The first photo is like a sketch. The final form is achieved through editing.
Before taking a photo, I create an image in my head that I want to achieve. That image rarely matches what I see through the viewfinder.
Below is a composite image of the Fourth of July fireworks show at City Park in Fort Collins, CO. Before the show began I knew what I wanted to create, but I had to figure out how to do it.
The first frame shows my first photo. A single vertical frame which is then merged with other vertical photos of the lake as a panorama. These were taken just before the show began as the fireworks would have been overexposed had I used the same settings for the sky and fireworks.
After getting home and picking out my favorite individual fireworks photos, I overlayed each shot and reflection onto the base panorama. From first photo to final form is hours of work, but when you finally reach the image you had in mind, it is well worth it.
This photo of aspen near Marble, CO is a before/after of the same image. I do most of my lighting and color manipulation in Adobe Lightroom, and then proceed to Adobe Photoshop for everything else.
Some people may prefer the raw image. It is a balance that every photographer has to consider.
What is fake?
As I have progressed through my photography career I have changed my view on photo manipulation many times, and will continue to do so for a long time. I do not consider myself a photojournalist. While some of my photos may be an idealized version of reality, they are what I want others to see.
This was created years ago and I was unable to find the original versions of these photos. “These photos.” Yeah. I sat at that lily for a long time waiting for the shot. I gave up, took a seperate picture of the butterfly on the ground, and used Photoshop to place the butterfly in the frame. Could it be real? Yeah. Is it? Probably not.
I have been experimenting with Adobe Photoshop for 10 years now. Shout-out to Photoshop Elements 5.0! Come high school, my photo-classmates questioned all of my photos or deemed them fake. Sometimes they were right, sometimes they were wrong. But if it looks real, and no misinformation is spread, is there a problem with photo manipulation?
When taking photos of university events I have to be cognizant of the reach and influence of my photos. I limit the use of photo manipulation as it must not have a negative impact on the image.
This photo of the football team entering the field had the energy I wanted, but at this particular moment, the flame on the right was not active. I overlayed the flame from another image taken just moments later.
Is this out of line? Am I misrepresenting reality? What image do you prefer? I have to consider all of these questions before I click save.
What is real?
While I consider the first photo to be a sketch, it does not mean that sketch was not well thought out. I will spend months searching for many of my photos around campus. Late night bike rides looking for new angles or something I missed.
After watching enough moonrises and finding a parking garage top floor, I knew what I had to do during the next moonrise. Combine that with some smoke in the air and I was able to get both of these sunset and moonrise photos in the same evening. The horizontal photos on the left were the original shots, plenty to work with in order to create the final images seen on the right.
Beyond cropping and some lighting changes, these photos are very close to their original forms and I am very proud of that fact. It is safe to say that most moonrise photos you have seen have artificially enlarged moons. I’ve done it myself in the past. Hence my ever-changing opinion on photo manipulation.
This is an 8 shot panorama taken in Rocky Mountain National Park. Each photo was exposed for 20 seconds and plenty of post processing was applied before reaching its final form.
This is not what it looks like through the human eye, but I consider this photo to be very close to reality. It is all a very fine line.