A Photoshop Conundrum: Does No Grate = a Great Photo?

Just because you can edit an image in Photoshop’s Digital Darkroom doesn’t mean you should.

If I were a newspaper journalist, changing the actual content of an image would be a complete no-no.

As a travel photographer, I try to follow those rules and rarely change anything other than making the image pop. Curves, levels, contrast, saturation and other layer adjustments are usually the limit of my edits.

However, the digital artist in me sometimes feels that removing a certain element will make the photo much better. That’s where my internal battle begins…

 

The final edited version of the tomb of St John in Selcuk, Turkey
The final edited version of the tomb of St John in Selcuk, Turkey

. . .

Editing Saint John’s Basilica in Selcuk, Turkey

Did you notice anything strange about the above photograph? If you look below, you will see that I removed a grate from the center. In my opinion, it completely distracts from the sense of historic wonder I aim to inspire with the image.

However, the edited photo is not reality. In “reality,” archaeologists placed a storm drain smack-dab in the middle of St. John’s tomb in order to protect the site from flooding.

For that reason, I would use the below image on this site: even though I like the first one more. But should I is a far more interesting question…

An earlier version of my photograph of the Basilica of Saint John with the drainage grate left in - Selcuk - Izmir Province, Turkey
An earlier version of my photograph of the Basilica of Saint John with the drainage grate left in – Selcuk – Izmir Province, Turkey

. . .

With that in mind, my question for you is twofold:

1. Visually, which photograph do you prefer?

2. In terms of journalistic integrity and artistic license, would you be disappointed to learn that an image on this site had been altered to change the reality of a scene?

 

  • I’m a little more picky about travel photos. I don’t want to edit a photo and have people get there and wonder why it doesn’t look the same. I generally don’t very much artistic license with my photos. I may edit for color, saturation, crop, etc., but I try to leave basic elements as they were.

  • 1. Visually, I prefer the first. However, I do like to know that the photo I’m looking at is an accurate depiction of something real.

    2. Disappointed, though, is too strong a word; editing in Photoshop is almost accepted as a given these days. I feel that edited photos should give such details in their captions, much like how you read about the composition and process of a painting in a gallery. Otherwise, it’s misleading.

  • I am not a fan of editing photographs in this way, particularly of archaeological sites. Besides the fact the shadow of the column could be reconstructed better, what and how do you choose what to ‘edit’? Why just the grate? Why not go the whole hog and reconstruct the ruin to its former glory … and then which/whose former glory? But this selective ‘editing’ of the past is something that has been going on for centuries. Early landscape painters also created images that they preferred.

  • That’s a really interesting question Greg and one that I’ve no doubt will split opinions. In my opinion it would depend on the platform for which I’m editing the image and to what extent I would be ‘altering reality’. As a travel blogger myself I always strive to highlight a well rounded view of a location and as such might choose to submit the edited image and then make a comment in the text detailing the change and for what purpose it was made.

    Beautiful images are always a winner for me however as a reader I would perhaps feel cheated to learn that an image had be doctored beyond recognition.

  • I agree, Greg. It is really distracting. At least they could have put the grate on axis with the ruins and chosen a less distracting design. Had they done their job well, we could do our job of promoting their site well. I think if the image in question is to be used as a cover story or important image on a blog, best to edit it. Hard call though.

  • It’s a case by case situation for me. I had this EXACT dilemma when editing images from my recent trip to St Petersburg. I had a few great shots of St.Basils Cathedral coming down from the Old Singer building. The problem is that St.Petersburg has an intricate cable car system similar to San Francisco and there was no way to shoot from that vantage point without have several in my frame. I’ll be removing them in PS. It doesn’t degrade the reality of the location because anyone that sees the image will be able to see the same thing when they visit it as most people would look beyond the lines.

    In the example you used I would be at odds because of the significance of the drain. It’s purpose is protection and preservation similar to the framework in the Colosseum. VERY difficult question and I’ll air on the side of caution and go with it depends on the image and intent.

  • In my opinion, if your goal is to inspire people to see these things you photograph, I don’t think it’s right. Will they will be expecting something different when they see it with their own eyes.

    On the other hand, an artist gets to pick what they choose to show. If I had a heavily edited image (like I would consider this) then perhaps I probably wouldn’t mention the location. Really, it’s no longer representative of the actual location anymore.

    Depends on your audience I guess! Great question you posed here Greg.

  • If I wanted to purchase the photo, I would want the grate out of it.

  • Rick Neuman

    Looking at both photographs together, I would have to say that visually the one without the grate does look better, but if I had seen the photograph with the grate in isolation, I don’t think it would have detracted a great deal, I’m not sure if my eye would have noticed it right away or not.

    When I look at travel photographs though, I want to see the real beauty of the world around me and sometimes that means warts and all. As I study the lower photograph, I do think its a real shame that the installers of said grate didn’t make a little more effort to build a grate that was so obviously out of place and asymmetrical. Keeping it in the photograph may help inspire future architects and builders to think more about the impact of their own ‘art’.

  • It could depend on what the photograph is being used for. If it is for a travel publication, as others have said, I like to see realistic photo and would question a publication’s credibility for using photos that don’t portray the reality of a place.

    However for the sake of photography, the first one is simply much more visually appealing. Which one would I hang in my living room? The first. :)

  • As a viewer and appreciator of such pictures, it’s an issue I go back and forth on. I appreciate a photo that is entirely unaltered as I feel it conveys skill on the part of the photographer. However, it takes a different type of skill to edit a picture to make it pop, too.

    For your example, I think sans-grate is the way to go. It’s distracting with the grate. Plus, you’re trying to impart the historical significance of the site. The grate is a modern addition, removing it doesn’t take away from the historical vibe.

    One other random thought, since I live in an oft photographed country, it bugs me when I see travel photos (from other sources, of course) that are clearly over Photoshopped and barely look like their location. Like putting an outer glow on a temple, come on.

  • I definitely spruce my pictures up a bit but never change them that way.

  • If its mainly for personal use/appreciation, I think you should edit it as you see fit.
    Was your memory of St John basilica about the incredible ruins, or do you want to be reminded of the misplaced drain every time you look at the photo?

  • I don’t have much editing skills beyond crop and auto tone…but even then, it still mentally rubs me the wrong way a little when I change things too much from the original picture… I would rather see something real unless it’s supposed to be a really artsy portrayal of whatever it is you’re photographing.

  • Also, nice job on the great/grate puns…

  • I like this post a lot, Greg. I suppose the dilema should really only come based on how the photo is being used. If it is purely for artistic purposes, such as something to hang on a wall, then yes, the grate could be removed, but if it was a sales purpose… trying to entice someone to come visit, I think honesty is always the best policy. You don’t want to deceive people… it’s all about creating and managing their expectations. A very good debatable topic, me thinks!

  • Piroska Gorog

    Hi Greg,
    I love your photo of the Basilica and as Ias said in the former comment, that for artistic purposes the grate should be removed. But otherwise… I think not too many people will remember once they standing at the Basilica, if they saw a grate on the photo or not! :) For me, it is such a little difference and doesn’t change anything on the beauty of the place!

  • Upasana Jain

    I like this post a lot Greg… :)

  • hello rahul comment..

  • Rahul Tiwari

    hello