How much landscape Photoshop is still a fair game?

May 7, 2016

Dave Kai Piper

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

How much landscape Photoshop is still a fair game?

May 7, 2016

Dave Kai Piper

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

Join the Discussion

Share on:


For a start, I think I am guilty of the very thing I am mentioning in this post, so, no need to comment about that at the bottom, plus, I also know that nothing I say here is new – but to me it’s becoming more and more prominent in my eyes.  The question is this – Should you be morphing your landscape images into something you prefer over the natural lay of the land ?.

I am all for removing the odd sheep or road sign to enhance the story or to clean up the narrative of what you are trying to say but to quite literally move or add mountains – that might be too much.  The other week I was out shooting in the UK, the South Pennines, at a place called High Force in fact. I wanted to try out the new 15 stop filter from Lee Filters.  I found it really difficult to get a long enough exposure to get the water following yet keeping the sky in.


I used the Super Stopper & a Grad Sky but still could not get the sky dark enough to get a single good enough shot. In short I could not do it in camera so, I shot the sky, shot the water and the rocks then put them in to Photoshop. As you can see from the image all the light was coming over the  cliff top leaving the sky very bright with the water very dark. A very tough image for the Fuji X-Pro to get.  In my eyes, this is OK, so, why do I have a problem with the idea of warping a landscape to something more ‘ dynamic’ the look of.  In my eyes, adding stacking shoots together that are of different exposures is OK as the the final image is honest to the landscape. If someone went and stood where I was, they would see what I saw. If I was to make digital warping changes to make the water fall higher to look more impressive, I would be misrepresenting the location.

As with pretty much all landscape photographers, I use filters to control things like sky’s and to enable day time long exposures – along side with the removal of objects. Fine Art Photographer & Dark Tourist – Rebecca Bathory says ‘it can go too far sometimes I mean adding skies etc to make it look like how it actually was and enhancing the definition etc to try and match the eye yeah that’s cool, But adding stuff that wasn’t there that’s weird, if it’s labeled photo manipulation it’s OK. With landscape photography it’s hard for the camera to capture what the eyes sees, I think it’s important to not create something the eye hadn’t seen, especially if your portraying something as reality, then the photo isn’t a lie’.  I guess at some point the idea of what is and what is not a photograph comes into play.  If you alter something that much, is a photograph any more or a digital re-presentation of what is or was really there. Wedding and reportage photographer Kevin Mullins has a pretty tight line on this If it involves actually changing the shape of things, then I don’t really see the point in calling it a photograph’  I then asked about if you wanted to switch a sky or use a multiple exposure, Kevin replied  ‘Nope – I don’t like that either (skies). Loads of that happens in wedding photography and the picture looks nothing like when it was taken ‘  To be super honest though, I know and do love Kevin’s work – I could of predicted this view, and in many ways I totally agree & wish I could stick to this view better than I do.

This image is a good example of me replacing a sky, but again, it was an image taken on the same day, I just could not get the range in. I was traveling super light on this day as I was out riding on my motorbike and didn’t have my grad filters with me. In fact, looking back at this image, you can see how bright the sky was by the almost pure white refection in the water of the image, Maybe I should of spent an extra few moments look at this image in the processing of part of this image.

Dave kai Piper

This image of Stone Henge is another good example of an image with a tone of editing. All the people, maybe about 50 people have been cloned of of the image. On the same ride as the image above, I had found my self near the famous UK landmark and really wanted to grab a photograph. I pulled up my bike on the side of the ride and took a shot, knowing that later I would all the pesky people and create the image I wanted to.   Is is OK ?

Image by Dave Kai PiperDSCF8246-Edit-

Peter Dench is among the very best in the photojournalist genre of photography. His latest book, Dench Does Dallas is a wonderful look at American cultural viewpoints in Texas.  It’s clear from the book where his view points would fall on editing, and we would hope that his images are true to the fact. He would hope that what he presents to the world is as accurate as it is.  Peter works along the World Press Photo’s rules of ethics.

This means:

  1. Should be aware of the influence their presence can exert on a scene they photograph, and should resist being misled by staged photo opportunities.
  2. Must not intentionally contribute to, or alter, the scene they picture by re-enacting or staging events.
  3. Must maintain the integrity of the picture by ensuring there are no material changes to content.
  4. Must ensure captions are accurate.
  5. Must ensure the editing of a picture story provides an accurate and fair representation of its context.
  6. Must be open and transparent about the entire process through which their pictures are made, and be accountable to the World Press Photo Foundation for their practice.

In short this means that my image of Stonehenge is not something that would fit into the their ethics, which is fine, that was not the intended place for this image. I know these guidelines are designed for photojournalists, but I like them and think that many of them are universal across all genres of photography. I like the idea that a photographer should consider the outcome of the people viewing an image and should be accountable too. It’s an interesting debate. Does removing the people from this change the impact of the stones ?  It does change the story that was happening as I passed, but that story was not want I wanted show.  Where do you fall on this view point, leave a comment at the bottom.

From Portraiture to sports from photographing slugs in your garden to a child’s party. Photography is what it is and if your going to digital alter, enhance, change or distort these images after the fact then some consideration should be place on this too. Over the years I have been very guilty of over processing images. I am the first to hold my hand up. I have made up for bad lighting with shovels full of digital processing. I have blurred skin to with an inch of it looking like some plastic barbie doll. In the recent years I have become much more relaxed on the amount of retouching that goes in to my images. Some times they might take the same amount of time that I used to take but, I like to think that as I am getting older and hopefully better the digital elements of the photography retouching process are both working together to help the story of the image and they are not conflicting each other. Removing a sheep from an image is fine, but morphing the landscape, and stretching out hills is not. It’s the same thing as dropping a model a dress size in my eyes.

I want to leave you with this – an edited image and an unedited image. These days this is about as far I can go with editing an image of a landscape without feeling guilty that I have created what I wanted to see rather than what I saw.

Top Edited – Bottom – OOC Jepg:

Landscape images taken near Barnard's Castle
Landscape images taken near Barnard’s Castle

Just as I thought I should, I wanted to also bring up the ethics on retouching on people for a brief moment. Below is a an unedited image of Georiga, take on an X-Pro2. I think the same things apply, when editing and image, if your documenting something real then that idea should come though the edit too. Renne Robyn is the name that comes to mind here for me. I adore her work, I adore seeing what her mind dreams up. She brings the surreal to life. Her work is all about that, that is the story for her work, so, the detailed hours of composting work is all part of that. It’s part of her style.


About The Author

Dave Kai PiperDave Kai Papier is a UK based Fashion & Portrait Photographer. As well as being a Pentax Ambassador, Fuji X-Photographer, 3 legged thing & Lexar Ambassador, DKP works as a consultant though Ideas & Images for such companies as Future Publishing. DKP is also an Adobe Community Professional. You can follow Dave on his BlogFacebook and Twitter.

Filed Under:

Tagged With:

Find this interesting? Share it with your friends!


We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

Join the Discussion

DIYP Comment Policy
Be nice, be on-topic, no personal information or flames.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

20 responses to “How much landscape Photoshop is still a fair game?”

  1. Flodder Avatar

    for my landscape photography i will enhance the sky … but i will not replace it.
    i would replace it for a collage but not for my landscape photography.
    LR´s dehaze function can make a nice sky out of overcast skys.

    what you see in todays photography magazines is often way overprocessed and edited.
    when you see the original RAW files you can only imagine the amount of time spend to edit them.

    i don´t like that.

    for me landscape photography should resemble what i saw, not editing every picture until it looks great.

    not every sunset has bold and vivid colours.

    for me landscape photography is closer to documentation than art.

    sure it can be both.
    if composition, light etc. is right…. but i don´t have to force any picture into a pice of “art”.

    add sunlight there, dodge here, burn there ….to make it look like there was more interesting light in the scene. that´s not landscape photography for me!

    i hope you get what i mean.. ;-)

    1. Dave Kai Piper Avatar
      Dave Kai Piper

      Thank you for taking the time to read :) I also enjoyed your comments.

  2. AndreaCanuck Avatar

    I think it has a lot to do with expectations. I think we expect to go out and shoot and end up with at least one portfolio-quality photo EVERY TIME. When we don’t – which is often – we try to force boring work to be something it’s not. I divide my work into three categories: throwaway, good/workable for narrative purposes (accompanying my writing/advancing a narrative), and nailed it (with minor post-production). If I have to spend much time on touch-up, etc. then it probably belongs farther down the list.

    1. Dave Kai Piper Avatar
      Dave Kai Piper

      I totally agree, with your first sentence. the idea of investing time and not getting anything is a worry and maybe you are right, this leads to the forcing of images.

  3. Scott Ackerman Avatar
    Scott Ackerman

    So as landscape photographers maybe we shouldn’t ever display a photo in black and white, after all the original scene was not black and white ;-)

    1. Dave Kai Piper Avatar
      Dave Kai Piper

      haa haa, At least that idea make sure we never have a spot colour image again.

  4. catlett Avatar

    If you are a photojournalist then the World Press Photo’s rules work.

    If you are otherwise presenting the finished product as a photo then same rules.

    If you are presenting your work as art or interpretation then there aren’t any processing rules.

    1. Dave Kai Piper Avatar
      Dave Kai Piper

      Don’t see why that would not work !!

  5. Michelle Jane Harris Avatar
    Michelle Jane Harris

    “but in my eyes it’s becoming more and more prominent in my eyes.” Indeed. An attention seeking bore, saying nothing new, seeking publicity through a non-story. Yawn.

    1. Dave Kai Piper Avatar
      Dave Kai Piper

      Sorry !!

  6. John McCown Avatar
    John McCown

    This raises the question. Should equipment like a 15 stop filter even be used? The effect it has on moving water or clouds is not how the eye perceives it. Personally, I like the end result but it is a manipulated scene.

    1. Dave Kai Piper Avatar
      Dave Kai Piper

      I think playing around with time is one of those core elements of photography – an ND filter is just another way to extend or play with time.

  7. Mark Niebauer Avatar
    Mark Niebauer

    Didn’t anyone learn anything from Ansel? It’s all about what’s in your head and what you present (the performance) not the event itself. Use whatever tool gets you there. Photoshop is great! Paintbrushes are Great! A camera is great! Stop with this Ethics crap! It’s all nonsense!! Put your stuff out there. It will reflect your mind and skills and nothing else. Stop beating yourselves up on what’s too much. None of it is too much! This article is not relevant to reality in any way period!

    1. Dave Kai Piper Avatar
      Dave Kai Piper

      Cheers for adding in :) I do get that.. but it was more a point of noticing a trend and commenting on that.

  8. Christopher R Field Avatar
    Christopher R Field

    This is a tough question. Sometimes even the most amazing (through processing) still pale in compare to the real thing. Some scenes the camera can’t process, I would expect many sunsets are over 20 stops.
    I give some leeway on this matter

    1. Dave Kai Piper Avatar
      Dave Kai Piper

      Totally get that.. !! Cheers

  9. Albin Avatar

    A preliminary assumption that’s requred before “ethics” becomes a question, is whether the PS work is an actual improvement on the OOC. I can’t know if some vertical humans among the vertical stones would be more interesting, but “cleaned up” Stonehenge looks more like a video game scene or scale model for Game of Thrones than anything of geographical value. Fairly typical these days are the horrible smoky dry ice waterfalls and carpetlike water surfaces from long exposures that have to blow the sky to “achieve” a scene that will never be seen, or be desired to be seen, in life. The beautiful woman is PSed to the verge of plastic mannikinhood, which may be the functional standard for a reputable women’s mag or a disreputable men’s mag, but I could fall in love with the little mole under her throat. Ethics really only comes into play if and when the cosmetic surgery is worthwhile and successful in the first place.

    1. Dave Kai Piper Avatar
      Dave Kai Piper

      Thank you for having a read and checking out the article & thank you for commenting. all the best.

  10. Ahmet Avatar

    Should have, not should of; Photoshop off people, not Photoshop of people, your / you’re. And I’m not even native. These are bugging my eyes as much as an altered landscape photo.
    To be on topic: I’m doing photos for myself if I fail to deliver, nothing happens therefore I don’t edit anything. I don’t have to. I can’t cheat myself I know that as a photographer I failed to capture what I wanted. I will next time. Maybe.

  11. Kent LaPorte Avatar
    Kent LaPorte

    I don’t know if it has been said this way yet, but the true determination if your editing is appropriate is your own sensibilities and a successful reaction by your audience. If you create fake mountains or unrealistic color saturation and it detracts from the audiences focus of the story or emotional response then I would say the edit was inappropriate. This is a more reliable means of measuring good taste whereas editing ethics is constantly subjective, subject to changes with technology, public ideals, and other factors.

    The only exception to this is photojournalism, including nature photojournalism, whose ethos is an attempt to faithfully represent the facts of a scene for the audience to then determine for themselves. This is never achieved due to limitations of camera technology and like the cat in the black box experiment the witnessing of the event alters the outcome, but unlike other photography genres it still must strive for neutrality.