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Unwanted tourists? Just 'photoshop' them

There is no doubt that the new release of Photoshop Elements (9) is a powerful tool that continues to bridge the gap between the consumer and the professional versions of the Photoshop software.
What strikes me is the marketing language used in advertising this new release, and most importantly, the ethos behind it.
This is an excerpt from the Elements 9 page on Adobe’s web site:
“Is your photo cluttered with telephone wires, tourists, or passing cars? Make unwanted elements vanish…”
I, for one, perverserly enjoy composing images with as many telephone wires as possible – see image below, challenging the very foundations of photographic composition rules. Let’s be honest, telephone and electricity wires are an unavoidable feature of the urban landscape in many countries, such as my own, Spain. Surely, there must be beauty in them…mmm.

© Jose Navarro 2008

Too many tourists? Well, ask Martin Parr. What would he do without them? As for passing cars, yes, as a keen cyclist I would be the first one to grab the digital pen and mop them off the road for good.
Seriously now, what I find very worrying is how often we are surreptitiously instructed as to how we are supposed to perceive a scene, to see the world. On-going advances in digital technology seem to be the perfect excuse to facilitate the sort of ‘visual indoctrination’ that we are often subjected to by the media.
Do we need a new code of ethics for digital photography, and that goes for software manufacturers too?
Just a thought.

Posted by author: Jose
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27 thoughts on “Unwanted tourists? Just 'photoshop' them

    • I think we will be surprised.
      I’m less sure about images in daily use in the UK, but I’m sure about 90% of images that we see everyday, be it on buses, flyers, TV or the adverts covering the construction sites, here in the East, are very strongly edited (and often rather badly), but they are.
      And personally I find that it tends to force me to switch off to what I see around me, and not believe any of it.
      I’m worried that this will lead to a divide between ‘prettified’ perfect images that rule the media, and dictate as to what we must shoot in order to be part of photography, or on the other hand, will force photography towards capturing ‘the ugly truth’ that is less pleasant, just for the sake of capturing the ‘real’ world, which will then later be labeled as art.
      (Sorry, I hope that makes sense).

  • Makes perfect sense. My thoughts are that most of the advertsiing world will already have this feature through Photoshop. I can see their need for it – a discussion which fits nicely with the manipulation and ethics part of DPP1 – I just struggle with the idea that it will really be of much interest to the amateur audience that Elements is targetted at. I, for one, can’t imagine that I would sit down after a holiday and start removing tourists from the 350 pictures I took of the pyramids, or whatever.
    On your second para – I think we are already well down this road.

    • Ah, I see… regarding the 350 pics with tourists, see where you coming from..
      Mmm, the second point regarding the roads for the future is a totally different topic we could get into on the forum I think… 🙂

  • I HATE telephone poles/wires! Don’t mind the wires from tram structures or cable cars. I also dislike concrete lam-posts, so ugly.
    That said, I’d remove it if it’s an easy job otherwise I can live with it. Don’t agree about the tourists, they are good subjects to follow around.
    I think there is a degree of manipulation that can be viewed as acceptable; who likes having red wine-stained lips in a photo?
    We’re always seeking for perfection, even photographers. I’d also think that perfection would mean differently to each individual. There is certainly the road of digital art which is mainly a composite of whatever you want it to be either photographed prior to the assembling of the piece or created by drawing it.
    Then you have the “airbrushing” type which is towards a world that doesn’t exist. I’m worried and curious because what we see seems to be either not true in the real essence of the word (fake) or that it has been manipulated in a way that would result in a particular outcome (propaganda).

  • For those of you with a flair for languages, the latest issue of the French magazine PHOTO has an interesting interview with Jean-Francois Leroy, the director of Visa Pour L’Image in Perpignan. He reckons that the photographic image is becoming more and more stereotyped in terms of aesthetics. In his own words “avec Photoshop…cela devient Hollywood!”. He also points out that there seems to be a growing tension between the photographer as witness/recorder and the photographer as artist – via digital manipulation. And this is the guy who runs one of the most prestigious photojournalism events in the world. So those comments are said within the context of documentary and reportage, which is rather worrying.

  • My take on this is that it comes down to context and how the photograph is used. The idea that a photographic image can be seen as true or a record of reality was dismissed long ago. However, if the photograph is represented as a record of what was in the viewfinder at the time of shutter release then any subsequent change in the included subject matter is a deliberate attempt to mislead, i.e. a lie.
    For art photography, I do not think this new technology is an issue, it opens new possibilities to the artist, however, for documentary or reportage it is extremely dangerous and borders on propoganda.
    Taking aside the ethics, the next time I present a well crafted image and someone comments on my photoshop skills, a reportage opportunity will occur and red stuff might need to be photoshopped from any resulting picture.

  • The ‘what is real’ arguments seem almost from another age.
    And as for ‘Ethics’, it’s a somewhat hazy concept for most photographers whether ‘pro’ or not 😉 – I guess some might dimly remember it from a course they did once, or an essay they had to write 😉
    Do I have (or want) a formalised code of ethics? absolutely not. It wouldn’t impress me (on its own) any more than the spurious letters after your name awarded by some of the pro photography clubs.
    As a commercial photographer I have clients that need everything (site progress photography) and ones that want a building and its environment ‘cleaned up’ (for a big print in the foyer of a new building)
    We all have our own line about what we consider OK to alter – for decorative landscapes I’ll happily remove pylons and people, but won’t add in a sky from another shot.
    I remember looking at this a while ago and discovered the ‘foundview’ movement.
    The FoundView movement sort of ‘died’ and was replaced by TrustImage.
    Unfortunately, this seems to be a bit stuck in ’site under construction’ mode…

  • There is a positive side to all this!
    Digital photography allows us to more accurately recreate a scene particularly in regard to brightness, contrast and colour.
    Yes, there will always be images that are there to seduce us through lies but from the documentary point of view we are more able to record and from the artistic point of view, we have more creative control.

  • ‘He reckons that the photographic image is becoming more and more stereotyped in terms of aesthetics.’
    Viscerally that has a resonance for me but perhaps there’s more than Photoshop at work here. From my point of view photographic culture is not homogeneous; in fact from my experience photographers are a people divided by a common medium, each with their own set of reasons for making images and desired outcomes.
    However I think on a macro scale subsets are discernible. The conflation of digital photography with the rise of the internet, enabling the easier production of technically proficient images and crucially the ability to self-publish worldwide,has democratised the making and the dissemination of images en masse in a way that was unimaginable for much of photography’s life.
    Millions of people,literally, are deriving a lot of pleasure from expressing themselves globally, with the encouragement of their peers, on sites such as Flickr.
    Previously these people were not seen and not heard, photographic aesthetics were the playground of the influential few, often not photographers it has to be said.
    These newly minted self-publishing photographers now seem to form the most massive constituency in photography, by what appears to be a large margin. For me they have a democratically elected aesthetic; voting with the number of comments they make and the awards they give.
    To my way of thinking this naturally leads to a conservatism in the image making, it tends to encourage photographers, even if only subliminally,to repeat what won applause previously; especially those who are only at the beginning of ‘finding their voice’.
    The images I find most interesting on Flickr invariably have no comments. I can only surmise what effect this has on the author; I suppose it depends on their expectations, perhaps either they’ll think they are doing something wrong and trim their sails more toward the main stream or carry on regardless.
    As someone whose spent thirty five years making images, thinking and writing about them and made a living from them to boot, I have a natural inclination to want to see the medium progress aesthetically;to be engaged and educated by it. But when I set that against the pleasure and may be even sense of well-being that millions of people are deriving from it then my desire, in that context, is insignificant. They may not be breaking new ground aesthetically in the culture of photography, driving it forward, but they are personally, in a way that has meaning for them.
    For me I differentiate between the value an image holds for the author, the photographic culture as a pantheon and the market.
    In the medium, for me, the autonomy of the author is paramount. It’s time for them to progress when the work is no longer serving their purpose.
    Of course more generally there’s a lot else that could be said about stereotyping; questioning how much further the language of photography can be driven.
    Have we reached the edge of its universe in image aesthetics?
    Are we destined to now repeat ourselves, only making anew by forgetting what we already know?
    Will any new aesthetic be bound up with volume flows, distribution and mutation?
    A comparison with painting and music might be interesting.
    On the more specific point of photojournalism, which I only know about from looking at as a punter, it seems to me that TV news has boiler plate scripts, for all kinds of disasters, full of clichés, where they just do a ‘find and replace’ for the relevant location. One can imagine that attitude seeping into the imagery too.

    • ‘…this naturally leads to a conservatism in the image making, it tends to encourage photographers, even if only subliminally,to repeat what won applause previously; especially those who are only at the beginning of ‘finding their voice’
      I think this is a very real issue for OCA tutors and I think it will form the basis of another WeAreOCA post

  • I don’t see a problem with this feature at all. the myth of “the camera doesn’t lie” should be long gone by now. Photos can lie even without being manipulated just by being shown out of the original context.
    I think of photography as an art form not as a documentary tool and for me, like in painting, anything goes. Just don’t pretend it’s “truth”.

  • Ugly is in the eye of the beholder ! therefore to photograph the ugly truth is subjective. We (as a culture) have already been indoctrinated into what is considered ugly or beautiful.
    Perhaps photographers should be filtered into three camps, those who first and foremost want to make a living as a photographer therefore must pander to societies expectations, secondly, those who have the single minded perseverance and pig headedness to do it their way regardless of all other considerations and thirdly those who have the luxury of options, this includes students. So as students we should take to opportunity to really explore what we believe in and what we expect from ourselves and for our future. By the way I love photographing people in a candid and sometimes odd way, but have only ever sold photographs of pretty and often ‘doctored’ landscapes. Sorry if I’m waffling on a bit…I think I do it with my photography too 🙂

    • Whilst I might personally object to the use of the loaded term ‘pander’ I do indeed make a living from my work. Meeting customer needs and requirements is a required skill that along with business acumen should not be overlooked by those in the ‘student’ category when sending me CVs for jobs 😉 [None available BTW – before I get a deluge of CVs!]
      Artist’s statements are fine for exhibitions, but be very wary of putting such stuff into a job application…
      Oh and I do take photos ‘just for me’ too… only a few ever make it to the business web site – no need to scare the horses… 😉

  • Commissioned professional photography is a problem solving activity. If the client shows you enough money you solve their problem, to their satisfaction and sometimes yours.
    Ethics? To labour the point; where’s that? ‘}

    • I agree with Clive. I still remember a photoshoot when I subsequently had to clone someone’s healthy foot and replace his broken one – in a cast – in the final image. Or even worse, helping someone digitally ‘smile’ in a group shot which would have otherwise been ruined by that person’s sad facial expression – you know, liquify tool, pull up a bit from both ends of the mouth…done! And guess what? The clients loved the shots. So yes, as Clive said, problem solving. Where is the cut-off point to digital manipulation, I wonder? Maybe that person in the group shot wanted to appear looking miserable no matter what…

  • A good example Jose.
    The photographer is there to facilitate the client’s communication.
    Consulting at the pre-production stage you might be able to nudge them into a more creative solution that perhaps reflects some of your own aesthetic, or bring them around to it at the shoot, but your main priority is to satisfy their needs as they perceive them.
    If that includes appliqué smiles then no problem. It’s their choice and their moral dilemma, as much as you could call it that. There are plenty of other photographers they can call on if you do have a moral panic attack.
    One can advise and warn about trading laws for example but again it’s down to them.
    Luckily I’ve never been truly faced with a proper moral dilemma, or perhaps I have but I’m just too immoral to have realised it! Hahaha

  • Just as an anecdote … when visiting the Taj Mahal, I stayed in a hotel where there was a large photo of the monument. The photographer or printer had been at pains to clone out all the tourists but not their reflections which could be seen in the channel of water in front of it … !!
    When I visit the Taj Mahal, I compose with the tourists in mind, they are part of the scene and give the place some life and a contemporary feel.

  • ‘Commissioned professional photography is a problem solving activity. If the client shows you enough money you solve their problem, to their satisfaction and sometimes yours.’
    And all the major names in photography and a lot of the technical advancements have been because they have been commissioned to solve a problem. Of course there were the few independently wealthy who could fund their ‘hobby’.
    Take Muybridge as an example, hired to prove a bet of all things, he solved the issue, got paid then took what he had derived to an art level.
    Lange was hired to produce her depression images.
    Fenton was commissioned to produce his Crimean War images and all that involved.
    Daguerre patented his invention (rather badly but he still wanted to make money from it) and Fox Talbot licensed his.
    I could go on…
    I seem to remember in Art History being told exactly the same thing about the majority of artists and sculptors. Using money from commissions to experiment with techniques and mechanisms that they would later go on to use in their own personal work.
    I dont have any examples of clients asking for bad photoshop jobs most of mine require it right in camera and the examples above could possibly have been solved in camera without need for manipulation. Similarly with the Taj Mahal photo, simple enough to sort out but the resorting to photoshop (getting back to the OP) is the easy option and as we all know, cures all known ills.
    That perception is the problem but would they sell the software without encouraging that perception?

  • By ‘problem’ I mean they need a particular image, or series of images, for a particular usage. Meeting their criteria often doesn’t align with the criteria that one would apply to personally authored images.
    The satisfaction comes from the ability applied in solving their ‘problem’.
    I might photograph 12 mussels on a plate for M&S, and have done, but I wouldn’t for myself, unless it was for the book.
    As far as comping in camera goes that was one of my specialities until digital and Photoshop became all pervasive. Nowadays it’s assumed to have been Photoshopped whether it has or not.

  • ‘Meeting their criteria often doesn’t align with the criteria that one would apply to personally authored images.’
    I would have thought that was obvious as it is two different ‘clients’?
    In photographing the 12 mussels you may come across techniques, workflow or mechanisms which may become part of the criteria you could apply to personal work. You may use a new piece of kit or use something in a different way which you can then either repeat in personal work or take a stage further.
    Conversely it might prompt you into taking photos of the 12 mussels the way you would have taken them if a client wasnt involved. The idea for photographing 12 mussels may never have crossed your mind before the client asked.
    Or you might shoot 13, Or 12 empty shells, or go and find a local mussel farm and do some documentary on how they get from sea to plate, or investigate the environmental impact farmed mussels create or indeed how climate change impacts local commercial mussel farming and the local economy.
    Then again, maybe thats just me 😉
    Quite often in solving one problem, solutions to another problem may be found, or at least part of the journey along that solution may be uncovered or lead to different avenues of exploration. They may of course be blind alleys but surely its the journey that matters?

  • What I’m trying to point out here is that there is more often than not a distinction between one’s autonomous self directed photography and offering yourself for hire which impacts on your whole approach; subject,composition, lighting,intent and any applied post production, to Photoshop or not to Photoshop; irrespective of what one might carry over from one to the other.
    But perhaps maybe that’s just me. ‘ }

  • Ok then Clive.
    I’ll argue the ‘more often than not’ point of it.
    In my experience and that of some of my colleagues its ‘sometimes’ or ‘occasionally’.
    For the vast majority of my clients and the vast majority of my stock sales (which are self directed) Im hired or photos are bought because of the way I do things.
    Granted if Im ever called on to do a slap it down on a light table, click, next then that might be the case. But I dont do that sort of work as its generally poorly paid and soul destroying. Either of which I would work with but not both.
    Thats not to say Ive not been subject to an art director but in my experience its been a 2 way thing and every client Ive ever worked with has always been open to my interpretation. They may not have agreed to it or liked it but they have all been open.
    The examples above are specific examples but you cant say they apply across the board because thats not true.
    It is obvious that our experiences in the field differ which is entirely my point, we can offer our opinions but its based on our own experiences or as the americans say YMMV.

  • Aren’t we really simply talking about the main difference between the design disciplines and the fine art ones?

  • Professional, commercial photographers are a special class; they can only please themselves about what they photograph in their personal work. The vast majority of photographers are not working to commissions, they are taking record photographs – ‘me and my friend on the front at Brighton’ kind of thing. Like the professionals doing personal work, however, a minority of amateur photographers use the camera for self-expression. That means they photograph what interests them. In turn, that means a variety of subject matter and a variety of approaches to photography. Some people actually like telephone wires, I know one guy who photographs nothing else, here and in Germany. I know another guy in Bournemouth who photographs nothing but buses, he collects the latest models of buses appearing in Bournemouth like we used to collect cigarette cards years ago. There is no accounting for people’s taste in image-making, it is intensely personal. Very often manipulation is not a factor. I don’t think we are really considering a distinction between design and fine art – what we are experiencing is a developing movement towards self expression in people who have not necessarily been trained in design, art, composition, ethics, aesthetics or anything else, they are just doing what pleases them.

  • I wonder if you are missing my point Malcolm?
    Design, it seems to me, whatever the discipline, Illustration, Graphics, Architecture etc. is all about finding solutions to a defined problem. On the other hand Fine Art, regardless of medium, is a voyage of exploration, perhaps posing questions and suggesting problems rather than finding answers.

  • Yes Peter, that was the distinction I was drawing attention to, echoing Keith Cooper’s, ‘Artist’s statements are fine for exhibitions, but be very wary of putting such stuff into a job application…
    Oh and I do take photos ‘just for me’ too… only a few ever make it to the business web site – no need to scare the horses…’
    That chimes with my experience.
    It’s a perspective that students with professional aspirations should be aware of.
    Although, being perverse, all else being equal, I would more likely give an assisting job to someone who called on me with an artist’s statement and a dedication to their personal work. But that’s just me. ‘ }
    Also re the comment on CVs; in my estimation applicants with the ‘right stuff’ telephone to make an appointment or ring the doorbell; posted or emailed CVs can’t compete with that. As far as I’m concerned that’s stage one of any selection process.

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