Transplant Surgery

That’s an attention grabbing headline! But to reassure you: this Post is not about a surgical operation, no blood has been spilled in the taking of today’s image nor in the making of the final result. It’s about a radical cut and paste of one part of an image to improve a composition. It was a prolonged procedure. There were one or two false starts. But after an hour or more, the image was stitched up so that hopefully there are no residual scars. The issue is this: was it worth it? You can be the judge of that.

Last weekend we had a family get together that included a walk on Box Hill on the North Downs, south of London near Dorking. I think I might just have found a replacement for Ivinghoe Beacon that has featured a number of times on this blog (see here for example). I have to stand on a hill from time to time. It keeps me sane.


Unedited RAW original

The first potential image I saw as we walked to the edge of the escarpment and looked south over a vast undulating area of Surrey was a father and son sitting on the edge of the hill. I had been given strict instructions by she who must be obeyed not to travel weighed down with cameras, so I just had the G10 with me. A quick snap and then I hurried to catch up. The unedited RAW file image is alongside.

I processed the image and straightened the edge of the hill. See below.


1st processed image. Edge of hill straightened

It’s an OK image, but the more I looked at it the more I was aware of a flaw in the composition. Father and son are importantly placed on an intersection of thirds, but the man is looking left – out of the image. To my mind that just doesn’t work.

I decided I would get him looking right. I made a copy of the image and saved it and then flipped it horizontally so the figures were on the right with the man now looking right.


Image copied and saved. Flipped horizontally

And I simply cloned his head across. Not difficult – I got it right first time, to my surprise. I also cropped some of the foreground out. The man was now looking across the frame. That was better. But…


Man’s head replaced by cloning from Flipped image

I still wasn’t entirely happy with the composition. The man was looking in the right direction, but he was now looking away from his son. It felt as if they were disconnected. I had a think.

It was time to try rather more radical surgery. And this is where it became clear that the crucial final ‘transplant’ was only feasible as a consequence of the original straightening of the hill’s line.

I went back to the flipped copy of the image and cloned the entire pair of figures plus rug and a section of field overwriting the original figures. The figures now looked connected – the father now looking towards and past his son across the image.


Man and Boy cloned from Flipped image, overwriting originals

My wife approved but pointed out that the ‘magic carpet’ on which they were sitting now looked as if it was about to slide leftwards out of the picture. So, a few final corrections were made. Transform/warp to straighten up the magic carpet, the removal of a duplicate set of cows, and I also had removed the bright highlights associated with the pylon buried in a hedgeline (which is otherwise unobtrusive). And here, below, we have the final image.


Final image tidied up

Compositionally I think the image is now stronger. The taller figure looks better on the left of the pair and his gaze is directed across the screen, and importantly involves him looking towards his son.

Attempting something as radical as this is always a learning experience from which we come away with enhanced skills. Stretching oneself beyond one’s normal comfort zone is always worth the effort. Was the result worth the time spent? What do you think?

I’ve put the sequence of images in a gallery for you to scroll through more easily.

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'.
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15 Responses to Transplant Surgery

  1. Len says:

    Nice surgical work Andy. I have done that a few times and it can be a challenge to get it to look natural (which you have accomplished).


    • LensScaper says:

      Many thanks Len. The task in this image would have been much more difficult, if not impossible, if the edge of the hill had been anything other that nearly straight and uniform. It’s those little details that can make or break these major changes.


  2. Robyn G says:

    Definitely time well spent 🙂


  3. oneowner says:

    I’ve had a little experience with this type of surgery and it looks like you did a fine job on this photo and the end result was worth the effort. This would have been near impossible to do in conventional film photography without extensive retouching but the tools today are available to almost anyone and it’s relatively easy compared with past methods. I’m not at all opposed to using any method to produce a better photo.


    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks Ken. I’m glad you approve of the result. What would we do without the magic eraser! I repeatedly save images as I progress through these complicated exercises in the knowledge that I will never have to go right back to Square one.


  4. suej says:

    Crikey, well done! A much stronger composition….but too much work for me, I think. I would just have chalked it up to experience and told myself to concentrate a bit more at point of capture!


    • LensScaper says:

      Thanks Sue. On this day in particular a number of ‘nearly’ images have landed in the trash bin already. But I was determined to see if I could rescue this one. It was one of those images I ‘saw’ instantly, and felt rather stupid when I got home and realized that I hadn’t studied the screen carefully enough after shooting it to notice a simple turn of the head.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I love this post. Great job Andy.


  6. shoreacres says:

    Of course I’ve never done anything like this myself, and never have seen someone work through the entire process. It’s terrifically interesting, though I admit, at first, I was a little taken aback by the whole thing. It seemed deceptive, somehow.

    But just this evening I had a revelation. I do precisely the same thing in my writing. I often take experiences, personalities, conversations, other bits of writing, and re-work them in the service of a story. I shuffle around paragraphs, I reverse phrases, I add and subtract elements. When I’m done, I hope the piece is stronger.

    Now that I compare the first and last images, it’s clear that the last is much stronger — and it has a rather different story to tell, I think.


    • LensScaper says:

      The parallel that you mention is very apt, Linda. I’m in the process of re-working a talk that I give to Camera Clubs over here in the UK, and I am doing precisely what you mention. Moving whole sections, changing sentence construction; taking out, and adding in new thoughts. It is the literary equivalent. Done for the same reasons that apply to images. Thanks so much for that.


  7. Chillbrook says:

    Excellent stuff Andy! Your work was rewarded. It is a much stronger image following your surgical intervention. Very nice indeed. Thanks for sharing the process and providing such an excellent example that highlights details that might otherwise be overlooked but are so significant in ‘making’ the image.


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