How Photoshop Makes us all Paranoid

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The forest is closed.jpgWhat I learned very quick in my starting activity as a freelance-photographer is that, all work be damned, you have exceedingly little control over your assignment-flow. Sure, you can make a great website/jolly facebookpage/stellar portfolio. But making people to call you now, now now! is rather hard.

As idleness is the devil’s playground, I decided to explore the world of stock-photography. Making great, self-assigned images and then relaxing in a chair while money trickled in: easy as pie! Lately I found myself enthralled by nature photography which of course lend itself even more to the cause. Creating an account, choosing three pictures, sending them in ‘pending for approval’ and away we would go!

Or so I thought.

‘Two out of three rejected’ was the very surprising result. Hadn’t I chosen some of my favorite and least controversial creations? Quoted reason: ‘over-processed/over-filtered’. And so it went a second time and a third! iStock, one of the biggest online stock-photography libraries appeared to employ very rigid and arbitrary qualification requirements; requirements that, judging by other examples on the site, appear to show little consistency. Go judge yourself: these were the images I sent in (1234).

(As a side-note, this image was rejected because it was found to be ‘blurred‘. But… It was meant to be..?)

Reading further threw some light on the case:

Reason of rejection…may include Photoshop filters & effects (over-sharpening, excessive adjustments to levels, curves, contrast, hues, gaussian blurs, saturation, added textures, noise reduction…) or other manipulations.

It seems I had become victim of the raging discussion and insecurity in which we find ourself today more than ever – but not for the first time in the history of the medium – surrounding the ‘truth’ of photos.

All is not quiet on the western front as a new scandal had been making the rounds in a number of photo-blogs and news sources. A photographer had been ‘caught’, compositing a number of bird-images. This had introduced the poor man without recourse in a long list of creative types with such illustrious predecessor as Josef Stalin himself.

The debate is an old one. New however is the ease – though, I can assure you, editing away objects in Photoshop in a clean way is far from easy – and the extend in which manipulation can be done today. Magic Wand-ing, cloning and gaussian blur are now part even of the vocabularies of a growing number of retirees with too much spare time and an interest in photography. The expectation that a beautiful images ‘has to be manipulated’ is so ingrained that we don’t even pause to question our own paranoia.

But, rather than bothering ourselves with the question if an image is 100% ‘true’ – something that, in my own opinion will never be – we should ask ourselves if adaptations (not ‘manipulation’) are reasonable; if they add or remove something essential to the image. Erasing some zits from a model’s face is perfectly reasonable. Making eyes a little brighter can be legitimate. Blowing up boobs, lengthening legs and shrinking waists is not.

Ethics surrounding photo-manipulation is never so simple as a yes or no question and is not even a ‘thin line’; it is a mine-field in a no man’s land. That careers can be scuttled be being ‘caught’ doing so is sad, in particular because in the trench war between ‘digital compositors’ and photo-purists, there appears to be little willingness to come to a middle ground.

The image at the top of the page is a scan of a photo made on a roll of 400 iso Ilford HP5+ film, shot in a Canon AE1 with a Vivitar 28mm 2.8 lens. Analogue photography is, globally speaking (and totally ungrounded) free from suspicion – and is therefore usually far less criticized on imperfections than what we came to expect from, nevertheless untouchable, digital files. 

It’s just… it was a misty morning but it was not totally black and white. If I’m not colorblind, is using black and white film than photo manipulation? And if my camera does not show what my eyes see but I manage to reproduce in post the image that was projected on my retina, what, I ask of you, is that?*

Your opinion is appreciated as I can’t solve this one alone.

*(For your interest, the photos I sent to iStock weren’t manipulated heavily. Advanced camera’s make RAW files that need to be corrected in post for color, sharpness, brightness etc. Usually, I limit myself to these adaptations; not only because I find myself on this side of the line but also because I lack the skills to do otherwise.)

iso800 profiel.jpgJonathan Debeer is a Belgian freelance photographer. While mostly active with companion Christophe De Mulder in iso800, their expanding brainchild, you can also find him on his blog or on flickr.

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  • Eric

    I manage to understand everyone´s point of view. Marco has a point when he states the pix you have submitted are not very marketable. No personal offense given here. On another hand, if you want to sell your work, you need to give the client what he wants, and that might be completely different to what you like to do. Remember too, lots of people will like what you do too. You just have to find the right audience to spread your work, with the difficulty it imposes, as imposing your own vision on the world might not be a matter of talent, but a matter of connections, money and time. Why not writing another article depicting your most personal visions?
    As for digital editing, the debate is as old as digital photography is, we are unlikely to find an answer that would close it anytime soon…

  • Alexx

    I get nervous sometimes hoping I don’t just imagine it’s better because I spent so much time editing it.

    http://disney-photography-blog.blogspot.com/2012/03/daily-snap-1.html

  • Chris

    Isn’t putting a filter on the end of a lens manipulating the image? Or using a flash? Adjusting the aperture or iso or white balance are all manipulating the image. Even a long exposure is. Every photo is in some way manipulated. Waiting for the sun to get to the right spot in a landscape shot is even in a way manipulating it on a basic level. With film, the different types or concentrations of chemicals used is manipulating the image.
    I took a picture of a tree and did not care for the look of the image so I set the camera to monochrome and re-shot. That one came out a million times better (by my opinion.) That is manipulation.
    They need to concentrate more on the quality of the image itself rather than if some one blurred part of the image in Photoshop because the camera and/or situation could not.
    I have lots of images I put through Photoshop. Some were just minor (needed) tweaks. Some I went completely nuts on and they look really great and others love them.
    I have also taken pictures that as soon as I see them (untouched,) I would swear they were Photoshopped. Weather it was the contrast and bright colors of the sunset that that seemed to explode or a picture that looks like the person I took it of was actually copied and pasted into it.
    Now if you take a picture of a rabbit and ps in an image of Elmer Fudd or make a composite of multiple images and claim they were real, I could see issues with that. But not with an image corrected to what you saw that the camera wasn’t capable of seeing. But then the Elmer picture could be funny, but only to those with an imagination!

  • Like anything else it takes time to get in to the business. I would try sending them a close duplicate of something they have and see what they say. Or maybe even send them back there own photo. If they say it’s over processed then you know.

  • My take on Jonathan’s photographs that got rejected is that they look quite natural to my eye; I do not see any extreme image manipulation in any of the 4 photos. His experience with the stock photo company seems rather discouraging to the rest of us. I am curious exactly how much ‘editing’ this company would allow? From my own experience with digital photos of landscapes, I find I need to do some editing of every shot, if only to compensate for poor lighting, or dull color, or for slightly out of focus elements. Thanks Jonathan for sharing your story with us.

  • Ang

    I find the example shots you supplied are over worked. Most of the the colours have too much saturation. As a graphic designer, in print and also a person who at times uses stock, I gravitate to the realistic images. A lot of photographers these days simply bump up saturation and other tweaks just because it is there, or apply filters since it is cool at the time. Also the photos you have taken have specific areas of focus, in the out of focus areas, this is where I normally would place text on top, so those areas need to be simple and have not have drastic bokeh.

    The sunset shot — there are millions of almost exactly the same thing — stock image companies are inundated with those shots and have more than enough unless you can provide something different.

    Less is more.

  • Patrick

    Look, if we have the tools to make any art better we should use it. Forget about just taking a picture
    and hope it will turn out ok. The new PP software is great and will make any photo better if used correctly.
    Don’t be a purest and produce an image that is not the best it can be by limiting or avoiding pp software.
    Any image now a days can be made better.

  • Ang

    This article is in reference to submitting photos to stock. There are strict rules there for many reasons. Instead of whinging about it, learn about the reasons why it was knocked back. PP software is there to make a shot that already looks great, into something potentially sensational. If s*** goes in s***er comes out.

Some Older Comments

  • Ang April 12, 2012 08:55 am

    This article is in reference to submitting photos to stock. There are strict rules there for many reasons. Instead of whinging about it, learn about the reasons why it was knocked back. PP software is there to make a shot that already looks great, into something potentially sensational. If s*** goes in s***er comes out.

  • Patrick April 10, 2012 07:24 am

    Look, if we have the tools to make any art better we should use it. Forget about just taking a picture
    and hope it will turn out ok. The new PP software is great and will make any photo better if used correctly.
    Don't be a purest and produce an image that is not the best it can be by limiting or avoiding pp software.
    Any image now a days can be made better.

  • Ang April 4, 2012 04:09 pm

    I find the example shots you supplied are over worked. Most of the the colours have too much saturation. As a graphic designer, in print and also a person who at times uses stock, I gravitate to the realistic images. A lot of photographers these days simply bump up saturation and other tweaks just because it is there, or apply filters since it is cool at the time. Also the photos you have taken have specific areas of focus, in the out of focus areas, this is where I normally would place text on top, so those areas need to be simple and have not have drastic bokeh.

    The sunset shot -- there are millions of almost exactly the same thing -- stock image companies are inundated with those shots and have more than enough unless you can provide something different.

    Less is more.

  • Stephen Lewis April 1, 2012 06:43 am

    My take on Jonathan's photographs that got rejected is that they look quite natural to my eye; I do not see any extreme image manipulation in any of the 4 photos. His experience with the stock photo company seems rather discouraging to the rest of us. I am curious exactly how much 'editing' this company would allow? From my own experience with digital photos of landscapes, I find I need to do some editing of every shot, if only to compensate for poor lighting, or dull color, or for slightly out of focus elements. Thanks Jonathan for sharing your story with us.

  • Jai Catalano March 25, 2012 11:09 pm

    Like anything else it takes time to get in to the business. I would try sending them a close duplicate of something they have and see what they say. Or maybe even send them back there own photo. If they say it's over processed then you know.

  • Chris March 22, 2012 03:17 am

    Isn't putting a filter on the end of a lens manipulating the image? Or using a flash? Adjusting the aperture or iso or white balance are all manipulating the image. Even a long exposure is. Every photo is in some way manipulated. Waiting for the sun to get to the right spot in a landscape shot is even in a way manipulating it on a basic level. With film, the different types or concentrations of chemicals used is manipulating the image.
    I took a picture of a tree and did not care for the look of the image so I set the camera to monochrome and re-shot. That one came out a million times better (by my opinion.) That is manipulation.
    They need to concentrate more on the quality of the image itself rather than if some one blurred part of the image in Photoshop because the camera and/or situation could not.
    I have lots of images I put through Photoshop. Some were just minor (needed) tweaks. Some I went completely nuts on and they look really great and others love them.
    I have also taken pictures that as soon as I see them (untouched,) I would swear they were Photoshopped. Weather it was the contrast and bright colors of the sunset that that seemed to explode or a picture that looks like the person I took it of was actually copied and pasted into it.
    Now if you take a picture of a rabbit and ps in an image of Elmer Fudd or make a composite of multiple images and claim they were real, I could see issues with that. But not with an image corrected to what you saw that the camera wasn't capable of seeing. But then the Elmer picture could be funny, but only to those with an imagination!

  • Alexx March 17, 2012 05:38 pm

    I get nervous sometimes hoping I don't just imagine it's better because I spent so much time editing it.

    http://disney-photography-blog.blogspot.com/2012/03/daily-snap-1.html

  • Eric March 16, 2012 01:25 pm

    I manage to understand everyone´s point of view. Marco has a point when he states the pix you have submitted are not very marketable. No personal offense given here. On another hand, if you want to sell your work, you need to give the client what he wants, and that might be completely different to what you like to do. Remember too, lots of people will like what you do too. You just have to find the right audience to spread your work, with the difficulty it imposes, as imposing your own vision on the world might not be a matter of talent, but a matter of connections, money and time. Why not writing another article depicting your most personal visions?
    As for digital editing, the debate is as old as digital photography is, we are unlikely to find an answer that would close it anytime soon...

  • Sal March 16, 2012 05:52 am

    For Jonathan and everyone else who wonders why his pics got rejected, at iStock, the forums have a section where you can request feedback from other iStock contributors:
    http://www.istockphoto.com/forum_threads.php?forumid=26

    I don't know about the other stock photography sites: at iStockphoto you don't pay to be a contributor, but you need to be accepted by submitting 3 images which will be judged as to whether the contributor is good at making images, more than as to whether those images are ideal for stock or not. After you're approved (which usually requires many submissions), you can upload new images, which must be approved individually (sometimes an image that you used to apply as contributor is not approved to go into the library). The inspectors are really involved members with great contribution to the site, and you might even become one of them if given enough time, experience, engagement, etc. The characteristics of the files you submit are defined only by you: some people submit really standard stock photos on white background, but some people do great artistic and authoral work (like supernatural images, or distorted realities). You'll only sell those images to a different public: on advertising, most people will want white background, but on book covers, CD covers, or rich website templates, people want images with a little more art to them.

  • Max Scott March 16, 2012 05:14 am

    Thanks to Marco & HWilliam! The question of manipulation has been answered; there are no true reproductions of what the eye has seen. As previously explained, modern digital cameras and post processing offer a multitude of tools for the various nuances of photography! The remaining question then is how best to satisfy sites demanding minimal manipulation- right? I may be wrong here but believe that was the author’s question. I’m open to suggestions- how much is too much manipulation?
    As stated I am an amateur photographer and as someone else said, “retired with too much time on his hands.” If no one objects I would like to expand this discussion a bit. Exactly how does a stock photograph site function? Are we involved in art or news submissions? Maybe those paths ought to be pursued in this discussion? Thanks to all involved for their patience with this old man.

  • Marco March 16, 2012 05:04 am

    @Jonathon DeBeer -- Concerning item 2 on your list above: you need to reread my comment. (quote)Having looked at all five images that you show, I would not pay anything for any of them. Sorry but they do not show any artistic merit or mastery of photographic skills.(end quote). I did not evaluate your whole body of work and did not criticize any other than these five images.

    My point still stands and that is that you submitted these to a stock photography company and were rejected. I see why and you need more experience or distance to understand the issue. These images have no market value what so ever that I can think of.

    I don't know for sure, but I suspect that you are trying to make money from photography without putting time on the line and mastering the craft. This is all too common a phenomenon these days. As I said, when you have a body of work that involves 100,000 images you will have enough experience to look at these and see what I am saying. Maybe you will get it sooner or maybe it will never happen but get over the rejection from the stock companies and get some real experience. Submit your best image to www.photosig.com and get ready for some real critiques!!! If you truly wish to learn and advance, you must have thick skin and take the harsh criticism and learn from it.

  • Marco March 16, 2012 04:42 am

    @Max Scott -- JPG's are native to PS where RAW are not even an image file. To use RAW files in an image manipulation program (Photoshop, GIMP, Aperture, Lightroom, etc) they either have a RAW converter built in or use a plug in to work with the data. A RAW file is all of the data that the sensor in the camera captured as expressed in computer language. Once you open that data and make any adjustments to it that you like, you then export it as an image file that might be JPG, TIFF, or other.

    The main point to understand about image manipulation is that ALL IMAGES ARE MANIPULATED no matter how they were taken. A picture is a two dimensional representation of a three dimensional scene. (I hear that some three D images are starting to show up) The photographer makes many decisions that effect the resulting image. What lens to use, what F/ stop to use, what shutter speed, what ISO and all of these choices change the outcome of the image captured. With digital cameras, the image is captured by the sensor and then converted to JPG if you chose to set the camera that way. If so the camera uses the default settings chosen by the camera manufacturer unless you change them in the menus. So the camera has to manipulate the image captured unless you set it to only capture RAW files. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A "TRUE" IMAGE!!!!!

  • hwilliam March 14, 2012 09:16 am

    In the compression process jpg makes various decision, set by the camera manufacturer, on how the photograph should look. Some manufacturers cameras will produce more of a warm tone than others. Truth be known, call film or digital captures will not be exactly what your eye saw.

  • Max Scott March 14, 2012 07:45 am

    Two disclaimers:
    1. Caution- Amateur at work
    2. I have not read any of the preceding comments

    If today’s digital cameras will render either in JPEG or RAW why not just use JPEG to submit projects? If I understand correctly, JPEG is not conducive to much if any “Photoshop” techniques.

    Thanks for listening.

  • Jonathan Debeer March 12, 2012 11:23 pm

    Dear all,

    I'm very pleasantly surprised by the number of reactions posted on my article. I was hoping to unleash some kind of debate and clearly, in that I succeeded. However, the content of some reactions forces me to make a few observations and objections.

    1. I'm no native speaker. That's true and siobhan, I take no offense in the way you pointed us to that fact (very gentle, thanks). One might argue however that we, the 95% of the world population, who were not born in England, the US or Australia, should in any case receive an E for effort. Perhaps, in a better world where we would all learn esperanto, we would be able to understand each other better :).

    2. Comments on my lack of 'any mastery of photography whatsoever'. That hurts. I think everyone is entitled to his or her opinion and I dig constructive criticism - it's what makes you better. But think about how you would feel if someone dismissed you wholly by having seen only five pictures you tried to sell to iStock. The internet might make us invisible but still, try to be polite. (Most of you are and I applaud you for that).

    3. The above applies to you quarreling too. Please, try to listen and react rather than throw mud. I see a lot of great ideas unfolding. Why don't we try and learn from that instead of calling each other "pompous".

    And finally, if you like the above, I welcome you with open arms to my blog (http://365jonathan.blogspot.com) and our site (www.iso800.be). The latter is in Dutch but the former is also in (non-native ;-) English).

    Cheers

  • Jose Jimenez March 12, 2012 04:38 pm

    brian: your arrogant reply only confirms my comment. You place yourself above us mere peons who could not possibly understand this article. Why don't you take your tedious philosophical meanderings elsewhere and leave photography to the rest of us? Oh, and by the way, don't let us keep you; run, don't walk away.

  • Jose Jimenez March 12, 2012 03:40 pm

    Brian: your arrogant reply just confirms my comment,a know-it-all attitude that suggests the rest of us mere peons couldn't possibly understand the article. Why don't you take your philosophical meanderings elsewhere and leave photography to the rest of us. Run,don't walk.

  • hwilliam March 12, 2012 02:24 pm

    Is there really anything as a "true" photograph? Can any photograph really capture the same image the eye sees? Even when a photograph is not "photoshopped" is it exactly the same as the photographer saw it? Has any photographer ever produced an untouched photographed? Did they develop the film according the manufacture's specs, print it on #2 glossy or matte paper with no dodging or burning for the manufacturer's specified time, processed it in the developing trays according to the manufacture's timetable? To be honest, not very often if at all. Oh, you shoot digital and you print from the memory card directly to the printer so your photograph is a "true" representation of the scene? Still a problem. Did you shoot in JPEG? If the camera chose how to internally process the digital image. How did you choose the white balance? No matter how you did it unless you used some form of reading the white balance directly through the lens, then the camera made some decisions that altered the photograph. And worse of all, if you produced a black and white image then all bets are off. For the most part there are no black and white images out there.

    To me, Ansel Adams was one of the greatest photographers of all time. Today there isn't a stock agency in the world that would accept any one of his images if one of their criteria is that it not be "photoshopped"! While Adams did not have Photoshop back in the day, he still used the principles that we use digitally now. Heck, he wrote a book on "The Negative" and another on "The Print" and what he taught was manipulate, manipulate, manipulate. First you used the Zone System to set your mid-point in the scene, you decided what film to use, you made a decision on what filters to use, if any and then you decided if you needed to push or pull your negatives during the development process. Then when you came to making the print you had to decide what brand of paper, what surface and what grade would make the best image. You decided if you needed to crop the image or not and then you spent countless hours dodging and burning to produce the image you liked. And Adams could even spend days working on a print, making countless test prints before he was satisfied. I sincerely doubt that he ever made a "straight" print he allowed out of his darkroom.

    So, I ask, why are we spending time talking about whether or not we should "manipulate" our digital images? If the "Masters of Photography" did it back in the day, then that's good enough for me. 'Nuff said".

  • hwilliam March 12, 2012 02:22 pm

    Is there really anything as a "true" photograph? Can any photograph really capture the same image the eye sees? Even when a photograph is not "photoshopped" is it exactly the same as the photographer saw it? Has any photographer ever produced an untouched photographed? Did they develop the film according the manufacture's specs, print it on #2 glossy or matte paper with no dodging or burning for the manufacturer's specified time, processed it in the developing trays according to the manufacture's timetable? To be honest, not very often if at all. Oh, you shoot digital and you print from the memory card directly to the printer so your photograph is a "true" representation of the scene? Still a problem. Did you shoot in JPEG? If the camera chose how to internally process the digital image. How did you choose the white balance? No matter how you did it unless you used some form of reading the white balance directly through the lens, then the camera made some decisions that altered the photograph. And worse of all, if you produced a black and white image then all bets are off. For the most part there are no black and white images out there.

    To me, Ansel Adams was one of the greatest photographers of all time. Today there isn't a stock agency in the world that would accept any one of his images if one of their criteria is that it not be "photoshopped"! While Adams did not have Photoshop back in the day, he still used the principles that we use digitally now. Heck, he wrote a book on "The Negative" and another on "The Print" and what he taught was manipulate, manipulate, manipulate. First you used the Zone System to set your mid-point in the scene, you decided what film to use, you made a decision on what filters to use, if any and then you decided if you needed to push or pull your negatives during the development process. Then when you came to making the print you had to decide what brand of paper, what surface and what grade would make the best image. You decided if you needed to crop the image or not and then you spent countless hours dodging and burning to produce the image you liked. And Adams could even spend days working on a print, making countless test prints before he was satisfied. I sincerely doubt that he ever made a "straight" print he allowed out of his darkroom.

    So, I ask, why are we spending time talking about whether or not we should "manipulate" our digital images? If the "Masters of Photography" did it back in the day, then that's good enough for me. 'Nuff

  • Brian March 12, 2012 01:04 pm

    I think what I wrote - and its relevance to the topic - were quite plain enough, Jose. If you don't agree, just put it down to one of the many mysteries of life and keep on walking.

  • Jose Jimenez March 12, 2012 04:29 am

    brian: very lofty-sounding but what does this pompous little diatribe mean?

  • Brian March 12, 2012 12:38 am

    I have had the opportunity in my career to study the behavior of people who both set and enforce standards of one kind or another, whether acting alone or in concert with others (committees or "standards bodies"). It's always fascinating, and not infrequently it's downright ugly. Very often, you will see the abuse of power, exercised by people who previously never had much power over others, and have no idea how to handle it.

    One thing I've noticed is that many of the people who gravitate toward these positions are the very people who ought to be kept furthest from them - for instance, perfectionists, purists and fanatics as well as those who suffer from indigestion or gout. Such people ought never to be in a position to judge anyone's work save their own - and perhaps not even that.

  • javier March 9, 2012 09:37 pm

    I all depends on what is the intent of the picture. If you are selling fine art prints, I think everything is allowed as long as the result is aesthetically pleasing, but as jeremy says documentary photography should not be altered in a way that changes the reality of the scene.
    For stock photography, the reason they don't want heavily processed images is because very often the companies who buy the photos want to do some alterations themselves. It is very easy for them to make a color picture into a black and white, but really hard to go the other way around. I think that is the reason for the (agreed, extremely strict) "no over-filtered" rule.

  • Jeremy March 9, 2012 09:07 pm

    I'm all for adjustment, manipulation, post-processing, etc. but in some cases, for example if you are passing your image as documentary, you need to be as true as possible. When I say true I don't mean sharpening, colour correction, etc. By true I mean not cloned/composited/erased. The example mentioned of the photographer who was "caught out" is not very serious in my opinion, because he actually captured the scene as it happened and only corrected the scene to make the frog more visible. If he took 2 pictures where the egret was not even near the other one and made it look like they were at each other it would have been a different story altogether. Part of the whole deal about documentary photography is capturing specific moments, and if those moments are manufactured at one's leisure in front of a computer screen it misses the point entirely.

  • Aditya Marathe March 9, 2012 07:05 pm

    @Marco...can we see some of your work then?.....to justify what you are saying?

  • Aditya Marathe March 9, 2012 06:04 pm

    I can relate to this article as i have faced a lot of rejects from stock sites. My friends and Family have been critiques for my work and this has helped me overcome the temptation to 'photoshop' my images. Firstly, I have shifted to lightroom, which is subtle. Next I delete photos and not try to make them look good. I am only a hobbiest and honesty in my photographs is what i want to show.

    The question is, where do YOU draw the line?....
    Do you want to depict what you see or alter it altogether to make it look good?
    Do you blame it on your gear and then use software to better your images?

    I have asked these questions to myself and keep asking them everytime I sit in front of the computer. If the answer is yes, i delete that photo.

    But i seriously like to work on HDR........any thoughts on that?

  • Marco March 9, 2012 12:53 pm

    @steve slater -- Yes, I have very photo-realistic brickwork that has clear mortar joints and authentic coloration to the brick surfaces. Sorry to say, but your building image looks like bad HDRI processing. You have lost the detail and exaggerated the lines between over saturated colors. Maybe you need new glasses if this is "what you see" looking at the scene! Hopefully you will advance with enough time on the line and lots of practice.

  • Marco March 9, 2012 12:43 pm

    @Jonathon DeBeers -- Having looked at all five images that you show, I would not pay anything for any of them. Sorry but they do not show any artistic merit or mastery of photographic skills. You asked! All I can suggest is that you spend a few years and when you have 100,000 images behind you take a look at these and you will understand what I am saying and you will have the skill set (and possibly the artistic eye) to critique these for yourself. No harm meant and only best wishes for you to learn and go forward as I give you the truth as I see it. There are no short cuts to mastery of anything. It just takes hard work and time on the line with some good mentoring or guidance along the way. One tip that I will share is that specializing in one genre of photography will allow you to master that part of photography faster than trying to master a wide spectrum of photography. Once you master one form, much will cross over to other styles to allow you to master them quicker than the first segment.

  • Marco March 9, 2012 12:28 pm

    I find this to be a confusing combination of questions. Stock photography has certain requirements that they suggest very minimal adjustments. Fine art photography is a whole other thing. As finished art instead of "graphic art" it is expected to be finished and ready to hang. The question of photoshop is asked way too often. Ansel Adam's work would not be acceptable to stock photography because he did all kinds of tricks in the darkroom. In the early days of color photography there were dozens of "brands" of film to chose from for different uses. The most notable was Velvia film for landscapes. It was extra rich in saturation of the blues and greens to give a better landscape. The other thing to note on this issue is that EVERY DIGITAL IMAGE IS MANIPULATED!!! If you let the camera process the raw data into a JPG it is manipulated to the camera manufacture's settings!!! Or you can customize the setting of the camera to let it process to your choice. This is much like the choice of film in the old days. What are these folks going to say when the new digital cameras start bracketing AND process HDR outputs from the sensor to the JPG all "in camera"????

  • Ash Ahmad March 9, 2012 10:42 am

    its really more of a debate between photographers and graphics designers.... photographers tend to see even a blur as art.... but the blur is a blur for a graphics designer.... A simple example is to give the camera to a graphics designer.... they would point and shoot the image... and immediately think how to photoshop it inorder to look the way they want.... a photographer would lovingly wait and adjust the settings test, test again... and then finally take one good picture which would need minimal editing.

    Franziska had some pointers on what to look for when u send any images.... basically the most blah and vanilla images you may have making sure you dont crop any open spaces...

    to each their own i guess.... my angle is simple.... if u cant beat em join em.... make ur own online gallery and sell the shots as canvases to IKEA and other home furnishing stores that need stock shot looking wall hangings... ;)

  • brooklyn13 March 9, 2012 06:57 am

    Believe me, I know from long experience that iStock's editing process is both arbitrary and inconsistent. If you really like a picture, re-submit in a week or two and chances are you'll get a different editor and have it accepted.

  • Siobhan March 8, 2012 02:26 pm

    First, I really wish that DPS would proofread the articles that come though. I understand that the author of this is not a native English speaker, but over and over again I see spelling, grammatical, and other errors in these posts, and they are distracting. The ones in this aren't bad, but it would have been kind to the author to fix them, and it would reflect better on DPS.

    About the article. it's difficult to understand whether this is about photoshop or about what kinds of images stock agencies accept.

    As others have said, for stock photography, designers usually want a relatively untouched image that they can manipulate themselves. And they want usable images and images they think someone might actually want and buy for commercial work. If the stock agencies don't believe your photos have what it takes to sell, they aren't going to license them. Perhaps your photos are great, but if the subject matter is one that they have too much of already (probably, with nature photography) or that they don't believe will sell.

    The "too blurred" image you shared has no clear focal point. If all of the stamens had been in focus or if at least one in the foreground had been in focus, it would be a better photo. Just because you blurred on purpose, doesn't make it good and doesn't make it good for a stock agency.

  • Bill March 8, 2012 09:38 am

    I dont think you have much to worry about. The old dodge and burn techniques are no different than adjusting brightness and contrast on the computer. Changing colors, or just enhancing them a bit is no differnet than shooting with fllters and gels. Manipulating photos has been going on longer than most of us have been alive. Some people or businesses are somewhat less inclined to accept post production past a certain amount. One of the other comments here said that he only wants what comes through the lens. Good or bad, no compromise. Well my experience hs been that every once in a while, the camera simply cannot capture what the eye sees or what we interpurt it as being at the time. I don't feel that it makes me any less a photographer to adjust a photo to what I think I saw.

  • OsmosisStudios March 8, 2012 04:48 am

    Someone doesn't understand the concept of stock photography.

  • Neeraj March 7, 2012 09:15 pm

    Very well said. I think where to draw the line while editing should be a photographer's decision and not anybody else's. I myself have faced the same question so many times. Every "good" photograph is met with a question that whether its photoshopped? As William Lewis rightly pointed out in the above comment, photographers should be allowed the same freedom as artists have been.

    Photographers create something extraordinary, not because they know how to use a camera or post-process, but because they visualised something that others couldnot.

    A blog post i had written a while back on the same topic
    http://barneer.blogspot.in/2010/01/art.html

  • H. William Lewis March 7, 2012 03:58 pm

    If photography is art, and in my mind it is nothing but, then adjusting the image to produce what you feel is always alright. Do you say Picasso is not an artist because his images are not as realistic as those of Norman Rockwell? Of course not, we accept painters and those that work in other medias as artists regardless of the "likeness" of their images? Do we want to know how they were manipulated? Then why do we hold photography to another standard?

  • Sal March 7, 2012 10:12 am

    Yes, I think stock agencies really do look for raw images on most cases, but I'm not sure iStock can be put together with all of them. They do look for style and originality in their photos, and treatment is allowed, if that's what you're going for.

    Just look at their Vetta Collection: http://www.istockphoto.com/search/vetta

    Other than that, I think the signup submissions are much harder to pass than the ones after you're already a contributor.

  • Monty B March 7, 2012 01:41 am

    Thank you, for the interesting article!! Like many others I think it is up to the photographer as to what they consider art, after all isn't that what "artistic expression" is all about?
    Everyone wants to BE the critic but those same people will have a breakdown if you judge their work in a negative way...

    "The greatest artists of all time were once considered the worst"

  • Iza March 7, 2012 12:46 am

    My experience with stock photography aligns with what Franziska said. I submit images with very minor post-processing- cloning for example is fine, but usually only tonal adjustments, sharpness. Consider stock images as a raw material you provide to graphic designer for him to build his vision- he might not care for yours. I see sometimes on stock sites black and white or duotone images, and not that often HDR or Lensbaby shots- those require better feeling for what "will fly" than I have. So don't misinterpret the rejection as stock agency conspiracy agains Photoshop- it is not. There is a totally different reason behind it. They want it raw.

  • Ann Courtney March 6, 2012 08:34 pm

    Nor will you ever solve it - "eye of the beholder" is the bottom line.

  • Jonathan Debeer March 6, 2012 05:59 pm

    Dear B,

    thanks for your reply. I would like to think there actually is more to this post than a complaint. My experience with iStock is a minor one, really, no big deal. However, the repeated rejections and the quoted reasons (even though it might be largely generic) got me thinking and provided to me another route into my argument about photo manipulation. Personally, I like to start my writing with just such a detour because it builds a certain tension and allows me to insert something personal.

    I guess some might call the posted pictures boring. Some do not. They are not amongst my most adventurous but I tried - and failed to find something stock-y.

    Let me know what you think.

  • B March 6, 2012 05:08 pm

    I don't get it. Is this anything more than a complaint that a stock agency didn't accept the writer's photos, and he's looking for some moral support?

    As others have said, the photos are generally boring. Have a look through any stock catalog and honestly say if they would stand out.

  • Sal March 6, 2012 09:12 am

    Hello, Jonathan, and everyone who commented.

    From what I know about iStockphoto, they are not your ordinary stock photography bank (though they do have the ordinary stock photos too). They aim higher in quality, and in style. You can find lots of heavily treated images on their collections, and lots of crazy and stylish images too. But for the initial approval, for you to get in the contributor's community, they need to evaluate your ability to take pictures, thus the "no treatment" policy.

    Who knows? Maybe one day you'll be the one making the selection.

  • mohamed ali said March 5, 2012 08:24 pm

    Good article. I absolutely appreciate this website.
    Stick with it!

  • Franziska March 5, 2012 07:52 pm

    As a graphic designer I often use stock photography for all kinds of things I design - ads, posters, brochures etc. What I expect and need from a stock photo is exactly this:

    - no editing
    - space for copy (this one is so important, there are a lot of photos even on stock-sites that do not meet this criteria)
    - various angles of the same situation
    - clean focus

    This is important, because I'll do all the editing myself. I do retouches if there is an object I do not want in the picture, I work on saturation, curves and what have you - to meet the needs of my client and the project.
    If the photographer has "finalised" the image already then it is the project that needs to fit the image rather than the other way around.

    Apart from that I do think No 1 and the "blurred" picture would make good stock photos. And the other examples are beautiful photos but not stock material.

  • Jonathan Debeer March 5, 2012 07:15 pm

    Hi all,

    thanks for the great replies. Clearly, there are a few ways to see this conundrum and I think you hit the nail on the head by dissecting the situation.

    Katka, adam and Jose point out the immediate, very pragmatic problem at hand being what stock photography needs and how iStock selects and rejects in a very generic way. I'm guessing you guys are right, which might be why stock is not really for me. Also, Jose, I respect your opinion on my work though I'd love for you to be a bit more specific. It would help me more if you would point out examples of what you like and don't like. In the end, we're all in it to learn, right?

    Steve, Danny and Ward hit on my meta-level point, being the way photoshop tilts the art of photography in a certain direction. I think Ward's comparison with painters is really to the point: Painting once was a means of getting a true representation of reality but came to be used freely and more emotionally by the painter. With photography however, it's like the mechanical (or electronical) medium makes that the viewer expects he/she'll get an impartial and objective image; that the photographer is just someone who's there to push the button. Which, I think, is absolutely untrue.

    For someone, as you guys suggested, trying to convey something to his/her audience, it's a real bummer to be shot down because 'it is photoshopped'.

    I'm looking forwards toward more suggestions and your opinions.

    Thanks for reading

  • Mridula March 5, 2012 04:01 pm

    I do not have photoshop :D I do adjustments only in picasa. And this one made to a stock agency website :D

    http://blogs.gonomad.com/traveltalesfromindia/2011/07/the-northern-pier-blackpool.html

  • Jose Jimenez March 5, 2012 02:12 pm

    I think you've totally misunderstood the concept of stock photography. These people receive hundreds if not thousands of submissions daily .The previous response is correct, they don't have time to critique each and every photo and reply to the photographer exactly what it is they find not suitable to their needs. You have indeed apparently received a canned generic response that no doubt thousands of others have also received. I doubt very much Photoshop has anything to do with it. I think the real problem is that your photos don't stand out in any way; no to put too fine a point on it but they are boring, even for stock photography. These people want to see an image that immediately attracts their eye and that they feel can be easily sold to their potential customers, this all has to take place in a matter of seconds. It appears that you have a capable photographic instrument in the 7D your photos were taken with, I'd suggest you learn how to use it and develop a photographic vision before submitting photos anywhere, especially if you expect to get paid for them. You are one person in a crowd of thousands trying to accomplish the same thing, the only answer is to practice, learn and try again.

  • Albi Kl March 5, 2012 01:24 pm

    With regard to the photo that was rejected for being blurred. The intent is a shallow depth of field to isolate the subject. This is achieved however the subject itself is not perfectly sharp. The fact that the subject is not perfectly in focus is what they would mean when they say it is blurred.

    I know such criticisms can seem quite harsh when they are leveled at your own work but it's important to take it as constructive criticism and use it to improve. Your true fans are your critics. To understand the motivations of iStock and the news publications you need simply look at things from their perspective. iStock sells a product to it's clients that need to be of the highest quality to remain competitive as a business. If their clients are not happy or believe a photo does not suit their needs they will not buy. News publications are at the mercy of their readers. If there is any evidence of dissent among readers (be that due to photo manipulation or otherwise) advertisers may remove their funding. As such news publications need to enforce strict policies to prevent a loss of advertiser dollars before it happens. 

    The above is fairly over-simplified but I hope it offers others another perspective as to the reason photomanipulation is frowned upon in so many circles. Having said that there are situations where it is encouraged, such as film, glam advertising and non-news based magazines to name a few. We simply need to remind ourselves where it's ok and where it's not.

  • ENicolas March 5, 2012 01:12 pm

    In music the saying goes "if it sounds good it is good". But while music has many genres they are not judged to be "documents" of "nature".

    Photojournalism obviously has the least wiggle room when it comes to manipulation. Cropping, contrast, minimal color correction, etc. are fine, but anything that smacks of "artistry" is suspect. And of course there are still the purists who don't even like color in their photojournalism because it distracts from the subject. Still, how many photojournalists and documentarians are out there actually posing their subjects or setting-up their shots by directly manipulating the scene?

    The purpose of the image is what decides how far manipulation can go. In advertising this cuts both ways: you want the thing being advertised to look good, but not be misrepresented. So how many of those beach scenes advertising vacation getaways are HDR? While at the same time a catalog shot of a washing machine should be bland and representational.

    I'm surprised stock agencies are so picky, though. You'd think they would want the widest range of images possible - why don't they just offer categories like "landscape, natural" and "landscape, processed", and let the buyer decide?

  • Ward March 5, 2012 12:20 pm

    If we consider ourselves to be artist we are in the same debate that entangled da Vinci, Picasso, Monet, Dali, and many others. It is art and where we want to take it, are inspired to take it is the standard. You can't halt it so the question becomes whether we are being honest? What is our goal? To deceive or to enthrall?

    We can't go back. We risk boring our audience, making them jaded. Which will force us to achieve new levels. The bottom line is have we satisfied our client, our patrons and most of all our personal vision? What we think about others really doesn't matter. It is like the other artists disparaging Monet. Now look how he us revered.

  • Adam Hagar March 5, 2012 11:35 am

    I think your photos are great. As stand-alone images, maybe in your portfolio, or on a website, they work wonders. I think you may have misunderstood stock photography. They don't necessarily want pieces of art, but rather stock images of things they can use in advertising. Take a picture of a well lit flower; not artistically pleasing, but a true representation of what the flower looks like, add clipping outlines with photoshop and I think that is a greater representation of what companies are looking for. Better yet, take a picture of a friend wearing a suit and tie, cheesily grinning while holding a blank white cup of coffee, and unfortunately, your image will probably sell as long as they are well lit and there is a simple (and detachable) background.

    Don't get me wrong, I think your photos are great, but they want to deconstruct a photo and do their own editing. If a submitted photo is already heavily retouched, then they can't take the photo in the direction they want and it will most likely be rejected.

    FYI, I'm no pro, and certainly am not a stock photo guru, but just working around photographers and a doing heavy online research this is my interpretation as to why. Let me know what you think.

  • Danny March 5, 2012 11:34 am

    I have no problem with photoshop... I do however think it should be acknowledged by the photographer.

    I have noticed a trend however with newcomers... They are not nearly as interested in the work leading up to the photograph as they are with the work done afterwards on the computer... Which leads me to wonder when does the art or craft of photography begin and end? I find the most rewarding part of photography in the planning, set up and waiting for the conditions I want, to ensure the best photo I can get will be in my camera. I want pictures that need no post processing...To me, that is photography..

    Before digital, there was some work done in darkrooms, dodging and the like but never turning the photo into something totally different than what entered the lens. Is adding a deer to a forest scene or making a so-so sunset come alive in color that was not there still to be considered photography?. I don't think so.

    As I started, I believe post production work is legitimate, as long as it is acknowledged that it has been doctored.

  • Greg L. March 5, 2012 11:00 am

    At the risk of oversimplifying, professional photographers are in the business of selling images. If taking something out or adding something in to an image in order to make it more appealing (marketable) is wrong then all magazine cover editors should be jailed. At the end of their process very little of their 'Cover girls' remain unaltered.

    It's my understanding that istock's analysis is highly automated. Photos are run through their software to detect modifications and rejected or accepted based on what those results show. (highly modified images also make it hard for editors to do their own modifications without having the whole PSD file) With the mind boggling array of really crappy images, evidently the 'artistry/marketability' is not part of the equation. Sad, but understandable with the volume of images submitted. Arguably they are shooting themselves in the foot as they are undoubtedly disqualifying countless very sellable images due to 'over processing'.

    In the end, 'to thine own self be true'. If your vision of an image requires countless hours in photoshop, then layer away!! If you want to sell something, then give the buyer (or istock) what they want even if you don't agree

  • Sean March 5, 2012 09:27 am

    This is an interesting debate and one which I think stems from the attitude of stock photo 'gatekeepers' and their desire to maintain their own organisations. It is so rare to see any photography, especially commercial photography that has not been manipulated in some way. All observation of reality is subjective and perceptional, why should photography be any different? There is also the consideration of framing and timing. In the analog days commissioned photographers would have the time and an endless supply of film to shoot until they found the right light and the right composition. Surely this is just as much a manipulation of reality as photoshopping out imperfections in form or composition! In my recent blog post Annie Liebovitz & The Gods of Photography I discuss some of the work I like - how much of at asbeen manipulated without us even thinking about it? Her recent photos of the NYC theatrical production of Spider-Man clearly were!

  • Pete Rosos March 5, 2012 09:10 am

    Show a photo that hasn't been digitally manipulated in some way shape or form and I'll show you a photo made in the darkroom. Oops, sorry, I forgot. There was probably some form of dodge, burn, or filter manipulation involved there too.

    Ultimately I see the issue not so much having to deal with wheather to Photoshop or not (or how much is too much), but instead what amounts to typical frustrations associated with working in a field where your work is judged with the subjective eye. You might see barely any manipulation, whereas the person judging the quality might see radical manipulation. To me the question should be more about a photographer being consistent with their quality of image rather than how much or how little Photoshop is used.

  • Katka Gabris March 5, 2012 08:06 am

    Personally, I haven't found any of your images overly photoshopped. The colours seem realistic to me. Maybe it's just their standard reply to all rejected photos because they don't have the time to explain all the details of their decision?

  • steve slater March 5, 2012 06:44 am

    I think that if the final product is an image that people enjoy looking at then that is great, if they go wow then that is fantastic and if YOU like the image and enjoy it then that is even better.
    As long as it is not claimed to be something that it is not then it is moral and acceptable to post process it and make adjustments.
    I think a lot of professionals do get paranoid and start looking at a photo almost just to see if it has been photoshopped.

    This is a good example - I was criticised because the colurs of the building were muddy - have you ever seen clean rendered brickwork. The assumption was that I had over photoshopped it when in fact that is exactly how it looked - it was real

    http://wildlifeencounters.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Scenes-of-France/G0000BzQXTlspD3c/I0000N6r31Wqb04Q

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