I had a lot of time sitting beside my husband’s hospital bed after his surgery; a rare moment to surf the Internet and take a look at other wild horse photographers. I found some really outstanding photographs and some that appeared to defy the laws of nature and physics. I’m referring to the trick of “Sky Replacement”. It occurs when a photo subject, in this case horses, is wonderful, but the sky is kinda ‘blah’. So the photographer simply inserts a background that makes the subject really stand out against a panoramic sunset worthy of a Western Hollywood finale…
There’s nothing wrong with enhancing photographs. I do it every day. Tweaking the focus, bumping the saturation up just a little, or cropping a photograph for maximum impact. Even replacing the sky is fine… except when you are entering the doctored photograph in a photo contest, or selling wild horse tours. In those instances, it’s underhanded, especially the wild horse tours. People look at the photos taken on wild horse tours to decide if they want to pay this individual to show them around a wild horse management area. If that tour guide is displaying significantly altered photos to make the tours look better, that’s simply wrong.
As for photography contests, it depend upon the rules and regulations of the contest. Personally, I would never enter a photo contest with a photo I manipulated heavily as I consider it unethical. The vast majority of contests do not allow significant manipulation; some even ask for the RAW original photograph. However, many contests have categories for photo manipulation which are usually more abstract, and not normally landscapes. Some photographers combine photos and some make mosaics for gorgeous outcomes; these are clearly altered, and not being presented as actual photographs. (Raw refers to the photograph file that came directly from the camera and was not altered in any way).
There is a reason photographers such as myself, get up before dawn, or stay until dark to capture the horses against a dramatic sky. Sometimes we get the perfect shot, and sometimes Mother Nature decides it should be overcast. Nevertheless, when we nail the sunrise, or the sunset, we really earned it. In the words of Dr Ian Malcolm “… it didn’t require any discipline to attain it… You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could,”. It literally takes three clicks of a mouse to replace a photographic sky. It takes weeks, days, hours of sitting and observing horses to capture photographs. Using a Sky Replacement in Adobe Photoshop, or a third-party sky replacement plug-in cheapens that dedication and effort.
Art is a funny thing. The above statement is my opinion, and my opinion only. I would venture to say other photographers would agree that extensive photo manipulation is mendacious, especially if you’re using the photographs to sell something. Claiming “come on my wild horse tour and you’ll get photos like this (fake) photograph…” is just plain wrong. As for selling manipulated photos, I honestly don’t have a problem with that because the buyer makes the decision. I personally would not buy a photo that has been clearly altered to pass for ‘au naturel’, but that’s my choice. My goal as a photographer is to present the photographs as authentically as possible without artifice or manipulation. I want you to feel you’re standing next to me at the actual moment I take the photo and not what I can do in Photoshop months or even years later.
In conclusion, be discerning, especially when you are paying for something.
How to manipulate a photograph…
All the photographs are mine
It’s as easy as Edit=> Sky Replacement
Presented below are the fakes and the original photograph beneath. They are easy to spot for the most part, usually the horizon line will give it away. There’s something odd about how the mountains meet the imposter sky- the distant mountains are out of focus, the sky looks hyper-focused, and there is a faint pale line at the horizon…
Additionally two strong light sources are another clue that they replaced the background. We cannot, as of yet, disobey the laws of physics. If the sun is behind the photographer in the photo, you cannot have a anther sunset in front of the photographer- it doesn’t work that way. We live on Earth, not Tatooine, and so we have only one sun.
Things aren’t always what they seem… Enjoy!