Let me ask you a question. Is this photo REAL or FAKE?
This might be a difficult question, because the answer depends on what you define as real or fake.
Where and Who Draws the Line of Being Real or Fake?
Firstly, there is no denying that post-production (a.k.a. post-processing) is an essential part of photographers’ workflow today, especially if you shoot RAW. Between RAW and a final output as JPG or PNG, we typically tweak a number of settings in photo editing software, such as colour temperature, exposure, vibrance and saturation, etc.
These adjustments can probably be seen as “enhancement” (if not done excessively) rather than “manipulation”, but where do you draw the line, or who draws the line? In photo editing, there is no playbook that tells us rules, so the boundary that defines real and fake gets quite blurry.
Personally, I like to keep post-production to a minimum, but that’s just my style, and of course I respect others pursuing their own styles. That said, some tend to go too far (intentionally or unintentionally), making their photos look more like digital art. I’m sure that you’ve seen such sunset or blue hour photos that are overly vibrant and looking rather unreal.
Adobe Photoshop Actively Plays a Part in a Photographic Cheat
And here comes Adobe Photoshop (among others) actively playing a part in a photographic cheat. Yes, I’m talking about the infamous AI-powered sky replacement tool.
In fact, I used this sky replacement tool (plus a few tweaks) to create the photo at the top. So, the answer to my question is FAKE (or you could say “fake enough”). Here, you can see “before and after” versions.
I don’t deny that the “after” version looks much more interesting, but what’s fun about this?
To me, a tool like this takes fun out of photography. We don’t know what kind of sky we’re going to get until heading to a location. Depending on the weather, we may get undesirable sky, but that’s just a part and parcel of photography that we should embrace.
Controversies Sky Replacement Brings to Photography
Among photographers, the topic of image manipulation has been a contentious issue for all these years, but it seems that sky replacement has triggered a bigger debate within the photography community.
My good friend Daniel from Sydney, Australia has recently released a podcast episode titled What Does This Mean for the Future of Photography? , talking about this very topic (about 7 minutes in).
In there, he says we should be upfront about using such a tool and try not to pass off sky-replaced images as ones that are done in camera. I second his opinion, as such an act is (1) ethically wrong and (2) those photos aren’t yours anymore when manipulating to that extent.
We might come across as a purist, but there is a consequence to be faced as well. In recent years, we’ve seen a growing number of photography competition winners being disqualified retrospectively and stripped of their prizes due to excessive image manipulation exposed. This tells us that those images aren’t seen as “photography”.
Cases Where Sky Replacement Is Used for Good Causes
With all that said, we understand that Adobe Photoshop isn’t just made for hobbyists and enthusiasts shooting landscapes.
For example, sky replacement should come in handy for the likes of real estate photographers and wedding photographers.
A pre-wedding photoshoot is something you can’t change the booked date even if the weather isn’t ideal. Sky replacement tool will be a saviour for such occasions, and I doubt any clients would complain about the beautiful sky being fake.
Heading into an Era That Photographers Tag Their Photos #real photography?
So, we come to the end of the post. You may wonder what follows sky replacement. I guess the next up will be fake reflections on water. Even today, we can do this in Photoshop by using a layer mask, etc., but of course I’m talking about an AI-powered method that requires us a single click.
In the near future, we might head into an era that photographers tag their photos “#real photography” in order to differentiate themselves from digital artists pretending to be photographers.
In a way, we’re living in an interesting time of history. Together, let’s see how the future of photography and photo editing software unfold in the coming years!
About the Author
Joey J. is a photography enthusiast, avid traveler, and casual web designer and developer based in Singapore. You can find more of his work on his website, Tumblr, Flickr, and Twitter. This article was also published here and shared with permission.