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People Call My Photos Fake but They're Not (petapixel.com)
58 points by shawndumas 17 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 47 comments

> I do have to say that all of my shots are indeed ‘Photoshopped’. I always work on my images to make them look good on print and social media. I change contrast, vibrance, saturation, make color adjustments, etc., so you can call them ‘fake’ in that regard. But I don’t change the moment.

I guess it isn't totally clear what "fake" means. But it doesn't seem wrong to say that processing your pictures in photoshop makes them fake.

Does developing film with various unconventional methods (solutions, variable-contrast paper, etc.) mean producing ‘fake’ photos?

The line I personally draw is at a point where you start to combine multiple unrelated images, while implying that the result is real.

That aside, the artist captures light, and it’s up to them to make it look the way they see it. Counter-intuitively, captured light in itself carries no aesthetics. It’s up to the viewers whether the result is pleasing, but calling it ‘fake’ is something I personally really try to avoid, as it carries powerful yet subjective sentiment that can invalidate the effort in the eye of the creator.

Is filtering the photo to turn a day shot into a night shot “fake” under your definition?

It’s only using the light which exists in a single shot, so it’s not by a literal reading; yet it creates a scene which distinctly never happened, eg a certain person in a park at night.

I think many people view color alterations — creating “better than real” shots — to be a similar kind of non-reality, and for those people it would be perfectly apt to call modified photos “fake”: they don’t capture the reality of anything, but are instead an imagined work — how the photographer wishes the scene looked.

‘Fake’ is something I could see myself using for an ostensibly documentary[0] photograph manipulated in a way that changes the moment to something no one ever perceived.

A polarizing filter under right conditions can turn sky at noon into very dark shades of blue. UV pass filters let us produce landscapes that are wholly surreal with black skies and white trees. Long exposures capture light trails and rivers of light that no one sees.

As to less extreme “better than real” cases, the light we see results in unique experience affected by countless factors, importantly including our preceding experiences. If a picture seems “better than real” (or better than straight out of a typical camera on default settings), perhaps it’s because that’s what the scene felt like. If it generally causes a negative reaction, perhaps it’s because the creator attempted to bite off more than they could chew in this sense.

I can sympathize with distaste for certain kinds of aesthetics (for example, I might not enjoy the average look of UV or astrophotography, and I know a person or two with just generic aversion to perceived post-processing), but for me it’s about careful choice of the word and whether I can enjoy the resulting look.

[0] Something that appears documentary at first might turn out to be another form of art. Whether there is purposeful misrepresentation goes beyond purely the appearance of the work, and is not black and white. It’s possible to capture a shot that uses none of pre- or post-processing, yet is misleading in a major way due to framing and context in which the picture appears.

> If the result seems “better than real”, perhaps it’s because that’s what the scene felt like at the moment

I don’t object to impressionistic photography as an art form — but it’s not converting anything real, in the same way an impressionist painting of a tree doesn’t. It’s a fake scene by which the artist can convey the impression of emotions.

It’s not about aesthetics — a “fake” photo can be of exceeding aesthetic value — but rather, about if it conveys something accurate about the world. It’s also not about if it conveys content we otherwise might not have known, there’s whole fields of study on that topic.

Impressionist photos can quite reasonably be called “fake”, even those with merely surreal colors on literal geometric structure — because they fail to convey the world as it is, and are merely an artistic creation.

Such a picture might convey something accurate about someone’s perception, which may or may not be seen as valuable and may or may not be close to some sort of consensus.

A map is not the territory[0]; the map is not even of the world but merely of perception of it.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Map–territory_relation#"A_map_...

Addendum: no, I would never call a non-documentary work of any kind ‘fake’, the word conveys nothing of substance yet has the potential to discourage further creative work, which I would like to avoid. Depending on what it is, I might say ‘surreal’, for example. To each their own.

I think the author means "collage" or "painted" in this piece.

As to manipulation in general, even the most pristine photo needs to go through demosaicing, luminance, and color balance adjustments before being shown, resulting in quite some artistic freedom. Most people don't see that, as it's usually done by the camera between the raw and "jpeg" stage. Apart from demosaicing, this is nothing new compared to the analog era though.

Considering that today's cameras also do destructive operations like denoising, sharpening, and possibly tone mapping, the vast majority of photos we see are in some sense maniuplated.

Does it seem wrong to say the post-processing your phone camera does makes your images fake? What about cropping a photo? Are impressionist paintings fake because they aren't photorealistic? What about Ansel Adams photos, all of which were manually burned and dodged in a lightroom?

Cameras are physically incapable of capturing as wide an experience as our eyesight+mind so photographers must compensate. As a simple example, note how pictures of mountains taken with a phone always feel cheap compared to the experience of being near them. This can go too far, like making the Aurora seem as bright as the moon. On the other hand, how best to capture the awe-inspiring nature of an undulating aurora than by making it fluoresce against the night sky in your photo? If the image weren't processed then you would see nothing at all...

> Cameras are physically incapable of capturing as wide an experience as our eyesight+mind so photographers must compensate.


> On the other hand, how best to capture the awe-inspiring nature of an undulating aurora than by making it fluoresce against the night sky in your photo? If the image weren't processed then you would see nothing at all...

So what you're saying is that if you were standing where the photographer was, you wouldn't have seen this image? It required an additional creative process to bring it out?

That's totally fine. That's _art_. Art is a fine thing. But if you start showing art to people and try to claim that you just snapped a normal photo, getting all upset when people claim it's unrealistic (like the article's author), you shouldn't be surprised if people call it fake.

> If the image weren't processed then you would see nothing at all...

Are you saying there can never be devices that capture the vision of auroras undulating, even a neural recording?

The issue with this statement is that it gives up too easily on the capturing end, and taken to an extreme it implies a dead end for photography.

There is certainly no clear definition of what “fake” is. Everything is an interpretation of the real world, from the moment it lands on the camera sensor/film.

- Open a RAW file in the manufacturer software, Adobe Lightroom, Capture One, etc., and all will show something slightly different.

- Different films are known for distinctive looks, which are oft emulated digitally, is one of them “real” and the other not?

- Sensors and films tend to have more limited dynamic range than our eyes, does that make normal photos more “fake” and certain HDR photos more “real”?

A photograph straight-out-of-the-camera might actually be less faithful to the real scene than a processed one.

National Geographic has some reasonably sensible guidelines on processing/manipulation for submitted photos, but there’s still plenty of vague lines between faithful and unfaithful.[1] To me, it’s mostly: did the composite parts of this photo all happen in the same location at around the same time such that if a human was there they would have seen those moments?

[1] https://yourshot.nationalgeographic.com/photo-guidelines/

Your definition of fake doesn't leave a great deal of room for real photographs, though.

I'm not sure there's a professional photographer alive that doesn't run their images through Photoshop or Lightroom to make final adjustments to things like white balance and contrast.

A lot of smartphones do adjustments like these automatically, so that would make those fake as well.

This is true, but there is a definition that passes most people's "real" test and that is the "one-take" test, in analogy with music making.

It doesn't matter what your device does for you but you commit to one take on the scene.

> the "one-take" test

Except double exposure.

Except 10 minute exposure time.


1856-57 same sky used with 3 different seascapes: "Although Le Gray never publicly acknowledged his method, he did leave some inadvertent clues in the pictures themselves: the same spectacular stormy sky looms above the horizon in at least three different seascapes, providing irrefutable evidence of Le Gray's canny manipulation."

p47 Faking it: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop


Raw images are different. Their processing is sort of arbitrary. Your camera gives you raw data about what it "sees" and you need to "anchor" such data to the real world.

I agree with you. There are generally speaking two goals of corrective photo manipulation.

One is compensating for the limitations of the camera - i.e. perhaps you underexposed to capture motion and then changed the levels to make the photo look closer to what you saw. The other is compensating for the limitations of the scene - i.e. using a long exposure to capture something that's unseen to the human eye. Based on the example photos I think he's doing the latter.

Yeah, they're fake in the sense that "they're not what came out of the camera", but not in the sense that "this scene never happened".

No picture you see is exactly what came out of the camera. As the author points out at the end of the article, if your camera outputs a jpg image, then it's already made its own decisions of how to manipulate the raw data.

And post-processing for the lens, or to compensate for having twice as many green sensors as red/blue.

You can't even see what comes out of an image sensor. The raw sensor data inevitable requires interpretation to turn it into a human-viewable image, and there exists no single canonical interpretation. That can happen in the camera, or later in a separate software, but there's no way around it.

I think the discrepancy lies between "this scene never happened" and "this scene was never witnessed by the human eye as such".

I think one of the expectations of a photograph can be to be a reproduction of a scene as it was witnessed, not as it happened. That is, as the photographer was shooting the volcano, he never beheld the Milky way and the sea of light from the valleys that way, that only appeared in post-production.

I don't necessarily think it's fake to prettify an image [1], but I can imagine why some people would consider it less than real.

1. "Pillars of Creation" looks awe inspiring in spite of: "The blue colors in the image represent oxygen, red is sulfur, and green represents both nitrogen and hydrogen."

I'd split into documentary-reproducing what you could witness and artistic-using photographic techniques to create a pleasing result.

It's also not really post-processing - it's a choice you make at capture time. Do I leave the shutter open for (say) 1/30s to document what I'm seeing, or 5s to capture the light trails?

It means no objects are added, removed, or modified in the final image. Everything you see was there. The only thing that’s done to it is color correction, to make things look more accurate to the moment.

Even the selection of lense and film alters the photo.

A hill in Netherlands? No wonder people call it fake...

THIS GUY! I was laying in to him on reddit just a few days ago for him consistently claiming that his pictures are single photographs, when he then says the same photographs are made up of 'multiple shots'.

It's no difference from fake imaging we've had since before photoshop ever existed. Intentionally screwing with the development to create something that has never been seen by the naked eye.

And yeah, the problem is him posting it to r/earthporn which specifically is for real scenes that look like real life, and not posting to r/photography or r/pics, while only reluctantly admitting that the shots are composites.

This one, by him, posted in r/earthporn does confuse me a lot: https://www.reddit.com/r/EarthPorn/comments/a8tzbf/top_down_...

> says the same photographs are made up of 'multiple shots'

On Reddit or in the PetaPixel article? As in the latter the only reference I see to multiple shots is for a panorama (which is possibly the least-controversial way of combining multiple exposures).

> r/earthporn which specifically is for real scenes that look like real life

Is it? There’s nothing in the subreddit’s rules about that. In fact its rules specifically state: “Panoramas, Image Stacks, Composites, and images edited via Photoshop or similar software are allowed”.

> On Reddit or in the PetaPixel article?

On reddit, which is where he's been angry about his photos being called fake or unnatural.

> Is it? There’s nothing in the subreddit’s rules about that. In fact its rules specifically state: “Panoramas, Image Stacks, Composites, and images edited via Photoshop or similar software are allowed”.

Yes, but there are finer rules about different things. Super long-exposing the sky in 1 photo and a lake in another for a night shot looks cool, but is not a landscape photo for earthporn, since it usues techniques to make the actual landscape darker and it could be moderated away usign the 'silhouettes' rule, but they seldom are. They shouldn't be there at all (as stated in the extended FAQ but in sky/space/water/whateverporn instead).

The picture I linked above needs to be a 'natural landscape', but isn't a landscape at all, and probably has never looked like that to anyone seeing it, ever.

I consider these photos fake. It has nothing to do with how the photo was taken or edited and everything to do with how closely the photo corresponds to my perception of reality. To me, great photos are always pushing this boundary but these clearly break it. That said, I can appreciate the photos for what they are.

I remember the first time my partner saw the milky way. She was disappointed because in her mind it was supposed to look like one of these photos.

The photographs are amazing (the volcano spewing a Milky Way is just awesome), and I empathize with the photographer's frustration.

However, if his complaint is that, in general, people are too quick to be skeptical of things they see on the internet, well, I can't exactly get behind him on that one.... :)

I think it's just a rhetorical device to write an explanatory article.

Yes I am not in any way faulting the photographer or the article. Just reminding people of a counterpoint to a potential takeaway (which is rather obvious anyway, hence the smiley)

Nearly every astronomy photo you’ve ever seen of a planet, nebula or galaxy is “fake” because they use multiple exposures and filters and software to process them. Does that make them any less amazing or less real. I don’t think so.

lol they're all Photoshopped as hell.

In the first one with the sunset, you can see where the sky meets the dark landscape and there's a weird black glow that bleeds out from the ground. That's what happens when you blur an image and blend it back onto itself, perhaps if one was trying to get a 'bloom' effect in Photoshop.

A demonstration: https://imgur.com/a/vMA6dm3

It's not a sunset, it's light pollution.

You can view a more detailled version here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/albertdros/19838085444/in/date...

Your argument assumes that the only reason you'd ever get a "black glow" is through entry-level Photoshop manipulation. To me it's pretty obviously a layer of grass. Remember that with a long exposure those grasses will rustle, blurring them.

It's a layer of grass under long exposure. It looks exactly how I would expect.

Did you read the article? The author says he used Photoshop on all of them..

I did read it thank you. The author, if he admits his photos are Photoshopped, should not get all upset when people claim his pictures are Photoshopped.

He's not getting upset that people are calling his photos Photoshopped - he's getting upset that they are calling them _fake_. They're maybe punched up a little in Photoshop (colour, contrast), but that's not fake - you do that with (more or less) everything that's shot RAW.

In casual conversation people use the term “photoshopped” to describe montages where different images are combined together, or using painting tools to remove or add to the image. This is very different from adjusting color balance and contrast.

he 'complained' about people calling the shots fake, not about the processing done after the shot was taken. The shots are real, but the result is photoshopped. That's a different thing.

Except, if you've looked at enough of these, you know that they are often very misleading, especially to the untrained eye. It's a fantastic tool for people to pretend that they have "proof", but all it takes is showing the ELA of a photo you know to be real to realize that the tool is more complex that it appears at first.

Here's two taken from NatGeo's best photo's of 2018 [0]:



To make things worse, you used the low-res/low-jpeg-quality version of the photo from the blog, which inherently have more error. If you use the original 2100x3100 photo [1], you get a much different result:


[0]: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/best-of-2018/...

[1] http://time.com/3992951/iss-photobomb/

Could you elaborate on meaning of these?

They probably show a JPEG diff: The quantization errors introduced by JPEG-compression. This is relevant to the "fake" discussion because often the source material of shopped images is JPEG compressed and has JPEG-artifacts. If one combines source material of different shots their JPEG artifacts will likely not align because of the different resolution, offset, and compression levels of the parts. This means that the inserted parts of an image will have a different noise-profile which can often be spotted just by looking at the diff.

I'm not trained to read these diffs and somebody who's cheating professionally would know to cover their tracks. So while they can be used to detect forgery they cannot disprove it.

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