May I Cheat?

That’s the big question of our digital times!

190502 - Pentax Spotmatic SP - Agfa APX 100 (7).jpg
Original photo, boring sky!

But didn’t the old Masters of Photography also cheat? Didn’t Ansel Adams Henri Cartier Bresson (or rather his minions as he did not print his photos himself apparently – and sorry, sorry for the error!) also cheat by dodging and burning, by retouching, by tweaking the exposures and contrast of the prints?

The only difference is that nowadays, cheating is easier, thanks to Photoshop and the others of the bunch. But can we call it cheating?

Or is it rather expressing our view of the photograph. Where does it stop to be ‘post processing’ and where does the cheating jump in?

Last time I complained that the day I went to a particular location, the sky was too bland. The weather was too fine in fact. What if I might be so free as to tweak my photo just a bit?

A big cheat, no?

190502 - Pentax Spotmatic SP - Agfa APX 100 (7) CLOUDS
Yes, that’s more to the point, isn’t it? Sorry but this is not a very clean ‘cheat’ as the clouds overlay the trees on the left a bit… Cheating takes skill too as it seems!

I could have waited for another day or two, with gorgeous stormy skies (and get soaked making the photo instead of enjoying the spring sun). But no, here I go and simply add clouds to my photo…. a sign of our hasty times.

Of course, the second photo is nicer, yes, it’s very far from perfect with the clouds overlapping the trees on the left a bit, but it gives a nice added atmosphere to the scene.

But it is cheating! No doubt!

So tell me, where does cheating begin and photography end? Is a bit of cropping and adjusting the horizon a cheat? I can do the same in my darkroom, it just takes more time!

Or is it art? Can cheating be art? Deturning a picture, modifying it, transforming it can be art, no?

I’d love to hear your opinions!

Thanks for visiting!

24 thoughts on “May I Cheat?

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  1. so u added the clouds from another image ?
    if so, i dislike this kind of manipulation very much.
    if you added some contrast and curves change to enhance sky, i have no problem.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Frank, i would move on to shoot more and mess less with these questions, i mean it is still a landscape with house and road…


  3. Hi Frank,

    After scanning, pressing the “Auto” button for exposure in LR (or whatever your software is), i.e. getting as much information as possible from your scanned negative, is OK. The same goes for contrast and levels as does dust removal. Cropping and aligning has always been done in the darkroom.The digital equivalents are fine with me.

    Much else I wouldn’t do in software anyway. If the clouds aren’t there, well I’d come back another day or live with it. I wouldn’t add them if it were a raw file either. Instead, I’d choose another motif if the clouds were so important or go and find a decent cup of coffee and watch the world go by – camera in hand and perhaps even a nice slice of cake;-) Digital manipulation is something I don’t like – and at the moment I get a fair number of requests to “improve” portraits – which I always refuse to do. If you want wax figures, go to Madame Taussad’s but don’t call it a photograph. What you then get is a work of art, be it good or bad. I recently photographed a professional photographer and she told me that most customers want their photos manipulated. The world has become is a sad place if this is want the majority want. It is also sad to see the lack of ethics must photographers obviously have…

    Liked by 1 person

  4. In days past, all large format studio photographs were retouched. Even today, the technical data sheets for large format film mention which side, or sides, of the film can be retouched. Modification of the out-of-camera image has been a part of photography almost from the beginning. And disparagement of such image manipulation has been around for almost as long, e.g., the “f/64” reaction to “pictorialism.” My personal preference is to limit the manipulation of my 35mm B&W scans to what I could have done in a darkroom back in the day – which was quite a lot – but “photoshopping” is a pejorative word in our house.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Frank did you add the clouds, as in overlay them as another layer or something? Or did you adjust the contrast etc digitally to bring information out of the scan that was already there?

    Either is fine if it makes you happy – it’s your photograph.

    Personally, I like to photogaph what’s there (I have a post about this scheduled for a few days’ time!), not then use that as a basis for a kind of digital collage of layers from different sources. That’s a whole other artform, but I wouldn’t call it photograph. Perhaps photo-collage?

    The only adjustments I really are with levels of contrast and saturation, and usually in camera wherever possible. As you’ll probably recall, I like to spend at little time as possible post processing – preferably none at all! I just like to click the shutter and that’s it, no going back on what’s been captured.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Adding the clouds is cheating *what*, exactly?

    If an artist created an oil painting of the scene and added the clouds, would the artist be cheating? Or making art?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmm, you’re right. But a photograph is not a painting… or rather yes, it painting with light…

      That’s really complicated.

      And I liked every comment here. Some condemning what I did, some agreeing.

      In the end, I think I don’t agree with my approach, unless it’s for trying something out. It’s simply too important a manipulation. At least as far as photography is concerned


    2. Hmm, you’re right. But a photograph is not a painting… or rather yes, it painting with light…

      That’s really complicated.

      And I liked every comment here. Some condemning what I did, some agreeing.

      In the end, I think I don’t agree with my approach, unless it’s for trying something out. It’s simply too important a manipulation. At least as far as photography is concerned


    3. for example in photo journalism it is forbidden, you probably heared about it in media…improving images and transforming reality is not allowed

      in other genres…why not


  7. I think this is an argument that has been going on since the start of photography, but I think it mainly comes down to your honesty in presentation.
    With a news picture, or a sport one perhaps, you are saying with your pictures ‘Look at this, this happened and here is my picture of it.’
    With any other photograph, landscape, portrait, product shots etc, you are presenting a picture that is an interpretation – presenting what you consider to be your best image. Only if you are describing it as ‘a picture of exactly what was there’ is there a ‘cheat’, as far as I am concerned. Choices in composition for a landscape, or ‘gardening’ for a wildlife macro, or what props are used for a portrait, all these are not technically a ‘straight shot’ either, you added your own interpretations and did some tweaks.
    I never do montage or HDR or focus stacking myself, mainly because I can’t be bothered (and I don’t like the results I see around for the first two much) but if the tool is there, I wouldn’t rule it out through some silly principle.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Had a good think about your question and in the end came to the conclusion that: the final image that you present for viewing is a statement of your thought process.
    It’s not news reportage or false representation of an event, so why does it matter how you made the image. There are pages of image manipulation guides for ‘darkroom’ work, so why should digital be any different? it’s just easier than in the darkroom with a negative.
    The great masters painted what was in there minds eye and called it ‘artistic licence’ no one complains.
    Print the image, frame it and if someone likes it; what more can be asked of the image or artist/photographer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes and definitely no. Photography is also a representation of reality. As a result of a sixth month photo project, portraying those who work in the village, I also got to see some of the less good aspects of this form of art.

      As I think you almost certainly know, there is, as one example of many, an awful lot of photo manipulation on Instagram or Facebook. One young woman I know looks at least 25kg thinner on her profile photo than she does in reality. If I didn’t know here name, I would not have recognised her photo.

      There is not just fake news, there is also fake photos.

      You also see such “improvements” in just about every magazine. Skin without blemishes, faces without wrinkles. Is this really necessary? And who does it make happy other than perhaps the person portrayed (or their management)? All in all it is a sad comment on society that people deem this to be necessary.

      Sinù, please take a look at this interview with the late fashion photographer, Peter Lindbergh. He took fantastic fashion photos and they were not allowed to be retouched!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Dave for sharing your perspective and the article which I will gladly read. Of course I get your point, and I agree especially on the social impact of unattainable beauty standards that have developed also thanks to image manipulation. However, I don’t agree on the idea that photography is a way to visually represent reality. It can be used to document many aspects of life and current events, but it will always reflect the perspective of who is behind the camera/editor. Outside the frame there’s a world going on, and certain social, cultural, economic and political dynamics are way too complex to portray with a shot or a reportage. That’s why accurate and scientifically accurate research and text is necessary to complement documentary photography, in my opinion. I started out photography as a purist, but recently I’m enjoying letting go of rules and just doing what makes me feel good because I do believe that this is how I’ll get to better results in photography, and life maybe? 😊 Plus I think that if a photographer is clear and transparent with their post-processing then we can’t really say their work is fake. This is undoubtedly a complex, yet important, topic and deserves continuous discussion, so thank you for sharing your view with me!


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