One thing everyone seems to have an opinion on - especially non photographers - is photographic manipulation. My Dad cuts to the chase by simply calling it, "Cheating".

In one episode of The Gadget Show, Photoshop won an award as the best photographic gadget of the last decade. The programme commented how "photoshopping" has become part of the English language.

Attitudes to any kind of photographic manipulation have changed drastically over the last few years. Back in the eighties and nineties people seemed to look on it as being rather unfair - the camera never lied, and any attempt to change an image was dishonest. Now in our digital age opinions seem to have reversed. Certainly in the club competition circuit, judges stand and pontificate as to how the photographer could "just have accentuated..." or "removed..." or "changed...". Judges now expect photographic manipulation and if you haven't done it, its taken as a sign of being lazy.

A while back I wanted to take some portrait shots of a young lady I worked with. She insisted the only way she'd let me take photos was if my Photoshop skills were up to scratch (no question about whether I could actually use a camera). She was worried about a couple of blemishes which I thought were rather endearing.

I remember talking to a wedding photographer who said that Photoshop (or rather the public's expectations of it) had made his life hell. There were numerous requests to "just take that person from that shot and add them in to this other shot". Or simply to remove a particular person the family had fallen out with.

So, this page is here to say - and show - where I stand on the subject. My opinion can be summed up as: "anything goes, as long as the resulting image is more pleasing to the eye" - and here I implicitly mean my eye. I often think "what would a painter do here?". They are granted artistic license and render pleasing images rather than accurate ones. No one would walk up to a canvas in the field and pass judgement over how accurately it portrays a scene. Artists are expected to produce art, whereas photographers are expected to produce truth - to alter a photograph is somehow "dishonest". Just look at the controversy surrounding the winner of the Landscape Photographer of the Year award, disqualified for manipulating one of his images. He is now labelled as a "cheat" because he entered an image which had already won several awards on the judging circuit where no one cared how manipulated it was - only the final image was important.

Some of my friends say they prefer the "unadulterated" images and yes, they're still my friends even though some of the "adulteration" has taken many hours of work slaving over a hot computer.

I have to be honest and say that every single image on this site has been manipulated on some level. Think about it.... I take RAW images. Every one needs to be processed in order to appear here. Film images need to be scanned then have their levels manipulated, images need to be resized etc. I know that some of the things I do go far beyond this, but all I'm trying to say is that "lines in the sand" tend to be somewhat artificial.

I once met someone on a photographic course who had checked out the websites of everyone attending before the course started. As soon as I was introduced to the group he launched into a tirade about how disgusted he was by what I did to the skies of my images. Well, in my defense, at least I admit to it.

Here are some of the abominations for which I am responsible. I leave you to make your own judgements.

0. Preparing an Emergency Sky.
I love a good sky. The skies here in the UK tend to be grey for a lot of the time, which possibly makes me appreciate an interesting sky more than some. For situations like these, I have an "emergency sky" photographed in Tuscany held in reserve. Unfortunately it was taken on Velvia and has colours which are completely over the top.

As taken Just the sky

1. Painting the Sky.
This in an image of a Bristlecone Pine taken in California a few years ago. Although, no doubt, I had endeavoured to isolate the tree as much as possible, you can see in the original image I hadn't quite managed it. The first step was to clean up the image by removing extraneous vegitation. This left me with a rather bland sky, so to the rescue comes the Tuscan sky prepared for situations just like this.

The original image Original image with extraneous vegitation trimmed back Final image

2. Making Images Selectively Monochrome.
I took this image of my friend Michelle at the Venice Carnival in 2007. It was such a fantastic costume I really wanted to make the image work. The problem was, I just hated the background with a passion which to this day I find difficult to describe. Rather than just try to clone it out, (leaving Michelle standing on thin air) I desaturated it using Photoshop's Channel Mixer. Even then I thought it was too distracting, so I further obliterated it using large amounts of noise to create a stippled effect. I should point out here that I had no amazing tool for masking the background - it was hours of hard work.

Original image Background desaturated and obscured

3. The "Infra Red" Effect - a Photoshop Exercise.
A number of years ago I considered applying for a job as a "Photoshopper". I wanted something to show off my skills (such as they are) and so chose an uninspired image of a standing stone taken by me at Avebury at silly o'clock in the morning. My first idea was to introduce a more interesting sky (actually not a Tuscan one this time). I felt this didn't make the image dramatic enough, so I used the Channel Mixer to create an "infra red" effect (basically you dial out all of the blue channel). I was much more pleased with this result, but found I had to copy from an "overexposed" and an "underexposed" layer to avoid bleaching the grass completely, or losing all the shadow detail in the rock. Finally I just couldn't resist adding a crescent moon in the top right hand corner.

Original image More interesting sky added Infra red effect Lighten and darken, add crescent moon

4. Tree in Provence.
I took this image on a trip to Provence. There were a number of things I didn't like about the original image. The tree is very threadbare, while the cornfield represents too small a part of the image and the cloud in the sky wasn't particularly pronounced. I felt a painter just wouldn't have painted it this way, so I made some changes.

Firstly I "fleshed out" the tree by copying its left to its right and its middle practically everywhere else. Then I copied the top part of the image upwards and cloned what there was of the cornfield to fill the gap. Then I borrowed a "more interesting" cloud from a rather badly exposed image taken moments later. Then, to add foreground interest, I cloned the white weed growing amoung the lavender to make it more substantial and then moved it onto a third. Finally the image was put through Photoshop's shadows/highlights filter.

Original image Enlarge cornfield, flesh out the tree Add cloud Move weed, apply Shadows/Highlights Filter

5. The Judge Made Me Do It.
I took this image of Corfe Castle at the Autumn Equinox of 2009 when the sun was just in the right place in relation to the castle. This sounds rather organised, but in fact it was just chance we were there that weekend (amoung a crowd of other photographers). I was very pleased with the image - one of our fellow photographers had his published in a photographic magazine. Despite this when I entered it in club competition the judge trashed it, giving me a long lecture about how I should accentuate the shadows cast by the sun.

To do this I copied the image onto two layers, making one darker and the other brighter. Then, using a ruler, I figured from the position of the sun where the shadows would fall and used a soft brush on a mask to make the darker layer show through. A similar process was then used for the highlights by the windows.

Although I have to admit my opinion of most circuit judges is very low, the final image is more atmospheric than the original.

Original image Draw in long shadows and shorter highlights

5. Hummingbirds.
Hummingbird images take more work than you might imagine. In all but a very few images the feeder is plainly visible and often the bird isn't well framed at all. At other times the bird has buried its bill in the feeder, meaning a quick cut and paste is necessary from another image. Here is a "simple" change in which the feeder had to be removed and an area painted behind the tail of the bird in order to make it look more central in the frame. Cloning this background is particularly easy since it is detailed but vague.

Original image Feeder removed, positioned centrally

6. More Hummingbirds.
The Woodstar Hummingbird is really cute with its stubby wings. I wanted to make something of this image, so I removed the feeder. I then managed to cut and paste a tongue sticking out from a previous image. Then I noticed the green fern in the bottom right of the image was too bright and distracted attention from the bird. The final step was to add the image of a flower taken that morning.

Original image Feeder removed Flower added

7 Major Surgery.
While I was supposed to be photographing Hummingbirds in Ecuador, a Bananaquit popped into view attracted by the sugar water intended for the hummers. I managed to get only a handful of pictures as it seemed to be quite shy. Had I more images, I probably wouldn't have needed to work so hard. As things were, I loved the spread of the wings in the first image. Unfortunately the head being turned away lessened its impact, so I decided to borrow a head from a different image, rotate it and graft it on to the first image.

Wings spread Better head position Combined Flower added

8. Even More Hummingbirds.
Since the Woodstar example above was so straightforward to fiddle, I thought I would finish off with an example which was far more difficult. Please note that not only is the feeder removed, but the flower passes behind the beak, the moss and the branch. I hope you appreciate this because it took me ages to do. Oh, and I trimmed the moss under her tummy as well.

Original image Flower added

9. And finally...
My most blatant cheating consists of creating sequences of which there are several examples dotted around the site. This is usually where I come away with very few images from a shoot and feel I must do something imaginative with them. A typical example was this sequence taken on one of the Farne islands before everyone was thrown off after only half an hour. I forget what the reason was.... something like "it was raining and they didn't want us hurting ourselves".

Images like this can take many hours of work. Since they are obviously "cheats", I have no qualms about doing them.