View Full Version : When you move things

Aaron Ng
11-Mar-2002, 03:29
When is it consider unwelcome to arrange things that you are photographing? If y ou are a journalist photographer, it would probably be considered a sin to do so . If you are shooting documentary, would you move things? If it's art photogaphy , where's the line again. If you are shooting a landscape and some pesky branche s blocks your camera, would you shift them aside or chop them off? Would you rem ove a cigerette butt from an otherwise perfect close-up of some fallen leaves on the ground? Ansel Adams, if I remember reading somewhere, touched up to remove a sign board in one of his landscape prints (correct me if I'm wrong). He was cr iticized. Eugene Smith altered his photographs in the darkroom. In this beautifu l book, High Plains Farm, by Paula Chamlee, some of the interior shots, I believ e, are arranged in small ways. This book really reminds me of the great Morris W right, which I'm not sure if he arranged things. Walker Evans probably don't. I guess my question is is this an ethical, aesthetical or a philosophical issue. D oes it change the way viewers look at your work?

Aaron Ng
11-Mar-2002, 03:41
Does it change the way viewers look at your work?

Wrong. Should read: Does it change the way viewers perceive the subject matters?


11-Mar-2002, 03:58
I am amazed that you even ask such a question. Unless, of course you are joking (not out of the question, I suppose) Unless you're a news photographer, why in the world would your choice of subject arrangement even come into question? We are talking about photography here, not "20 minutes", for cryin' out loud! There is no ethical mandate that what we shoot, must be exactly as we found it without alteration! Do you use filters? Considering some of the questions you have posted here, may I suggest a short nap, and a "time-out".

11-Mar-2002, 04:13
Geez... that sounded terrible! What I meant to say, Aaron, is don't worry so much about the ethical, phylisophical (sp) question! There really are not many.

Pascal Quint
11-Mar-2002, 04:25
IMHO, photography can be aimed at two fairly different objectives : visual testimony or creativity (or both together). If the objective of the photography is the first ("I was there and my pic is here to show what happened or how it looks" for informative purposes), I would believe that moving things can be tantamount to misrepresentation in extreme cases. Whether this is criticizable or not depends on the real objective of the information one wants to convey, and how much the viewer wants, needs or will rely on the image for making up his mind. For example, if I shoot a nice hotel within its landscape for a Tour Operator brochure, is it really unethical and criticizable that I clean up the place and get rid of cigarette butts in the foreground before ? But in the same example if I get rid of an ugly building right behing the hotel in Photoshop, then I guess I'm entering into the world of misrepresentation.

On the contrary, when the only purpose of my photography is creativity, I don't see the reason why the limit of my arranging things, whether in the field or with the computer, would not be my imagination.

The only difficult issue seems to me where one combines creativity and information. In such a case, one needs to be very careful in altering the reality.

I don't understand why AA was criticized for removing a sign board in a landscape. As far as I'm aware, Adams was never trying to "inform" about the real world, his camera was never intended to be a "medical" scanner. I think that his concept of previzualisation as such shows that his approach was everything but informative.

Bill Jefferson
11-Mar-2002, 06:35
Aaron, Don't move anything, In Vermont, If you cut a branch or tree, you are liable for it, the home/land owner will seek damages, The Railroad went after a photographer that cut down a tree on there property.

Robert A. Zeichner
11-Mar-2002, 08:02
I often carry a spool of cord that I use to tie off branches that are hanging in my field of view. This way, I don't destroy the landscape I'm trying to photograph while at the same time making it possible to get the view I desire. I've been known to "dust over" foot prints with some fallen brush when these would be a distraction. It doesn't hurt anything and it makes (in my mind) a better photograph.

Michael A.Smith
11-Mar-2002, 08:09
There is nothing wrong with moving anything if in your opinion it will make the picture better. In 1967 I moved a couple of rocks in one picture and in 1975 moved a tree branch. Since then, I haven't had to do it, although I would if I needed to. For the photographs that Paula made in High Plains Farm, she did not move anything, ever, except in the one photograph of all the small photographs. There she took them out of a drawer and basically threw them on a table. Ther would have been nothing wrong with her moving anything, but she felt there was an integrity to photographing everything exactly the way it was.

The few times I have tried to move something I've always messed it up. Seems my creativity comes from a recognition of things, not an arrangement of them. If I see something I want to photograph, I have that reaction because I have seen it exactly the way it is. I suspect it was the same for Paula and her work on High Plains Farm.

I once heard of a photographer (don't remember who) who would find small objects he wanted to photograph and would want to move them. He found, however, that he could not place them in a way that pleased him so he would pick up the objects, shut his eyes, spin around three times and throw it. Then he would go look for it. He said they always landed better than he could have placed them. (True story.)

(His name is Wright Morris, not Morris Wright.)

11-Mar-2002, 08:30
I speak from a commercial background where one is expected to provide as perfect an image as possible. Therefore, I say, whatever you can do to improve your image--do it! The end result is all that matters.

I'm not suggesting you destroy private property--don't chop down the farmer's tree because it interfers with your landscape (unless you *really* need to, in which case you convince him of your need and pay him). But fixing things up--policing cigarette butts, paper scraps, bottles, smoothing out footprints, removing--or adding--leaves, and so on will only make your image better. That is your primary responsibility to yourself. Never fall prey to the fools who claim it isn't real because you improved the scene. In the end, all that matters is the image on the wall. And for yourself, in a month or year or ten, you won't have to look at the image and say, "I really like this image ... I just wish I had removed that beer can."

Steve Grimes.
11-Mar-2002, 08:53
I have heard that WeeGee the newspaper photographer who made front page tabloid photos of dead gangsters on the sidewalk was always sure to arrange the victims hat so that it appeared casually tossed off on the sidewalk to edit/increase the shock value of the photo.

I have also known in my personal experience a journalist/tabloid photographer who carried empty beer cans in his kit to place in car wrecks to punch up the tragic impact of death scene photos just in case there weren't any actual signs of inebriation at the scene.

And all that was way before PhotoShop. :-} SKG

Edsel Adams
11-Mar-2002, 08:59
Id agree with the commercial shooter,move what you have to do,rake the leaves etc.In this type of shooting,perfection is sought in each detail.I certainly woudlnt shoot an outdoor portrait with garbage or a cigarette butt in the scene.

11-Mar-2002, 09:17
In the book, "A.A. at 100," the letters "LP" are clearly visible on the print of Lone Pine with Horsey. All the prints I've seen in the past had them retouched out.

Ellis Vener
11-Mar-2002, 09:40
f you are a journalist photographer, it would probably be considered a sin to do so.

Quite right. But you can always crop or move or choose a different lens.

If you are shooting documentary, would you move things?

Maybe. But you can always crop or move or choose a different lens.

If it's art photogaphy, where's the line again. If you are shooting a landscape and some pesky branches blocks your camera, would you shift them aside or chop them off?

I might tie it a branch up or move something if I cannot find a way to incorporate it into my vision out of the way but I'd never ever lop off a branch Old timers like Adams or Watkins might have done this in their day, but supposedly we are intelligent animals who learn from our past collective mistakes and are now more sophisticated in our understanding of the effects of our actions on the environment and in not thinking we are like gods. But you can almost always move your camera,choose a different lens or of seeing, or crop afterwards because no one should ever think the framing imposed by a film format is sacrosanct.

<I>Would you remove a cigerette butt from an otherwise perfect close-up of some fallen leaves on the ground?Absolutely and I'd curse those who think the world is their ashtray. I have no trouble with people who smoke, just with those who impose the nastier parts of their habits on me.

Walker Evans cropped like crazy. He was first and foremost a graphic designer

It seems to me that you are spending way too much energy trying to find excuses; you will figure these things out as you actually do the work.

Doug Paramore
11-Mar-2002, 10:07
I have seen the statement "photography is 90% moving furniture" attributed to several of our better known photograpers. I certainly don't have problems with moving a branch, a beer can or a cigarette butt. At times, I wish I could use a chain saw. Beer cans, dead or live branches, cigarette butts, etc. are not a permanent part of the scene before you, and just represent the scene in transition. Leave them in if you like ugly stuff.

John Kasaian
11-Mar-2002, 11:39
Aaron, I got Steve Anchell's brochure for his 2002 Anchell Photography Workshops in the mail. I opened it up and smack at the very top was a picture of a stream coursing through a pristine forest in glorious black and white. The lighting was exceptional and rendered the forest scene with an almost painterly quality. Your question got me thinking of that photograph because right in the middle of it(the photo) is one of the most gorgeous women I've ever seen wearing nothing but a ribbon of fabric which brings me back to your question. If Mr. Anchell had asked this lass to move her celestial being out of his shot so as not to interefere with the intimate landscape, would this create an "issue" concerning the honesty of the image? Good Luck!

Chad Jarvis
11-Mar-2002, 11:49
</i> Turning off italics.

John Kasaian
11-Mar-2002, 17:40
Aaron, mea culpa! A lame attempt at humor! (I'll probably figure out how to get the itallics to go away about the same time I can figure out how to indent for new paragraphs, please bear with me here) Your question about moving things around has had me thinking all morning. Some kinds of photography are inherently more contrived(In my opinion) Illustrations of products---more noodles than usual in the soup--cars that are swoopy-ier than in real life--a model's legs that go from here to there and back again(can't get Anchell's brochure off my mind, either)--that sort of stuff. The capabilities of the view camera to distort or alter perspective is a valuable tool(an antique version of photoshop?) and there is probably not much difference between the optical "dressing" of a scene and "dressing" a scene by physically setting up what you're shooting. But I agree there is something very disturbing about monkeying around with what the photographer is trying to represent as being true. I know that taking a three dimensional landscape and putting it on a flat piece of paper in colors that are pretty close to how you remember them or how whoever is doing the printing thinks they should be,or B&W, is not realistic, yet some photography, I feel, has an obligation to be true to what is "real." The problem may be that the person viewing the photo really dosen't know what to accept as true. If it weren't for the long history of "trick" photography one would expect this to be the spawn of the "digital devil" but it has been with us through pretty much the entire history of photography. One the other hand, I don't see things geting any better.I doubt if anyone wants an x-ray of a tumor, though it is at best an image of a tumor, seen as being a Tech's "artistic vision" of a tumor. Nor is the finish line photo of a horse race an 'artistic" creation of the track photographer. Is a landscape that is photographed with the intent of providing the truest vision of the photographer all that much different? While each is subject to a variety of different stimuli and prejudice when deciding what and how to shoot "Moonrise in a clearing storm over Mt. Bullwinkle" The viewer more often than not has a childlike trust that THIS is what it looked like, and it IS glorious and beautiful and spiritual. I think this is why Chris Burkett goes out of his way to make it known that his cibachromes are not digitalized. This does give a detective with photoshop way too much ammunition when he(or she) says "...I've got pictures to proove it" In a recent book on fake photography by a former CIA bigwig, I forget the title and author, he commented that NASA has long held the leading technology available for photo manipulation for the simple reason that it was required to illustrate difficult concepts to inform a wide variety of people of different educations and backgrounds. Illustrations which couldn't be photographed because the concept would either have taken place in the future, would have been impossible to photograph because of enviornmental conditions, or would have entailed the destruction of a one of a kind piece of equiptment(certainly not a qoute,as I'm working from memory here, but you get the idea)The result of all this is that NASA can get a wide crossection of the population to understand a concept they're trying to sell congress. The downside is that when somewbody yells "Hey, those lunar landing photos are fakes!" People take notice(fear not,I'm not going down that trail here!) Whether looking at photos with a suspiscious eye is a good thing(or not) is certainly up for arguement, but I feel it takes away from what I personally am trying to accomplish with landscapes. Would I pick up someone else's trash? Of course(and I hope not just because its mucking up my shot) But if I were illustrating an article on how some hikers are slobs, I'd take the shot first. If I were illustrating the same article but there was no trash in my neck of the woods, would I stage it? No! I'd hunt around for a "true" cigarette butt/coke can/twinkie wrapper etc...If I came across a forest nyph sunning herself in the middle of my masterpiece "Moonrise in a clearing storm over Mt. Bullwinkle" would I tell her to get out of the way? Well, I...uh...uh...geez!

chris jordan
11-Mar-2002, 17:47
"The true object of art is not truth, but persuasion."

--chinese fortune cookie after lunch last week

Michael A.Smith
11-Mar-2002, 21:56
I never thought of moving things like cigarette butts and beer cans as really moving anything. Of course, I have done that kind of thing as needed--also probably moved a twig or two when I needed to. What I took Aaron's question to mean was moving things so as to more seriously change what was in front of you.

Aaron Ng
11-Mar-2002, 22:00
Thanks for all your response. Pascal, your reply helped me confirm which side of the fence I'm on. It clears things up a lot better and paths a new direction for my next photograph. I learn again. Thanks.


Aaron Ng
11-Mar-2002, 22:10
In this beautiful book, High Plains Farm, by Paula Chamlee, some of the interior shots, I believe, are arranged in small ways.

Michael, Yes, I actually meant arrangement in small ways like tidying up thing a little here and there. Not shifting furnitures, etc.. Appreciate the response anyway.