Yesterday I posted this shot on ephotozine and received the comment that, on the lower landing the floor appears a bit messy and would be improved by a bit of cloning.
I agree entirely that as an image, the shabbiness of the landing rather distracts from the repeats and curves. But should I get out the clone tool and produce perfection?
The subject of the picture is the Nelson Stairs in Somerset House. The stairs are a very fine piece of architecture, but when I visited them they had quite a worn look and it was really rather difficult to see any part of it that didn't have a bit of damage to them. I composed this shot very carefully to avoid bringing in any of the distracting modern elements - electric lights, fire exit signs and people using the stair case.
But I still could see some of the damage to the staircase in my shot and for me this is the deciding factor on whether to clone out elements of a picture or not. If the image represents what I saw or felt about the image at the time I took the shot then I am happy to leave it as it is. If I take a landscape shot and on examining it later, I notice a coke can in the corner of the shot I am happy to clone it out as it doesn't represent what I saw at the time. For me photography is about capturing a specific moment or feeling and not creating something in the computer afterwards - though if that is what people enjoy doing I have no problem with that.
As another example here is a shot by the great portrait photographer Martin Jordan:
OK, it's a prepared studio shot with a model but to me the fact that there is one stray hair on the side of her face destroys our perception of this being a "perfect shot" yet at the same time roots the shot in reality rather than simply being a "painted mask of ugly perfection"*.
It is so easy to produce a photoshopped version of reality that many photographers become seduced by it but I urge you to think before you reach for the clone tool next time.
What is your personal limit when it comes to manipulation? I'd love to hear some other opinions on this - please use the comments option to add your take on the nature of photoshop & reality.
*Crass - Berkertex Bribe
A New Years Resolution