. However, for the vast majority of my images I am not worried about the “truthfulness” of the representation I just want people to enjoy it!

    Guess, what I am saying is that I have no problem with what you did …. well in all honesty a little problem in that I wasn’t there to get the benefit of your gardening…….

  11. Greg H says:

    Thank you for your thoughts on this. I hadn’t given it a whole lot of thought other than that I appreciate a photograph more knowing the scene has not been modified. On the other hand, there are times when I’ll move a stone or piece of seaweed if it’s ruins the look of the smooth sand in my sunset shot. Your post made me think more deeply about this. I think the best analogy is the game of golf. We are taught to play the ball as it lies — the “rub of the green”. Yet, there are specific rules that allow for removal of “loose impediments” in some situations to enhance the fun of the game. So as there is no written rule book for photography, I’m okay with removing loose impediments for a photo such as this.

  12. You’ve been gardening too long. Are you still alive?

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