Walking the Dog(s)

_DS78227_WPAn image reduced to an almost pure Black and White silhouette of a couple out walking their dogs. But hang on a minute – how many dogs were they actually walking? And were there actually two people walking the dog or dogs?

Can you believe what you see photographically? In the digital era how many of our images really tell the truth? What has been cloned out, or added in? Has cropping an image altered our perception of a scene? And if we were to discuss images of people in advertising or the popular press – how many of those images have had their skin smoothed, their blemishes eradicated, their features enhanced? What is truth and does it matter?

If today’s image was entered in a competition, and amazingly won (which it wouldn’t, but let’s talk hypothetically for a moment). And subsequently it was revealed that every item in it had changed position from the original, and that a second dog had been cloned in (the one dead centre, since you ask), should the image be disqualified?

So, is this image a cheat – a fake? The content of the image you see here came from two images taken about half a minute apart. Overall I took six images. The couple and their one dog were actually on the left of the original image walking leftwards. I moved them to the right of the image so they were walking across it. I lengthened the distance between the couple and their dog. I also borrowed a second image of their dog and cloned him in (yes it’s a him, look closely) so that he was the leading dog pursued by his clone.

So, naturally, this image raises a number of questions. The first is the easy compositional one: is the image improved by the second dog, or would you prefer it with just one dog? Would you flip it horizontally?

The other questions are the ethical issues about constructed images: Are they valid or invalid? Fair or unfair? Justifiable or not? Where do we draw the line? There are some images that are very clearly montages – they are transparent. But the one shown today purports to be real – but it isn’t, it’s an untruth.

What do you think? What’s your opinion? Do make a comment and join what could be an interesting debate. Over to you…

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About LensScaper

Hi - I'm a UK-based photographer who started out 45+ years ago as a lover of landscapes, inspired by my love of outdoor pursuits: skiing, walking and climbing. Now retired, I seldom leave home without a camera and I find images in unexpected places and from different genres. I work on the premise that Photography is Art and that creativity is dependent on the cultivation of 'A Seeing Eye'. I'm not averse to manipulating images to produce derivatives that may sometimes be far removed from the original.
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24 Responses to Walking the Dog(s)

  1. bananabatman says:

    Very thought provoking so here we go. I would like the image with either one or two dogs. Either work. If pressed, I would probably go for an image with just one dog, the one closest to the couple. Should this image be disqualified from a competition? I don’t think so, but that would depend on the definition of the categories for that competition.

    I know that some would say flip it horizontally so they are walking left to right, the way we read. Personally, I don’t think it matters to me. I’ve tried visualising the image either way and I am happy with it as it is.

    Setting aside competitions and any rules which may apply to them, and also reportage photography, which should provide an accurate representation of events, then I think that an ‘artist’ photographer can do whatever he wishes to. Whether the audience will like or appreciate his work will be up to them. Personally, I’m not a wild fan of obvious montages unless they satisfy a specific requirement, though I certainly recognise that they can very successful in certain cases. I’m not much good with Photoshop myself anyway.

    My thoughts for what they are worth, but I’m no expert. I like the image! 🙂

    • LensScaper says:

      Dave – thanks for writing. One dog or two raises the issue, often discussed, that odd numbers of ‘objects’ work better than even numbers. I liked the idea of a pair of dogs, appearing to move at different speeds. You are absolutely right that we tend to read images from left to right, but the thought that occurred to me, when I experimented with this, was that the direction of travel of the ‘objects’ drew you back across the image from Rt to Lt. It stopped the eye drifting out of the right edge. Having said that, the way the image reads as shown, goes against most advice. But let’s see how the debate develops. Bottom line – I’m glad you like the image. Thanks.

  2. athyfoto says:

    Well here is my two-pennerth:

    . . . should the image be disqualified? – No, unless the competition was for totally untouched RAW files only.
    . . . is this image a cheat – a fake? – Neither
    . . . would you prefer it with just one dog? – If presented to me I wouldn’t even think about that.
    . . . Are they valid or invalid? – Valid
    . . . Fair or unfair? – Fair
    . . . Justifiable or not?- Depends on the result, a botch job would ruin it, a good job can enhance it.
    . . . Where do we draw the line? – We shouldn’t
    . . . purports to be real – but it isn’t, it’s an untruth. – It is real though. It isn’t a historically accurate record of that fraction of a second but you created an image.

    You created an image here, if you presented it to the police as supporting evidence that you saw a couple out walking two dogs a 09:15 .m. on Monday the umpteenth of Octember just yards away from the scene of a crime then that would be wrong, the image would be fake in that context.

    Do you suppose that a water colourist paints a totally accurate, archive record of a scene in front of them? Of course not, that tree is in the wrong place for his/her composition so they don’t paint it in. Was that sky in a Constable painting accurate, of course not, by the time he was done the clouds have all moved and changed.

    How about an architectural photographer recording images of tall buildings that to the naked eye lean inwards as we look up at them. Is it a valid thing to do to use a PCE lens to straighten the verticals? How about using a 600 mm lens to compress a scene so that the bus that is 200 yards behind the lady pushing a pram across the street looks like it is right on top of her?

    I would only worry about image manipulation / enhancement / retouching if I found a radiologist cloning out bits of my X-Rays!! 🙂

    I think what you came up with is a terrific graphic image and has its own merits.

    • LensScaper says:

      Well, Frank, I reckon that’s a darned good tuppence worth! Thank you so much. An excellent set of comments. I remember going to see the Canaletto exhibition (maybe two years ago now) at the National Gallery, where Canaletto’s work was compared with other painters working at the same time in Venice and of the same ‘school’. What was particularly fascinating was to view two paintings of the same view side by side and to notice how the relative importance of buildings had been altered in terms of their size and prominence – presumably to suit the demands of the wealthy buyer of their work. In the majority of paintings of historic note we do not have that type of comparison to see what artistic licence was taken. In the early days of Photography, artistic licence was impossible – photography was the one true record – excepting what was possible by very careful selection of viewpoint. Digital has made a colossal difference with respect to that.
      A year or more ago one of the entries in the ‘Take a View’ Landscape Photography competition and exhibition was disqualified on the grounds that his image had been over-processed. Exactly what the grounds were, I do not know, but this is an example of one competition that takes veracity seriously.
      It will be interesting to see what other comments are made. Thanks very much for your contribution and I’m glad you like the image.

  3. Chillbrook says:

    I really like this image and I love the questions it poses. Whenever these question comes up, I always think of that wonderful shot by David Byrne – Lindisfarne Boats that won the Landscape photographer of the year competition 2012. It was subsequently disqualified. I really liked the shot of the boats on the beach and it really didn’t bother me at all that a different sky had been dropped into the image, the effect was breathtaking. I really disliked the image that was awarded first in its place. We are landscape photographers, as well as artists and nature doesn’t always conspire to give us exactly what we want so sometimes a little manipulation is required. I can’t see an issue. If David had entered his image into a different category, the manipulation would have been acceptable so with competitions, it’s all about the rules.
    I recently retook a picture as I’d lost some detail in the foreground of the original image and mislaid the RAW file so couldn’t re-process. On retaking, I captured the detail I wanted but the sky didn’t do a repeat performance that so drew me to the first picture. It was easy enough to put the old sky with the new foreground to create my original shot but of course it wasn’t my original shot. If I were to enter the shot in a competition, again, it would be about the rules otherwise, I have a nice picture so what’s the problem?
    We are not reporters. I don’t think we can be expected therefore to necessarily create an image that slavishly reflects reality. What is reality any way? We all see things differently. I came in for some criticism a while back because someone didn’t feel my images reflected the true ‘colour’ of Cornwall. Clearly their perception of the ‘colour’ of Cornwall is different to mine. Sometimes I enhance colour, sometimes I deliberately bleach the colour to produce my vision. I don’t think it’s anyone’s place to suggest that it’s wrong. If someone visits Cornwall during a particularly good summer, they will go away with a completely different colour palette in their heads to someone visiting in a poor summer or during the winter. That is just how it is.
    It’s also worth noting that this isn’t a question exclusive to digital photography as manipulations have always been made and are continuing to be made, in the traditional darkroom. It’s just easier with the powerful software tools at our fingertips.
    Personally, if I like a photograph, I’m really not going to spend too much time worrying about whether in ‘real life’ the scene was littered with McDonald’s fast food packaging and that perhaps if I were to visit the scene, I might be disappointed by the reality. I liked the picture and for me, competitions aside as I’ve mentioned, that really is all that matters.

    • LensScaper says:

      Great comment – thanks Adrian. You might have seen my reply to Athyfoto’s comment earlier today, in which I mentioned the ‘Take a View’ disqualification to which you refer, although I didn’t know the photographer or exactly what the problem was. That competition is certainly one where the rules are very strict – I re-read them earlier this pm and noted that they may ask entrants to send the original unedited RAW image to verify that the final submitted image has not been manipulated. I don’t know whether there are other competitions similar to that. The results are certainly awe inspiring, and by a coincidence I am off to London tomorrow to see this year’s exhibition on the Southbank.

  4. mark says:

    My first thought is that this is an unusual photo to illustrate your point.since it is so obviously manipulated to begin with, with the pure black silhouettes against the pure white background. Wherever I draw the lines, I would likely allow more leeway for a clearly manipulated image.
    Other manipulations fall into this category because of the content, not the style. For example, a photograph of someone dancing on a lava flow might look hyper-realistic, but we know it isn’t possible and therefore manipulated.
    Here the issue is that while you clearly manipulated the contrast and color, that doesn’t clue us in that you faked the dog and moved the people, but I don’t care. Once the image is clearly altered I assume anything goes.
    The tougher calls for me relate to images like the one discussed in an earlier comment where a completely different sky was dropped into an image. For purposes of the competition, the rules prevail, but as a general matter I can go either way on an image like that. And the funny thing is that the more technically skilled the manipulator is, the more likely I am to feel deceived. And I think that’s what it comes down to: do we feel deceived.
    Some people base it on the type of manipulation. For them, traditional basic “fixes” like cropping and contrast and exposure are OK, but more extreme manipulations are not. Others make it a matter of degree, even for the standard adjustments, so a minor crop is OK but a bigger crop is not. Of course it all starts with the decision (or sometimes the accident) of what gets captured in the first instance.
    Here is a great essay by a photographer about his anger at having a photo of his cropped by Newsweek. Put aside your thoughts of the subject of the image to consider whether his argument is right. http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/17/essay-9/
    And here is a single image that pretty much makes an argument without any words:

    • LensScaper says:

      I set out to provoke responses – and I sure got ’em! Thanks for that great comment, Mark. I produced the image – not difficult. Simple changes to levels and curves to eliminate tones, and then a bit of cloning. All done in under a half hour. And then the idea for the post just occurred, and it was written in another half hour. So it was very off-the-cuff writing. Sometimes that’s the better way than labouring over something.
      I was interested in one phrase from your comment: ‘do we feel deceived’. That’s a very interesting choice of words.
      I’ve not yet been able get the first of your two links to load – but I’ll try again later. The second is visual deception par excellence. Thanks so much for writing, Mark – I really appreciate the time and effort you put in. Andy

  5. Meanderer says:

    All I can say in response to your questions is – I love the image as it is. I liked it as soon as I saw it for all its aesthetic qualities. It is a strong silhouette of a dynamic and recognisable situation.

    I don’t think it is cheating or fake to manipulate such an image. Great artists down the centuries have been doing the same thing. Turner, for example, used to sketch a scene in pencil and would then come back to it – often months later – adding bits to it and taking things away – adding colour and detail from his imagination. What is art if it doesn’t contain some of our individual imagination?! It’s all artistic license.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks Meanderer. As I said in one of my earlier replies, it was a visit to the Canaletto exhibition two years back that really opened my eyes to the degree of manipulation that went in to adjusting the prominence of individual buildings to suit wealthy benefactors. Glad you liked the image too, by the way.

  6. Len says:

    You could probably get a whole bunch of opinions of this thought provoking post Andy. At the end of the day, I shoot and edit our images for two things: am I enjoying creating art and am I making a connection with some viewer. For professional photographers, there is the ‘will the public purchase the art’ question. Artists have the ability to create their art with no restrictions. Why can’t photographers do the same? By the way, I love today’s work of art.

  7. Firstly, cracking image. If the motion is left to right is is easier on the eye but your way is more arresting , makes the viewer ask more questions. My view is its a graphic image using photography and image manipulation software. Using tools to create something interesting, original and good is Art.

    I have some sympathy with the photography competition rule that seeks to restrict the tools used to the craft of photography: fieldcraft , lighting , composition, camera work and the main post processing skills of a photographer. In other words its a photography competition.

    That said competitions aside I don’t worry too much about how someone makes an image if it has an impact on me. I am actually spending more time over these past few months looking at paintings and having a go myself. Full artistic licence allowed but I won’t be submitting any in a photography competition.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thank you Paul. Images that win Landscape Photography competitions are hard won – and those who go to extraordinary lengths to catch an image don’t deserve to be trumped by those whose work in processing creates an artificially derived image. I agree with you – the clue is in the title: it’s a ‘Photography’ competition.

  8. oneowner says:

    There is nothing unfair or dishonest in a photo like this. I consider it to be an artistic expression and therefor not unfair or dishonest. It doesn’t purport to be a true representation of an event.
    Misrepresentation in photography has been around ever since photography has been around. It can be deceptive in advertising or if certain photos that have been manipulated are passed off as being natural. I do some manipulations on photography for the Museum but it’s on the background and not the object being photographed. We take great care to try to represent the object as it actually is, flaws and all. My personal photography, like yours, is open to interpretation. It’s not what we see, it’s what we feel.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks Ken for that comment. Misrepresentation is the key word I think. Misrepresenting a Landscape or a City-scape amounts to a deception – It amends something that is real. But that is actually what Painters have done over the years – see earlier references to Canaletto in previous comments. Maybe in some respects Photography could, in general, to be said to be more honest than Painting.

  9. Seeing photography as an artistic expression, I have no problem with photo composites or manipulations. I do however, feel that these things should be disclosed, particularly for a contest, which in many cases could disqualify the image.

    It’s one thing to add an artistic expression or “improvement” to an image. It’s quite another to manipulate the content and attempt to deceive. It boils down to one’s intent and honesty.

    I have seen many great manipulations but they were disclosed as such from the beginning. In the case of “Fantasty” styled images this is self-evident.

    I like this photo and it’s end result. Nice job, Andy.

    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks, Jimi, for your contribution to this interesting debate. I’ve been down to London today to see the annual exhibition of Landscape Photography that was the subject of a disqualification mentioned earlier in a comment or two. There is no need for manipulation when you see work like I have seen today. Here’s the link to the winning entries that I viewed earlier today: http://www.take-a-view.co.uk/2013_winners.htm

  10. rigmover says:

    It’s a great image, i’m not getting into it.

  11. There’s a chance I am guilty of over-simplification with this, but my feeling is that if an image meets your own personal standards, then it doesn’t really matter what the rest of us think about the ethics of manipulating the image or not. We may have other ideas, may have made other choices to get to our own final products, but that doesn’t make one way right and all the other ways wrong. But I do believe our responsibility as artists should require us to think about what we are trying to convey and establish our own guidelines for what is and isn’t acceptable. And, if we are challenged, we need to be ready to defend our position.

    As you and I have discussed here and on my blog, it wasn’t that long ago that I almost never cropped an image because it didn’t seem like the right thing for me to do. But my work evolves, and my opinions do, too. I have no apologies for that: I would not be much of an artist if I just kept doing the same thing over and over. So I’ve moved from thinking that I was cheating if I cropped an image. But the other part of my point is that I never really cared if anyone else cropped THEIR images. So why would I care if you added a dog, or a pack of dogs, or anything else you felt like you needed to in order to get the image YOU want. I may not like what you end up with, but that’s on me, not you.

    All art is somehow manipulated; Photoshop and digital photography have just made that sort of thing more accessible. But maybe art is SUPPOSED to be manipulated, or interpreted. Maybe that’s what makes it art…

    • LensScaper says:

      A great comment, Melinda. Thank you. I can easily say ‘Amen’ to all that. There’s been a huge amount of comment, all constructive, about this post. If there’s one strand that runs through a lot of it, that strand is about Honesty and avoiding deception. Images that do not have historic connection, and are not definitive views, are easier targets for manipulation because they do not alter actual or historic truths. No one’s bothered if an extra dog is added to an image, except possibly the couple out walking the one dog, but the chances of them seeing the shot and being upset by it are infinitesimal.

  12. poppytump says:

    I really like your image Andy !
    From my point of view I simply broadly accept, as most people do nowadays that every image we see presented before us in any kind of media has generally been edited, cropped, processed and or enhanced . Digital tools are freely available and will be used by many to portray a very personal photographic vision of their subject in a final image, that being so it’s not something I myself have a problem accepting. Given I’m not that experienced in photography and all the manipulations which may be have been used, when I look at an image, I’ll like it or not . If it provokes an emotional response in me then so much the better as far as I’m concerned . I can admire and enjoy a photograph on many levels from valuing the skill of the photographer in capturing a moment, to the subject matter , or even it being an inspiration for poetry and prose . It does not have to be ‘true’.
    But obviously Competition Rules are just that, ALL Judges and Entrants need to be clear as to what counts as crossing the boundaries . It’s easy to see the way controversy takes hold and gains momentum when one reads the numerous articles and comments about the person disqualified for the 2012 LPOTY ….
    I couldn’t agree more re your earlier reply to a comment ….” Images that win Landscape Photography competitions are hard won – and those who go to extraordinary lengths to catch an image don’t deserve to be trumped by those whose work in processing creates an artificially derived image. I agree with you – the clue is in the title: it’s a ‘Photography’ competition.”
    I’m sure you thoroughly enjoyed your visit to the exhibition at the National Theatre and thanks for that link to the 2013 winners 🙂

    • LensScaper says:

      Poppy- thanks for that excellent contribution to what has been an interesting debate. I saw a superb set of images from LPOTY. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and of course, found an image or two. The Southbank is always a photogenic place to go to in London. First image from there will be up on Monday morning.

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