Friday, May 2, 2008

Is It Cheating?

This is our 40-year-old Bradford Pear. Isn't it gorgeous? It's so beautiful when it's blooming, and the glossy leaves are lovely all summer. In the fall, it turns bright shades of apricot, red, yellow, and burgundy, and holds onto its colorful leaves late into the fall, sometimes even into early winter. This photograph was enhanced - I adjusted the contrast since the blooms hardly even showed up at all in the undoctored original. Forget about trying to capture the blossoms on a sunny day regardless of any photoshop enhancements. They show up just fine through my naked eye, whether it's cloudy or sunny, just not so great either way through the lens of my camera. I also got close on purpose so you can't really tell just how gangly this tree really is. Bradford Pears do not retain their lovely youthful shape as they get old.

There are several other even worse examples in our 40-year-old subdivision of just how un-graceful this tree becomes with age. No, it's not horrible, but this is how this tree really looks at the top - nothing like a shapely 10 year old, is it? It's not cheating to post the above picture on my blog since I'm also showing you the unadorned reality of it's gangly shape, right? But what if I didn't tell you I enhanced the contrast and what if I let you think this tree was less awkward-looking than it really is? What if I didn't want the slantiness of this tree to become the focus of my photo? What if I just wanted to share the loveliness of this blossoming tree? What if I told you Bradford Pears don't age gracefully but still didn't show the stark reality?

There's a thought-provoking post on My Skinny Garden today about enhancing or altering blog photos. My comment became a post, as I didn't want to monopolize so much space in the comment section. I do have a tendency to go on and on (in case you haven't noticed by now.) If you don't believe me, just ask my dear husband!

I make an effort not to be too controversial on my blog, and I hope no one is offended by what I have to say on this subject.

The way I see it, photography is an art. There are all different skill levels, as in any other art.

Artists throughout the ages have captured images in oils, water colors, stone, clay, and countless other mediums. Sometimes the rendition is true to the actual object being captured in the medium. On the other hand, many, if not most artists take many 'liberties' in interpreting what they see. That's what makes it art, at least to me.

I happen to have a pretty nice digital camera with many optional settings. It works much like a traditional 35 mm, only with even more possible settings. There are also different lenses I can purchase, although I have only the standard one that came with the camera.

I haven't taken the time to learn how to take the best advantage of the camera, and even my old 35 mm is an automatic. I consider my photography skills to be very basic. I wouldn't consider a photographer with a camera like mine who knows how to use it properly and can afford all the optional lenses to be cheating because they have advanced equipment and skills which enable them to capture their plants and gardens as they see them or as they would like to see them.

Is it cheating to cut out less attractive parts of the garden, or undeveloped parts of the garden? Is it cheating to preen a plant before taking pictures of it? Is it cheating to use optional lenses or make aperture, focus, zoom, or macro adjustments?

Any improvements I make to my photos are with the aim of improving my photos which aren't usually very good given my very basic photography skills. I often get the lighting wrong. Things come out blurry and are centered wrong. I don't try to make the garden or my plants look different than what they actually are. To the contrary, my photos usually pale in comparison to the subject and I do my best to bring the photos up to snuff to do justice to what I was photographing.

Photographing plants can be quite challenging and is an art unto itself. I prefer not to judge the art of others. I don't view blog photos with questions in my mind of what enhancements may or may not have been done. It's not my intention to judge others' opinions. We all have the right to choose our own criterion. As for me, I enjoy good art and good photography, and am not offended by enhancements, don't choose which enhancements by others I think are ok and which are cheating. For me to do so, I feel would be somewhat subjective and arbitrary.


  1. I'm not sure where the cheating would can never really give the exact feel of being there. So I agree with you...there are all different levels of ability and equipment out there and I try to take pictures that look the most like the real deal. On the other hand, your Bradford looks very different from mine...are all of them there multi-trunked? It also looks a lot shorter and airier...mine is not quite twenty years old but appears to be much taller and fuller with only one trunk. I'll have to post a photo someday. I agree that it has a lot of good qualities although I worry about it getting weak, a fault I've heard mentioned.

  2. Here's a list (for speed)!

    1. Blogs (in general) could do with being a bit more controversial.

    2. If the image is at odds with what you see - it is the camera which lies.

    3. If your 'enhancements' show us what you really see, then that is the truth.

    4. If someone wants to take a photo of you, you smile. You don't mess up your hair, take out your false teeth - and glare.

    5. The garden can't 'pose' for the camera. You have to brush its hair for it, tell it a joke or two, miss out the top of the tree. That kind of thing.

    6. Everyone is an artist, to some degree. Every picture has a message.

    7. The wonderful thing about modern technology is that we can come closer to the 'truth' than was ever possible with rubbishy old snapshots - when we were for ever having to say 'It's much better in real life than in the photo, really it is!' - and hope people believed us!

    9. Sometimes 'postings' simply come over one in the middle of other people's comment boxes. It's just how it happens!


  3. There's no such thing as 'cheating' with a photograph. YOU are the creator of that photo, whether it's a poorly composed, over-exposed, out-of-focus snapshot or an eloquent, by-the-rules photo that's been chopped, cropped, and PhotoShopped -- in the end, it's still YOUR creation. That's the beauty of digital photography -- you can even save a "bad" photo and turn it into something exquisite. Manipulating a photo to make it what you want is a bit like applying makeup -- if you were having a professional portrait taken to frame and display, would you not wear a bit of makeup and ask to have the huge zit on your chin removed before printing? :) You'd want people to see you at your best -- why should your garden be any different?

    Having said all that (and apologies for the length!), I've never come across a "bad" photo on any of the blogs I read daily. To me, it's a thrill and a privilege to be able to stroll through others' gardens -- I've never encountered a photo that diminished that experience for me at all. Just my 2 cents' worth. :)

  4. I agree, there's no cheating in enhancing pictures. You're just helping to doll up the pictures, kind of like the way we comb our hair and put on makeup. There's no such thing for a garden.

    If you look at the picture on my blog where the kids are watering plants in a concrete basket I doctored that picture. The original showed off my son's back and his pants should have been pulled up a bit. We don't need to see the messy details, just the joyous moment you are trying to capture!

  5. I agree with Ester - I don't want to show my (metaphorical) warts, nor do I want to see others' warts unless it serves a purpose. Enhancing the photo to try to make it more true to life is not cheating. It is true that the camera always lies, but the idea to be communicated should be the arbiter of what gets edited out or altered in a photo.

  6. What on earth can I add that these wonderful ladies didn't already "PUT TO RIGHT" .. I would only be repeating with what I fully agree on.
    We are all artists in our own individual way, with our gardens and our photographs .. who has the right to judge how we portray them ?
    This is an open forum, for pros and amateurs .. we should be able to feel relaxed and unjudgemental about all of our own pictures/posts, and those of others !
    So lets just do that ? alright ? LOL

  7. Correcting things so that they look more like what you see, isn't cheating, it's dealing with the limitations of mechanical cameras vs bilogical eyes.

    Emphasizing what you want to show or illustrate is kind to the reader. (sometimes we don't know or are not familiar with a plant you might be speaking of)

  8. Hi there garden girl, I am sorry I haven’t had time to visit you :-)

    Great post!! Well, applause all round to all the authors of your comments :-D

    I agree completely. I have a digi camera with a zoom lens but haven't had the time to properly learn how to use it. I get good enough photos but also struggle with what is a cheat or not. If I did learn every thing my camera could do there would be absolutely no need for Photoshop or the like :-D But I could still this is as cheating :-o

    My criteria is to try and show the colours and mood of what I see – the moment. If that means on occasions I have to adjust a light level or two – so be it. I look in my camera Nestbox (lit by daylight) in the morning and at night and the picture is dark. I want to share what is in there – do I show it as I see it or do I lighten it so others can see it?

    I do see photography as an art. Images are exactly that, an image of what we see. In writing our blogs and showing photos we are sharing our experiences – who can judge but ourselves on what we see :-D

    Have a great weekend and I look forward to seeing 'your' images you have to share with us all in your posts :-D

  9. Thought provoking. As a novice, (I am just a gardener who takes a few photos) if the color comes out right, if it's not blurred, if I actually frame a good shot, it's thrilling.

    Let me add this to easter's list and stretch the discussion to include posting as an art.

    # 10. We all edit our writings before we post; no one would argue a well crafted post was cheating.


  10. Leslie, Thanks for the feedback! After reading the comments, I'm not sure why I thought this post would be controversial!

    We have both single and multi-trunked versions of Bradford Pears around here. The single-trunked ones seem to be younger. It may have been in vogue to plant multi-trunked specimens back when this one was planted, whereas newer Bradford Pears tend to be single-trunked, at least in our area. The arborist who limbed up our pear two years ago said as much, but I haven't verified it through any research.

    One thing I noticed with this picture is that our pear looks smaller in the photos than it really does in our landscape. It is, I think airier as you said. I think this is a function of age. Maybe the multi-trunked ones tend to be less tall? I'm not sure.

    Most of the Bradford Pears I've seen are younger than this one. They don't tend to be kept around for 40 years. I agree with you, the younger ones seem to be fuller. Ours had to be pretty severely limbed up due to rubbing on the gutters and roof. After replacing our roof 2 years ago, it was essential to limb up the pear to prevent further roof damage. That probably also accounts for the airier look.

    Esther, excellent points! Thank you for your feedback. After reading the linked post, I was very curious what other garden bloggers thought. I appreciate you weighing in. I respect your viewpoint.

    Nancy, thank you also for your feedback. I was somewhat conflicted while thinking about the post I read earlier today. I appreciate reading the views of other garden bloggers on this subject. You make a lot of good points. No need to apologize for the length of your comment. I appreciate your insights, and your comments are always welcome regardless of how long or short they might be.

    Cinj, I like the makeup analogy. I go to work these days sans makeup, (why bother when I sweat it off anyway,) but I'd be mortified to have my picture on the internet the way I look at work!!! I certainly wouldn't want to cause similar distress or embarrassment to my garden, especially considering how good it's been to me lately!

    MMD, so true - the camera always lies. Often it lies in a less-than-flattering way. I can attest to that with all the pictures of myself that have never seen the light of day. I know I don't look as bad as some of those pictures make me look!

    Joy, I appreciate your reinforcing comments. I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels this way. I was a little surprised to see someone post what seemed like rules of acceptable photo enhancements. I'd never realized there were rules, and just had to view them as arbitrary. I'm just not big on rules.

    Cinj, LOL! Darn, I wanted to see the butt crack! (Just kidding!) That's a very good analogy. My garden still has a few butt cracks, and I'm not sure the internets are ready to see them yet, or that I'm ready to show them. I did show my Bradford Pear in all it's gangliness, and the mess left from our neighbor's willow. They couldn't get the stump and huge ball of roots out with the bulldozer, so they dropped it back in it's crater. Real pretty behind my new shrubs (not!)

    Nancy, good points! Your comment made me think about the 2-d nature of photos as opposed to the 3-d nature of nature! I've noticed the lack in my photos.

    Hi there Shirl, please don't apologize. . . I know how it is! So many blogs, so little time! I wish I had more time to visit all the blogs I've come to enjoy. It's just not possible if you have a job and a life, or even one of the above. I really appreciate your views on this subject. I feel better hearing (reading) what so many people whose viewpoints I respect have to say on this subject.

    I hope you have a good weekend too!

    Gail, I like your #10 addition to Esther's list. I like the comparison of well-crafted photos to a well-crafted post.

    I'm glad I posted on this subject. It's reinforcing to know I'm not alone on how I see it.

  11. Heather's Garden10:25 PM

    It's funny that I see this so differently. I guess I'm old school in trying to use the natural light and exposure correctly and framing properly from the beginning. I seldom crop and I never color correct. If a photo isn't close to what I saw with the naked eye, then I don't use it. And the funniest thing is, I know how to Photoshop, I just don't. That said, I know that I think my photos are much better than they really are, but oh well, some of us are born copy editors instead of artists.

  12. Your Bradford looks pretty...enhanced or not. I know how they all look. I prefer the Fall colors to the Spring...only because I have asthma and the Spring flowering really makes it hard for me to breathe. But I have two regular fruiting pear trees and when they flower it does not do that. Weird.
    I am guilty of making my pictures the way I want. By moving something out of the way...pulling a weed or pruning something...(-: I really want a new camera because mine doesn't do anything justice as far as I'm concerned. I don't photo shop pictures in my blog though. Just because I go with the moment of the picture(-: It is what it is. If the picture doesn't look good when I put it on the computer I delete it. I love that feature!!! Poof its gone!

  13. Is it cheating to prune, weed, mulch, choose color combinations, plant annuals. All are edits to our garden and part of our art. I do not have a very sophisticated photo program so I go with what I've got. But I might if I could. I certainly "edit" in my garden. I love a great photograph and will bow to those garden bloggers who have that skill. But I also bow to those who garden skillfully. You can see that in the most basic pictures.

  14. The thought never even crossed my mind while browsing through all of those lovely garden photos out there. I see it as a way (and that being the only way) of visiting my cyber fellow-gardeners and their private peace of heaven. And thus, every single photo is another treat, another door to someone's private backyard, front yard, whatever the case, and I believe I speak in the name of all of us when I say 'the more the merrier'. I don't really care if they are enhanced or cropped nor am I bothered by the fact of someone wanting to alter their photos in order to make it look closer to their point of view, that is, reality. Each photo is a gift, being a piece of art or merely a portrayal of someone's gardening events. Although still miles away from the feeling of witnessing all of the above in person, with your very two eyes, enhanced with contact lenses, glasses or not. What an intriguing post Linda, cheers !

  15. I agree with a point that Esther makes above...the camera lies. (I agree with all her points. Well said, Esther!) I would add that the eye lies too.

    The job of the photographer is to focus the viewers' eyes on what the photographer wants to show. Changing light, focal length, focus, lenses, framing are all ways to do that. None of it is cheating.

    The other day I posted two photos of the same poppy taken at different times of the day. Only the light is different. Which is the "true" color of the poppy? See...the eye lies, both ours and the cameras. Color, after all is just reflected light.

  16. Nope, not cheating from my point of view. Esther said it best, she made some great points. As for me, I don't use too many features here on my camera, I do crop though and sometimes tweak the contrast.

    In the daylily world there was quite a bit of ruckus when somebody amended their photos. In the case of trying to sell a plant, it might be cheating when you make a muddy lavender look like a blue bloom. But on the whole, a photograph is supposed to tell a story and why not tell a nice story.

  17. Heather, I guess old school means something a little different to me, having grown up with a dad who was a photographer and had a darkroom, way before the time of digital cameras and photoshop. My husband reminded me that the previous owners of our home were photographers and had a darkroom here in our basement.

    Developing pictures in a darkroom is old school to me, and what I grew up with. You might be amazed and surprised the way a photo was altered in a darkroom. Cropping, exposure, tint, and all sorts of things could be done after a photo was taken. Technology has advanced and the darkroom has become more accessible to the average photo hobbyist. The darkroom is now on our computers. Of course, we can now do more kinds of editing and enhancing of photos, but editing and enhancing photos IS old school. Even color correcting is old school. Before the age of color photos, many photographers learned how to paint their photos with special photo paints so they could show their images in color. With digital photography and tools like photoshop, we no longer have to send our photos to impersonal photo labs that process hundreds of thousands of photos. We don't have to say as often anymore, "Well, it really did look better in person." Photos have been edited and enhanced in the darkroom for as long as there have been photos. It doesn't get much more old school than that.

    Cindee, I think we all try to do our best with our photos in our own ways using whatever equipment we have. I enjoy my camera, I should really take the time to learn how to use all the settings and do all the manual adjustments. Someday. . . !

    K. Johnson, my point exactly! We're all 'guilty' to whatever degree, of editing, and there are so many ways to do that.

    Violet, that's how I see it. I enjoy everyone's photos, and don't analyze them for how they have been edited.

    MSS, in this case, two pictures are worth a thousand words. Excellent point - color is reflected light. Check it out everyone - what color is the poppy?

    Melanie, thanks for weighing in. This is such an interesting discussion.

  18. This is a great topic and One that Pam from Digging and I had last year on our blogs.

    I personally like to use photo editing software. I never use a tripod so sometimes my pictures need a bit of sharpening. I also crop, adjust color, (saturate or desaturate to get the color as natural as possible), and adjust lighting. This is just a part of the photography process to me. I like to show my best work.

    I may do a post showing before and after shots of the different stages of the Photoshop process.

    I think my damselfly picture would be perfect for that.

  19. Robin, I don't use a tripod either, although sometimes I think I should. My hands are a bit more shaky than they used to be when I was younger, and I often see it in the photos. It gets a bit frustrating. Sharpening with photoshop does help. I'm glad we have this technology available now.

    I also crop, adjust lighting, and saturate and desaturate color.

  20. Linda,
    It is a very interesting question. I think definately it is not cheating. Not every picture gives exact true reality and true colors - is thich tech-cheating? rather yes. If picture is enhanced to show the reality closer to reality, that is better - isn't it?
    It is not better to post a picture that looks dull, if in reality that piece looks much better.
    Sometimes site is gorgeous and is almost not possible to picture right its beauty..
    So whatever we do to make others feel same what we do - I think is better than not doing it.
    Greetings from Poland,

  21. What a *great* post and all the comments are so thoughtful too. I don't think I can add much to what has already been said here.

    I worried at first that by cropping my photos I was somehow "cheating" but really, photography is an art form and I don't feel guilty anymore. I'm trying to show the reader what *I* see and I prefer to share the beautiful things that bring me joy. Occasionally however, I do choose to share the ugly parts so I can see the "before" and "after" when I look back at my blog later on.

    I wonder how much the idea of "cheating" in photography is related to the general misconceptions many people have about art and artists. I didn't realise just how many preconceived notions I had until reading "Drawing From the Right Side of the Brain". We tend to think artists are just naturally born that way, that they didn't need instruction,hours of practice, tools to help them "see" and tools to help them create their art. That would be cheating...or so some people mistakenly think.

  22. Amy, I'm glad I posted about this subject. It's been interesting and enlightening to read what other garden bloggers have to say about editing photos.

    I definitely agree with you that there are some misconceptions about art in general, including the art of photography.


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