Let’s talk!

1 month, 1 week ago 33
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Above are four illustrations of what you can do with Luminar 4 and their sky replacement Artificial Intelligence! The question is, should you? Let’s talk about that, but first a little history. Many years ago in a galaxy far, far away, sorry about that, just couldn’t help myself. Long ago, in the early years of my career everyone in the nature field shot Kodachome 25. The goal was to shoot images that were as close to reality as possible! Then, Fujifilm introduced a new transparency film called Velvia. It produced slides that had deep rich colors that were far from accurate. While the goal of the moment was to reproduce natural colors, everyone fell in love with it and it became the “new” look. We gladly dumped Kodachrome because, well, we liked the new look, it wasn’t accurate, but the editors loved it, the rest is history.

As photographers we have to decide what we are going to make as our standard or goal with our work. If we are a photo journalists, or scienctific photographers then accuracy and realism is the standard we have to adhere to. If you are an artist trying to make a statement with your work, all bets are off, but it’s rarely that simple.

When I, and many of my friends, got into photography, the goal was to shoot accurate images, as time passed and Velvia came along, then digital, photoshop and well, you know the rest. Old horses like myself and some others I know, were thrown into a new world, one that was not what we came up with. The adjustment has been difficult. Difficult, but not impossible.

I don’t believe that doing post processing, even replacing skies is a sin, wrong or improper! Depending on how you learned this craft, it may or may not be and easy choice. As a photography instructor, it is important that I can be clear on how to deal with theses new possibilities when doing image reviews. Let me address that now. My first personal rule for all my own work and the work I review is that the photographer should simply tell what they have done if major changes to the image have taken place. For instance if the post work is levels, maybe curves, saturation and sharpening then I don’t think that needs to be mentioned. If the changes include Sky replacements, as the illustraitons above, then I think it would be approriate to mention that.

I think all photographers have the right and opportunity to do as they wish with their images. You will get no judgement from me. If an image works, it works. If you can live with your post then so can I. We do this for fun, let’s keep it that way!

Blessings,

the pigrim

33 Responses

  1. Jack Graham says:

    Allow me to say a few things here..please it’s only one mans opinion…
    1) Look up the word “art”…you’ll probably find 3 words in the definition…human, skill and imagination..AI and adding things like sky’s are where only skill is applicable not the other 2.
    2) at some point( after I am long gone..Ai will totally replace skill. It can not replace imagination or the human aspect of art.
    3) If the ultimate goal is to just make beautiful images ,so be it… but my goal is to experience the inner experience of my art…over use of AI , adding sky’s etc. using today’s software can not do this… they can not MAKE art…its a human thing. Machines and the over use of today’s software will to me devalue the art.
    4 Finally now that I have ranted… If you need to over manipulate ( I’m not talking about taking out a telephone pole etc.) it’s your choice. Like Bill( and Galen Rowell said 25 years ago) go for it, but let us know it’s enhanced and not what was there…perhaps call it Photo Art… I don’t have to appreciate what you did.. some will some won’t. But to me now a days photographers ( or should I Say camera owners) are being evaluated and judged by equipment and software rather than skill. …That is a shame.

    I hope that the craft of. Image making will continue for some time. For others…go ahead drop in a sky that wasn’t there if you need to and not tell us. But every time you do,you’re devaluing our craft.
    Maybe this is this is the future, Call me an angry old guy if you wan’t… but I am enjoying my time home sitting listening to great music…why? Because you can’ t fake good playing… you can fake photography and pass it off as art.
    Just my $0.02…JG

    Here’s to those wHo will not sacrifice art or make a pretty picture.

    • Kevin Fitzsimons says:

      My feeling exactly Jack. When we were using only film, I admired a really great photo because you knew it “happened” and it was made by a skilled photographer. It was not created on a computer. It may have taken the photographer days waiting on the perfect light and the photographer had to think about the exposure right then at that moment. It was natural and real. I miss those days. Images now are beautiful, but are they “real”. Black and white is a bit of a different animal. The photographer had to understand light and light and shadow values. The print is the photographer’s interpretation of what he / she saw. The scene was there. Maybe I’m too much of a traditionalist. That’s just my $0.02 too. KF

  2. Bill Fortney says:

    I agree Jack, now it’s back to my listening room for some more mellow Kenny G!

  3. David Wilson says:

    After a photoshopped image was making the rounds this week and then seeing your post, I see that we have a problem not with processing images but how processed images are used. My photojournalist side agrees with the statement that the images should accurately represent the events portrayed. For almost photojournalistic work, say the high school marching band’s performances (which I have shot many times), I want to represent what the parents and fans remember. The piece of athletic tape on the turf or grass clippings on the pants are not remembered and may be removed if they are a distraction. The same goes for the colorguard flag pole sticking into the frame. Removing these elements are not changing the reality of the performances. Sometimes, the images are portraits of the performers. For those, removing the distracting goal post or power lines are perfectly acceptable. From more creative artists, I’ve seen some images where there may have been a pixel or two that came from the camera that were not extensively manipulated. Those are fine even when I don’t like the result. This is art and I definitely should not be the ultimate authority on what is and is not art. I object to processing where a photo is manipulated to mislead the viewer as to the facts the image is conveying. The milky way seen over a nice landscape is acceptable. Placing a public figure in a place where they were not is not acceptable. This is effectively telling a lie about someone. I have the same objections to changing the surrounding around someone to essentially convey a lie about that individual. This manipulation is not something that is new. Before Photoshop, we saw masterful manipulation of images where people were in a photo when the people were in favor with a country’s leadership and were removed from the photo when those people were out of favor with the same leadership.

    Image manipulation is not a new issue that was enable by Photoshop or by darkroom wizardry. These tools just made the manipulations easier. Images were manipulated as far back as the Civil War. Instead of playing with pixels or dodging and burning in a darkroom, we had the scenes being changed prior to taking the photograph. War photographers, trying to represent the reality of the battles, moved bodies to create an image.

    So, after my rant where does that leave us? If you are creating art which is recognized as art, do whatever pleases you. If you are trying to represent reality and facts, changes must be minimal and cannot distort the events or create a lie.

    • Bill Fortney says:

      I agree with your conclusion and the supporting comments. The reason I did the blog post was to bring to the attention to my students, supporters and friends that the cat is out of the bag and I doubt any of us can catch it and put it back! I even wonder if it’s our place to attempt to. This is a thorny issue with frayed feelings exposed! I even admit to being conflicted myself. Some of the illustrations above are beautiful, and yet I feel uneasy showing them, without full disclosure! I’m not even sure that I know why I feel that way! I agree with Jack about the art being the human element and I too pray we never loose that, but we still have to decide where the dividing line falls. I think Jack is right on one point, we need to decide what is a “photograph” and what is “photographic art”.

      • David W says:

        This topic leads me down a slippery slope to a place where I don’t want us to be. I apologize if I have gone “over the edge” on the topic and offended anyone.

        Your uneasiness with some photo editing may be that you feel you are not being truthful with the viewer. The photojournalist side of your work has you wanting to represent what was in front of the camera accurately. Is a short or long shutter on a waterfall misrepresenting the water’s movement? If I perceive the smooth, silky flow and use a 30 second exposure to capture it, I see that is a correct representation of that water. The same is true where I use a shorter shutter to convey the tension of water flowing through a dangerous rapids. Even for the latter, a high shutter speed to stop all water motion may be an accurate representation of what was in front of me but it removes the tension and possibly fear the moving water gives. In these examples of shots I have made, I have attempted to convey a truth to the viewer. Let’s think about panning to get a shot. This week I saw a ski jumper image from Dave Black where the ski jumper was sharp in the pan and the background was blurred from the camera motion. Was this image truthful? I think so. It showed the jumper in flight and conveyed the speed of the event. Freezing the motion would have taken away the sense of speed and been less accurate in representing the event.

        Misusing images to convey falsehoods is not limited to still photography. This week a young man settled out-of-court with CNN where his actions in a short video clip were claimed to be one thing where the longer video from which the clip was taken showed a different story. This was a case where the videographer showed the truth and someone else manipulated the video (took the misleading clip) and used it to mislead the public and denigrate a young man’s reputation. (The young man’s law suits against two other news organizations are still in the courts.)

        We have seen some social media outlets start to consider what to do with videos being edited to misrepresent people. With the current state of technology we can have computer graphics and sound manipulation put people in places they have never been and have them say things they never said. Unfortunately, the state of the art in deception is way ahead of the tools and rules we have to detect and prevent that misrepresentation.

        Thanks for helping us realize the “cat is out of the bag.” I hope the conversation helps others recognize that cat so that are not bitten by it.

        I’ll get off the soapbox and try to find some good music.

  4. Mike E says:

    To me if the replaced sky becomes the main subject or even a close equal to the main subject then it is wrong — and, to me, it is no longer a photograph.

    It may be art, it may be beautiful, it may be powerful but it is now a composite.

  5. Bill Fortney says:

    There is no question that it is a composite. Maybe we should consider calling it Composited Photo Art?

  6. Jim Begley says:

    Well, you all know me. I try to look at it a little different…. I never replace the skies, I keep the sky and replace the foreground or the landscape…. Just kidding, just kidding. Trying to keep things lite…… Great topic.

  7. Bill Fortney says:

    Thank you Jim, a little levity is certainly in order!

  8. Dave Jenkins says:

    If you’re going to put stars in the sky, you should put reflections in the water. Otherwise, it looks phony to anyone who looks deeply.

  9. Bill Fortney says:

    I noticed that too, you’re right!

    • Robert Tucker says:

      Interesting discussion you started.
      As I understand it the Milky Way core rises in the southeast and sets in the southwest. The views of the Tetons are facing due west – thus looking phony.
      This reminds me of another discussion done by FStoppers regarding a Peter Lik photograph. Included a huge view of the moon set against a cliffside. They were discussing 1) if the picture was real and 2) what type of lens could possibly capture such an image. For me the give away on that one was the moon was placed in front of a bank of clouds. Picture was removed from the website a couple of days later.
      I personally prefer more realistic images, if I miss great conditions, there is always to option to go back.

  10. Rick Coleman says:

    I didn’t really intend on contributing to this discussion, but guess I couldn’t stop myself, so if you’re interested, please follow along with some of my thought experiments.

    Let’s say we’re in front of a beautiful landscape with a spectacular sunset we want to capture. Back in the “old days” of film, we might have used a graduated ND filter to capture the beautiful colors in the sky and some decent detail in the foreground shadows. Maybe if we wanted to add a little to the shot, we’d also combine the ND filter with a warming filter, just to bring out the colors a little more. Maybe that’s something good, experienced, and skilled photographers knew to do? Were we obligated to tell our viewers what we had done?

    Today, in the digital world, many of us no longer carry physical graduated ND filters. We may capture the same beautiful sunset, but maybe we’ll apply a graduated filter mask in post-processing? Darken the sky a little and bring out the shadows in the foreground. We might even warm up the white balance in the sky to enhance the colors. Or maybe it’s a cold winter evening and we modify the white balance to cool the shadows a little in the foreground? Is that still photography? Is it artistic expression? Are we obligated to inform our viewer of what we’ve done?

    Maybe we decide we want to capture that same sunset, but we want a little more detail in the foreground with less noise? So we take two exposures, one for the foreground and one for the sky. The camera’s on a good sturdy tripod so we know we can exposure blend the two shots in post, maybe even with some careful luminosity masking. So now we’ve got a great photo of a beautiful landscape with a gorgeous sunset. But it’s actually a composite of two shots – a sky replacement? Is it still photography? Did my artistic interpretation go to far? Am I obligated to let my viewer know what I did? What if instead of some careful luminosity masking to combine the two shots, my AI software did a great job of compositing with a single click of a button? Am I no longer a skilled photographer?

    What about that awesome night shot with the milky way in the sky? If the foreground is anything other than a silhouette it’s most likely a composite of images; at least one exposed for the foreground and one for the sky. Perhaps it’s even a composite of multiple images if we did some light painting in the foreground. Maybe the multiple exposures were actually taken minutes or even hours apart? The foreground shot while some sunlight remained and the sky shot hours later after the milky way was visible above the horizon? All combined later in post to create the final image envisioned by the photographer? Or is this still photography? Is it art? If the AI software makes it “too easy” to composite the shots, am I still a skilled photographer? Do I have to tell my viewer what I did to “make” this shot?

    So now for the next “big” thought experiment. What if I’m in front of that beautiful landscape waiting for the gorgeous sunset, but the clouds roll in and I never see the sun that evening. But I still want to create a beautiful image, so I find a sunset that I took in a different location at a different time and I combine it with the foreground I shot. What am I now? I took both shots and I combined them just as I always do. Am I still a skilled photographer? My AI software made it really easy to composite the two images, so maybe it’s not good because it’s just too easy? Is my art now “bad” or “deceitful” because I’ve combined images from multiple locations? Am I obligated to tell my viewer what I did?

    And the next obvious step. What if I combine my landscape foreground with a sky photo that someone else took? Oh my, what have I done now? I must not be either a skilled photographer or an artist now! But wait, I still end up with a beautiful image of a sunset in a great landscape. It’s still my artistic vision that decides what sky to use and how to combine it with the landscape foreground. I still choose whether to “single click” and just drop in the sky, or maybe I choose to do a little more and add some dodging and burning, some realistic reflections, some color grading, some while balance changes, and some hue/saturation adjustments. Am I no longer a skilled photographer? Have I lost all credibility? Does my artistic vision no longer have value? Am I obligated to tell the viewer everything I’ve done to create this image?

    Ok, now for the final step, at least for me. What if I combine a sky photo and a foreground landscape photo together and what if I didn’t capture either photo myself? Now what am I and what have I done? I combine the photos and do everything I’ve been describing except I’m not the one that captured the photos with my camera. Maybe it’s easy now to say I’m no longer a photographer, since I never actually touched a “camera”. But let’s consider that maybe some person is confined to a wheelchair and no longer able to venture outside to see the world as most of us can. This person enjoys spending hours each day searching the computer for stock images of landscapes and skies and sunsets and sunrises and combining them in ways that only that person can imagine. This person uses tremendously powerful digital imaging software to composite these multiple images into beautiful creations that other people love to look at and enjoy. Is this person not skilled? Is this person not an artist? Is this person obligated to tell the viewer everything that was done to create this image and complete their artistic vision?

    I had first thought I’d just leave this here with these open-ended questions, but instead, I think I’ll try to summarize my thoughts a little. The words “Photographer” and “Artist” are not easily defined, nor are they limiting in scope. We are each photographers and artists of varying degrees, varying styles, and varying capabilities. The thing we all share in common though, is that our goal, our objective, is to create a final image that captures our intent and our vision. We wish to express a little of ourselves and the world we live in and share it with others by means of this final image we create. We all make use of various tools, equipment, and software to create that image. Some tools are easier to use than others. Some require time and patience to master. Some tools try to make the job easier and more accessible to more people. Easier does not mean it has less value. Easier does not necessarily mean better either. In all cases, though, no matter the tool or software used, it is us, you and me, the human, that is making the decisions of what to use and when. It is our vision, our creation, our art. Not all art is liked, appreciated, or valued by everyone. We each have our own tastes and opinions of what makes “good” art. But that is why art is so wonderful. We each get to create it and enjoy it in our own way.

    • Bill Fortney says:

      I think what you have expressed well is that to varying degrees we all alter reality, by the various means open to Us! The real question still remains, who, if anyone, should be the arbiter of what is acceptable! I don’t imagine that we can find that person!

  11. Mike E says:

    Blending a photo with two layers with two different exposures is still just one photograph of a scene at a point in time. Even a photo of scene locked on a tripod at two distinct times is still just a photo of a scene.. Replacing a sky is a photo of two different scenes combined into one image…..

  12. Bill Fortney says:

    True, but is there a moral component?

    • Mike E says:

      The probably is NOT a moral component as long as you are not trying to deceive…… and to your earlier point I have no desire to be in judgement of what anyone else likes / wants to do / etc. unless they are trying to have me buy / embrace / recommend what they have done… for example in your photos above I find all of them more visually appealing after the modifications and enjoy looking at them … if you were to ask me “should I do that for all of my photos” I would say “No” because to me that would mean that you have changed from photography to artistry. In terms of the starts reflecting in the water I did not even enter my mind when I first viewed the photos — what caught my eye was the beauty of the whole photograph. I was not trying to analyze the detail within the photograph. I’m sure that if were on my wall at some point in the future I would look at the water and wonder where the reflections were — but that was certainly not anything I noticed off the bat.

      • Bill Fortney says:

        I personally, (just my own Stance), will not be changing skies unless to illustrate the technique.
        While I am not drawing a moral edict, lt’s Just not my thing! I would not criticize someone else who may do it, it’s just not for me! I have derived great joy from making photographs, I want others to have fun to! I know people who love to play a round of golf, I wouldn’t, but that’s just me!

        I do not need or require others to go along with my standards, even if I thought they should, God gave us a free will, who am I to deny that to others!

  13. Jack Graham says:

    Today both in photography and even our culture, automation and tools at our behest makes things easy, sometimes too easy. We photographers have at our fingertips a huge menu of quick and easy solutions for successful “art”. We have filters, You Tube step-by-step instruction, automation, GPS coordinates to specific locations and the “best times” to photograph them and more.
    We congratulate each other equally on accomplishing visually attractive photographs, even if the end result required little or no significant effort, the same way we congratulate each other on images that were much more difficult to accomplish, both creatively and technically. It’s not real hard these days to render beautiful photographs. For me, beautiful photographs in a lot of cases, are not rewarding and don’t offer a sense of accomplishment. In order for me to feel a real sense of accomplishment, photography should be challenging and command my complete attention. I really believe that we, as photographers should set out to attain artful images both consciously and deliberately.
    Today’s cameras are relatively easy to operate. Discovering locations with interesting subject matter thanks to the internet and social media is easy. For me a sense of accomplishment does not come from the technical aspect’s today’s photography. It comes from aspects that are challenging. These include (but are not all) creative thinking, seeing and developing a really great visual composition as well as really great processing, Perfecting and applying your skill as a photographer requires great concentration, vision and paying strict attention to the last detail…. Not by allowing yourself to succeed just be using automated tools.
    I refuse to take a photograph just because it’s a “pretty” picture. There must be more than just that.

  14. Bill Fortney says:

    In order to make things more challenging, and thus more rewarding, I am going to start attempting to Photograph Snow Leopard portraits in the wild, bare foot, in summer clothing, and with a 24mm lens! If I have great success, I expect to be greatly admired and respected! Was nice knowing you guys!
    O K, just kidding, don’t need to be appreciated that much!

  15. Bill Fortney says:

    In all seriousness, Jack is right, if we seek the easy way out and don’t stretch ourselves we will fail to grow and when we fail to grow we make the same level and quality images over and over. The harder we work the better and more CONSISTENT our work gets! I truly believe we all want to get better, and there are no short cuts to that place!

  16. Kevin Fitzsimons says:

    Really good discussion that most of us have pondered over many years. I know I’ve thought about most of the points brought up. Glad you started it Bill. Now if we could just gather around a fire with good beer and pizza and continue the conversation…

  17. Carl says:

    Humor with a point…
    There was this guy in Vegas sitting in a bar. A pretty young lady walks by and he calls out to her, “If I give you a million dollars will you go to my room with me?” She thinks for a long minute, and then answers yes. He immediately replies, “Will you go with me for $25?”. She gets this smug, nasty look on her face and angrily responds, “Hey, what do you think I am?”. The guy responds, “We have already established what you are – we are haggling over price!”
    The same logic pretty much applies here IMHO! If you remove a power line or replace a sky, it is pretty much the same, one has modified the image – just varying amounts of real estate.

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