This shot is one of my favourites from a trip to Rome a few years back. Until recently, I skipped over it whenever I skimmed through my folder of images because it was taken in a narrow street that, in the afternoon sun, created a long shadow over the couple walking and the colourful ornaments strung between the two buildings. It was only in the last few months or so that I attempted re-editing it and making it a composite image, as I did with this shot of downtown Toronto.
Sure, some photography purists would say that this isn’t true photography — and the very few times I’ve actually employed the technique I’d be lying if I said I didn’t question it myself. But after considering it for about 5 seconds, I got over it. Here’s why:
Essentially what I did was lighten the photo and increase the saturation and contrast and so that the alley, that was once dark and drab and uninspired is now brighter and more full of colour than it was in its original context. What makes it a composite is that the sky, which was completely washed out in the original, is actually taken from another image shot a short time after this one. I wanted the blue sky overhead, as it was when the shot was taken and before my camera manoeuvring rendered it completely white. I’m not saying it’s a perfect image by any means — I’m just describing what was done.
Now, this is hardly the biggest offender when it comes to composite images. Some photographers may have taken the people from different photos, the setting from another, the sky from a fourth, the ornaments from a fifth, and so on. For some, this means that it isn’t pure photography — as if somewhere Henri Cartier-Bresson is rolling in anguish around his grave.
I look at it this way: what is a pure art form? The earliest humans scratched drawings onto cave walls, so perhaps that’s the answer. One they introduced pigments, did that bastardize the purity of the picture? Or was that the sin of the first great artists, who decide against scratching their images into stone in favour of charcoal on paper or paint on canvas? Does a writer editing a manuscript, or a filmmaker splicing scenes kill the artistic credibility of those pieces because they didn’t leave them as written or shot? Or, more to that end, did colourization kill the art of movies?
My point is that every art form is an evolution of another. If this was a journalistic shot, then yes, it would be a problem because you’re reporting from a scene and the ethics of a journalist that are not to be compromised at any turn. As an art form, however, photography is allowed the same amount of creative license as any other medium. Sure, you may feel betrayed in a gallery if you find out that a photograph of a beautiful scene that caught your eye is really a composite of two, or three, or more images. But too bad.
You don’t have to like it, but I’ve heard people complain about composite images and I used to agree with them. Then I thought of it in terms of an evolutionary quirk of the art form, and I’m fine with it. Like with music — where if my ears like it them I’m fine with it — if my eyes enjoy an image then I don’t want to get picky over how it was shot or if it was edited using this software or that editing suite. I just don’t have the time. There’s too many more photographs to take.