A Treatise on Landscape Photography’s Dark Side

A Treatise on Landscape Photography’s Dark Side

By Matt Payne

The process of having thoughtful conversations with landscape photographers from all over the world on my podcast has really made an impact on my own thoughts and beliefs relating to all sorts of landscape photography topics. The topic that constantly causes me the most inner turmoil, the most mental energy, and the most controversy online is the topic of artistic composites and unrealistic post-processing.

As a formerly avid practitioner of both (guilty as charged), I felt that I needed to explore the topic deeply. I am by no means trying to draw a firm line in the sand, rather, as a member of this community we call landscape photography, I felt it would be healthy to really dive deep into the topic to let people form their own opinions based on things I hope to bring into light. Lastly, I am certainly not jealous at all of the success found by those that employ these tactics, I just feel that a conversation about these tactics is necessary. If you disagree with that basic premise, then this article is likely not for you.

Landscape photography has had an interesting and arduous journey as an art-form, having been wholly rejected as an art-form for a very long time. Indeed, according to Wikiversity.org, at the beginning of 1862, an article published in the Photographic Journal, by an unknown author, summed up the discussions over photography as art, stating: “the question is not whether photography is fine art per se – neither painting nor sculpture can make that claim – but whether it is capable of artistic expression; whether in the hands of a true artists its productions become works of art.” A French naturalist, Louis Figuier, also made an accurate observation in regards to photography and fine arts: “Until now, the artist has had the brush, the pencil and the burin; now, in addition, he has the photographic lens. The lens is an instrument like the pencil and the brush, and photography is a process like engraving and drawing, for what makes an artist is not the process but the feeling.”

Fast forward to 2018 and beyond and the computer and Photoshop have become natural extensions of the camera and lens. In fact, almost all landscape photographers today employ the method of photographing in RAW format and adding contrast, color, white balance, saturation, and sharpening on the computer. This allows for the greatest amount of artistic freedom and allows photographers to have a tremendous amount of control over the flaws in their equipment and methodologies. Of course, the inevitable arguments arise among photographers and the public regarding the authenticity of an image and cries of “Photoshopping” are heard ’round the world. In fact, I can think of only one other art-form (music) where the “authenticity” of the art is even questioned. In music, the purists argue that any use of technology such as auto-tuning, re-recording loops, etc. is cheating the art-form. I see many parallels between music and photography in that regard.

My friend Zachary Bright put it best when he stated:

  1. If I manipulate an image too much, it’s not photography.
  2. If I don’t manipulate an image enough, it’s not art.

However, a potentially disturbing trend has emerged and become quite popular, especially on social media – not only are landscape photographers using Photoshop to control contrast, white balance, saturation, and sharpening, they are also using it to: add in objects that were not in the photograph such as a person, meteors, the moon, a mountain, or the Milky Way core; add objects that are literally not even possible to be seen in the scene depicted such as galactic objects, the moon, and the Milky Way core; or, to grossly exaggerate the size of certain objects such as mountains, lakes, rivers, people, etc. On the surface, it seems that certain landscape photographers have become so desperate for a sliver of social media attention in a suddenly over-crowded field that they are incapable of restraint. Or, it’s just art, let it be. Which one?

The question I wish to pose and attempt to answer is: “Is it acceptable to employ these controversial post-processing methodologies, and does it even matter?”

This article is meant to be a deep exploration into that question as I believe that this is a topic worthy of deep analysis and thoughtful examination.

Shall we begin?

The Forms of Unrealism

To start with, let us consider the different forms of “unrealistic” post-processing that exist today. I thought I would use some of my own photography to demonstrate how this works.

First, let’s examine what I like to call the “post-processing” continuum. This is meant mostly as a guide of showing extremes and everything in between, with white representing purist perspective (no editing what-so-ever) and black representing the other extreme (swapping in skies, adding Milky Ways, making the moon bigger, etc). Everything else is in “the gray zone.” The placement of each form of unrealistic post-processing was purely subjective on my part, but I think it is a fair portrayal. Where you stand on what is acceptable or not is up to you; however, later in the article, I pose some arguments that may make you think twice.

1. Purists

Purists represent a relatively small number of landscape photographers that are either shooting film or are shooting .JPG format and don’t realize that their camera is applying an algorithm of variables including saturation, contrast, white balance, and sharpening and is post-processing on their behalf. We won’t spend time arguing the merits of shooting .JPG vs. RAW here, but if you need a primer, this one is good.

2. Overcoming Technology to show what was actually there (exposure blending, luminosity masking, and focus stacking)

These methods are quite common in landscape photography today. While cameras and lenses are getting better and better, it is sometimes still necessary to blend multiple exposures to bring out all of the details in both the shadows and highlights or to overcome other things like diffraction. One such extreme example of this can be seen in one of my personal favorite images:

In order to bring out the extreme details of the Milky Way, I shot the stars at ISO 10,000 for 10 seconds. This introduced a tremendous amount of noise to the foreground. In order to compensate, I shot a second exposure of the foreground at ISO 1600 for 243 seconds with Noise Reduction turned on. I then blended them together. The Milky Way was really there at that time and the mountains were really there at that time. The RAW files are below.

3. Same scene, different times of day

This is more common with night photographers, but essentially the idea is to capture a photograph of a scene closer to sunset or sunrise to allow for lower ISO images with subsequent reduced noise which are then blended into the same scene at a different time of day from the same perspective. This is also referred to as a blue hour blend. Many very famous and well-respected night photographers, including Michael Bollino, Joshua Snow, and Mike Taylor use this technique on a regular basis. One such example from my own gallery is this image of the Milky Way over Mexican Hat. I shot a panorama of the scene at blue hour and then another panorama of the same exact scene (in fact, my tripod never moved) later in the night when the Milky Way was in position.

4. Focal Length blending

This is a relatively new technique which I dabbled in back in 2015. I am not even sure if others were doing it, but I got a creative idea in the field and executed it later using Photoshop. Essentially, the idea is to blend a scene shot from the exact same spot using two focal lengths (usually wide and telephoto). Wide angle lenses make distant objects look really small and closer objects large, whereas telephoto lenses make distant objects look closer. I took one photo of the flowers in the foreground at 14mm (very wide) and another of Mount Hood at 200mm. I then blended the two to look like they were taken at the same time in the same shot.

5. Same scene, different day

The idea here is that two images are blended together to show what a scene would look like at a different time of year or if there actually were nice clouds, etc. This is a very common practice among some landscape photographers, known as “sky swapping.” In fact, the scene can be made even more fantasy-like by blending focal lengths AND skies, such as the example below, which is sadly one of my best selling images.

6. Warping objects to make them look bigger

In this type of post-processing, you have some of the most egregious examples of post-processing. Moons are doubled, tripled, quadrupled in size. Mountains are made to look bigger by stretching them. The most classic use of this technique is the presentation of a full moon or a lunar eclipse in a wide angle shot with the moon enlarged. F-Stoppers recently posted an article about Peter Lik’s recent moon image that pretty much confirmed that it was a total fake. A clear giveaway here is usually atmospheric refraction (or rather, the lack thereof). Additionally, with sharp lunar photographs, the edge of the moon should appear bumpy due to mountains and craters. Here’s an example of a real moon photo I shot several years ago with a 300mm lens with a 1.4 teleconverter attached. I was accused of the image being fake. The only “size” enhancement I did was to crop the image. Here are the images (exported from RAW). Notice the atmospheric refraction which makes the moon look a little oblong.

7. Totally different scenes blended and the scene is impossible to exist naturally

Perhaps the most controversial use of unreal post-processing is the practice of blending two scenes into one photograph that could never exist. For example, a photographer captures an incredibly sharp image of the Milky Way at various elevations over the course of one night using a star tracker and voilà – you now have a few base layers of the Milky Way that you can reuse over and over again in any given scene, even if the Milky Way is never actually visible over your chosen foreground. There are several well-known photographers that employ this methodology to great success. The give-away to the un-informed bystander is when a person’s images of the night sky all start to the look the same, when objects such as clouds, airglow, or light pollution all look the same in every image. I personally had the opportunity to use a star tracker this year and it is a very amazing device. Basically, the device follows the rotation of the earth to allow for much lower ISO shots with longer exposures of the night sky, creating crystal clear images. Below you can see a completely unedited .RAW export of an image I was able to get with it.

8. Adding objects that were not there

This is highly related to #7 above. The most common things I’ve seen done are: adding a moon where a moon was never at; adding meteors to images where a meteor never fell; adding people to images where people never were; adding deep sky astrophotography objects to scenes where they would never even be visible (OK let’s admit it, they are only visible using deep-sky equipment and never combined with a foreground); adding sources of light where no sources of light existed, etc. I don’t have many examples of this in my own work because I gave it up a long time ago; however, here is one example from Oregon where I added in a moon where the moon never was. Also, I’m not super proud of the processing. Yeesh!

Now that we have established what we are talking about, let’s move on to some analysis on what the ramifications, if any, are in using these techniques.

Ramifications of Artistic Composites and Unreal Post-Processing

For this section, I am going to take four separate approaches to describe what I believe to be the ramifications of the uses of these techniques.

1. Landscape Photography as an Economy of Trust

You’ll need to bear with me on this one, but I think there are strong correlations with basic economics and landscape photography as a consumed media. Just think about it for a minute – photographs are consumed, they are purchased, they are licensed, they sell people on an idea that a place exists and that nature is amazing. In that vein, I posit that landscape photography is an economy based on trust. When people see an image of a location, they are sold on the idea that if they also go to that location, they will have the opportunity to see what the photographer saw, or at least a reasonable facsimile of it. By presenting images that are literally impossible to exist, trust in that idea is completely eroded. The ramifications are not only individual but also global – all landscape photographers suffer. Indeed, if we believe that pursuit of these techniques is in any way an adoption of a policy, then we must consider how those policies will impact the craft of landscape photography. In his classic 1946 book, Economics in One Lesson, Henry Hazlitt explains: “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.” Meaning, short-term personal gain may have consequences on other landscape photographers later.

In my opinion, when some of the techniques are employed (especially #7 and #8 above), it is no longer about showing the world how beautiful the natural world is, it’s about creating an increasingly dramatic image every single time with total disregard for the implications of doing so. If you’re compositing an image and you pass your photograph off as real, you’re trading in people’s future belief in landscape photography as a medium, you’re eroding that economy based on trust. You’re creating something that was more amazing than what existed, and in the future, people will look at a photograph and say, “maybe that’s real, maybe not.” In the below example, the mountains and sunset were very real; however, I used a technique by which I flipped the image and created a mirror to make it look like a reflection. I then added rocks from another foreground to make it look more real. Is it pretty? Sure. Is it real? No. Guess what question people asked the most? Where’s that lake!?

2. Supply and Demand

There are plenty of photographers trying to naturally represent the landscape. I posit that post-processing techniques #2 and #3 above all fall into this category, more or less. There are landscape photographers busting their ass to get a photograph, including: doing research on locations, watching the weather, spending hundreds of hours driving, spending countless days and nights at a location to capture something special, being in the right place at the right time, and of course, using their equipment correctly. With some of these post-processing techniques, you literally can eliminate almost all of the hard work involved and shortcut the entire process to create fantasy-like photographs of places and times that never really occurred. The result is a diversion of demand to fake, hyper-real imagery away from authentic imagery. Since demand for landscape photography as a consumable medium is finite, this unfairly diverts sales, accolades, awards, customers, and work away from those photographers working hard to those willing to take shortcuts and trick consumers into believing a false reality. Simply put, the easier something is produced, the greater the supply. The greater the supply, the lower the profit from existing demand.

To further illustrate this point, I hope to present an analogy which can be especially poignant for any sports fans. In sports, there is the problem of athletes that use performance enhancing drugs such as Human Growth Hormone, Steroids, or other doping schemes. The impact of these drugs is that it artificially enhances that athlete’s ability to perform at their given sport. In baseball it was home-runs for Barry Bonds. In cycling, it was faster times for Lance Armstrong. The effect on the ecosystem was that in order to compete, one needed to also use these drugs. Consumers (fans) of the sport came to expect more and more out of the athletes until they were exposed for their behavior. In my opinion, it is no different in landscape photography.

The below photo is an example of what is really possible. Through planning and scouting, I placed myself in the ideal location to capture the Milky Way directly above Cape Kiwanda at 1 AM in August. Someone employing tactics 7 and 8 could just go take a shot of this place during the day and then swap in a Milky Way above it and call it good. That’s highway robbery, sir!

3. Demoralization of other photographers

Another case I’ll make to demonstrate the ramifications of the use of some of these techniques is flat out demoralization of other photographers. Photographers spending countless hours in the field to try to get an authentic image are greatly discouraged when an up-and-comer re-creates or completely blows away their vision with a few clicks of the mouse in Photoshop (OK, it’s a little more complicated than that, but a $75 tutorial or a few hours on YouTube will teach you everything you need to know about composites). I’ve heard a lot of photographers (including myself) say that to avoid this phenomenon, you should just focus on your own work and not worry about what other people do; however, that is a really hard pill to swallow when you put in the hard work to create an image that was completely authentic (with no print sales) only to see someone else create something totally over-the-top and receive viral attention and sales. This is particularly painful when the fantasy-like image is obviously impossible. For example, in the recent blood moon event, the moon set in the West at dawn, yet I saw images of the moon set in the Eastern sky with sunrise light under it.

Maybe this fits the definition of jealousy, I don’t know: “resentment against a rival, a person enjoying success or advantage, etc., or against another’s success of advantage itself.”

I personally feel like it is not jealousy because I don’t want to be known for creating images that are unreal. That’s too easy.

I know I’m not alone – I know of one very famous photographer in particular that has given up photography altogether because of this phenomenon.

Single exposure of the recent lunar eclipse over Shiprock. ISO 1600, f/7.1, 138mm, 4s – totally real!

4. Landscape Photography as a vehicle for conservation

I’m a strong believer that landscape photography can and should be used as a vehicle for good in the realm of conservation. This is perhaps the most damaging ramification of all for using unrealistic post-processing techniques- the general public can no longer trust that a photograph actually represents a location that needs to be conserved; in fact, the more prevalent these types of images become, the less people will actually care – just go Photoshop in what it should still look like. Who needs reality? This type of processing directly undermines the effect that landscape photography can have for good. Additionally, when one employs extreme post-processing methods (#7 and 8 especially), I posit that they don’t have a real connection to that landscape – a necessary component if one is to fully and truly use their art as a medium for conservation.

Possible Motivations and Why This Occurs to Begin With

I’ve talked to a lot of photographers about this and have done some deep introspection regarding my own personal motivations relating to post-processing, especially using techniques #4-8. For myself, my motivations were two-fold:

1. It was a creative outlet and something to try for fun

2. I genuinely wanted a way to get my photography noticed more frequently by consumers with the end game being increased print sales and prestige among my peers (there, I admit it)

I’ve heard over and over again from people regularly using techniques #6, #7, and #8 that they only do it because they want to create artwork and share it with the world. In fact, they claim to have no financial stake in their behavior at all (regardless of the fact that they sell online tutorials and teach workshops relating to their techniques).

What Can Behavioral Science Tell Us About This Phenomenon? Quite a Lot Actually
1. Social comparison and dishonesty – why people cheat

In order for this explanation to work, I need to convince you that landscape photography could be seen as a competition, despite what many of my podcast guests have suggested. Given my economical arguments above, I think that it makes perfect sense to state that landscape photography can be seen as a competition. Competition is, in general, a contest or rivalry between two or more entities for territory, a niche, for scarce resources, goods, for mates, for prestige, recognition, for awards, for group or social status, or for leadership and profit. Unless you’re not monetizing your photography, giving your art away for free, and teaching workshops for free, your actions as a landscape photographer land you squarely within this definition whether you care to admit it or not.

Social psychological experiments have demonstrated that when people succeed in competition against others, it seems to compromise their ethics. It makes them more likely to cheat afterwards. Winning a competition engenders subsequent unrelated unethical behavior. The studies revealed that after a competition has taken place, winners behave more dishonestly than competition losers. The studies also demonstrated that winning a competition increases the likelihood of winners to steal money from their counterparts in a subsequent unrelated task. Additionally, the studies demonstrated that the effect holds only when winning means performing better than others (i.e., determined in reference to others) but not when success is determined by chance or in reference to a personal goal. Finally, the studies demonstrated that a possible mechanism underlying the effect is an enhanced sense of entitlement among competition winners.

According to Amos Schurr, the study’s author and professor of psychology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, “People who win competitions feel more entitled, and that feeling of entitlement is what predicts dishonesty.” In the words of the Roberto Ferdman, the author of the article from the Washington Post about the study, “In other words, when people win against others, they tend to think they’re better, or more deserving. And that thinking helps them justify cheating, since, after all, they’re the rightful heir to whatever throne is next — If I’m better than you, I might as well make sure I win, because I deserve to anyway.”

This photograph of mine is totally real and employed absolutely no Photoshop techniques. How can you tell? It’s pretty dull (haha)

2. Moral Disengagement

Tapping deeper into social psychology, we discover the concept of moral disengagement. I strongly believe that moral disengagement helps to explain all sorts of disturbing behavior we encounter as landscape photographers, including destruction of sensitive locations, buying followers on Instagram, and more. For this article; however, I will attempt to use it to describe the behavior of using post-processing techniques to create an image that otherwise would be impossible to create.

According to psychologyconcepts.com, moral disengagement is “a term used to describe the process by which an individual convinces himself that ethical standards do not apply to him within a particular situation or context. Moral Disengagement can be further broken down into four categories: reconstructing immoral conduct, diffusing responsibility, dehumanizing the victim, and misrepresenting injurious consequences.” For the purposes of this article, we will only refer to the reconstructing immoral conduct and misrepresenting injurious consequences.

“Reconstructing conduct is a method of moral disengagement in which the actor depicts an otherwise morally reprehensible behavior as having some sort of moral purpose. In this way he convinces himself that the behavior is now acceptable.” Time and time again I have heard photographers say that what they are doing is creating art for the world to enjoy, inspiring others to do the same. It is like they all practiced this line and regurgitate it whenever they’re confronted with the truth. So, I guess as long as their work is considered “art” and “inspires others” it is totally acceptable? Following the concept of moral disengagement, this response completely makes sense.

“Misrepresenting injurious consequences is a method of moral disengagement in which the actor attempts to avoid admitting to himself that his conduct is wrong by ignoring personal reflection on what the negative consequences of his behavior might be.” I personally think this one hits home for so many photographers, yet many are afraid to admit it, or they are simply unaware of the consequences of their behavior (which we’ve covered at length above). I think this is also highly related to the next social psychological concept that is related – cognitive dissonance.

3. Cognitive Dissonance

Of all the social psychological concepts, this one perhaps has the most application to this topic. According to Simply Psychology, “cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. This produces a feeling of discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance, etc.

For example, when people smoke (behavior) and they know that smoking causes cancer (cognition).

Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that we have an inner drive to hold all our attitudes and beliefs in harmony and avoid disharmony (or dissonance). This is known as the principle of cognitive consistency.

Let’s explore this further. The conflicting beliefs are: “Unrealistic post-processing is fine, I’m creating art, it has no impact on anyone, or, anything else,” and, “Unrealistic post-processing is cheating, even though it looks amazing, it’s not authentic and it is lying to my audience.” That’s pretty discomforting trying to hold both of those beliefs at the same time!

According to cognitive dissonance theory, there is a tendency for individuals to seek consistency among their cognitions (i.e., beliefs, opinions). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance.

Dissonance can be reduced in one of three ways:

  1. Change one or more of the attitudes, behavior, beliefs, etc., to make the relationship between the two elements a consonant one.

When one of the dissonant elements is a behavior, the individual can change or eliminate the behavior. However, this mode of dissonance reduction frequently presents problems for people, as it is often difficult for people to change well-learned behavioral responses (e.g., using unrealistic post-processing techniques to showcase your artwork).

  1. Acquire new information that outweighs the dissonant beliefs (hey maybe that’s why you’re here to begin with).

For example, thinking unrealistic post-processing is ultimately bad for landscape photography could cause dissonance if a person uses these techniques. However, new information such as “unrealistic post-processing is an innovative way to showcase your vision” may reduce the dissonance.

  1. Reduce the importance of the cognitions (i.e., beliefs, attitudes).

A person could convince themself that it is better to “only care about what I do for me” than to “consider my behavior’s impact on landscape photography as an art-form.”

In other words, he could tell himself that only caring about their own photography is better than caring about the craft as a whole or the impact on other photographers. In this way, he would be decreasing the importance of the dissonant cognition (unrealistic post-processing does have a negative impact on landscape photography).

Totally real image! Seriously!

What Now? Is All Hope Lost? Should I Uninstall Photoshop!? Do People Buying Prints Even Care?!

At the end of the day, only you can decide what line to draw in the sand, if any. Through my podcast, I’ve heard all perspectives on this and at the end of the day, no one is really “right.” I do believe; however, that using some of the more extreme post-processing techniques is ultimately bad for landscape photography. You may not agree with all of my assertions; however, if one person (me) is willing to dedicate the amount of time it took to write this article about the subject, then you can bet that it matters. People do care about this topic and people are impacted by it.

Additionally, I don’t think people in the market to purchase photographic prints care all that much about how an image is created. In fact, my friend TJ Thorne stated on my podcast ” Either an image moves you, or it doesn’t, how it was created is irrelevant.” I still believe that’s mostly true when it comes to the consumption of art; however, I strongly believe that my analysis here demonstrates that there are hidden costs to that attitude. Also, I think we all can agree that we would hope that consumers of our medium had good taste.

My only plea for those employing these techniques:

Please tell the truth about your photography! Don’t just say, “created in Photoshop” – that’s not good enough. If it was, then no one would trust anything edited in Photoshop which I think would be a huge mistake. Come clean. Tell people that your images are not real. Don’t let the public lose trust in our art-form. And for Pete’s sake, stop being so damn defensive about the topic. What do you have to lose? If I’m wrong, your fans will still love your work and won’t care. If I’m right, they will still love your work but will be more informed regarding how your work was created.

Feel free to leave a comment below – what did you agree or disagree with? Did I change anyone’s mind, or are you still sitting comfortably on your cloud of reduced dissonance?

This post has been republished with permission from photographer Matt Payne.

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A Treatise on Landscape Photography’s Dark Side

Quick Tip: A DIY Beauty Dish for $13

Quick Tip: A DIY Beauty Dish for

Gear is fun to play with and fun to buy, but it diverts money from more important things (marketing, for instance) and it can lead you to financial trouble. Accountants and veteran photographers will tell you: Avoid buying more than the minimum amount of gear, unless you can rent it to clients and recover your costs. And in the meantime, rent what you need—or make it yourself. DIY light modifiers in particular are inexpensive, effective, and easy to make.

Photographer Joe Edelman, for instance, wanted to get the “dramatic but flattering” light of a beauty dish. But he was on a budget. His solution was to build his own using a shoot-through umbrella. He opted for a 30-inch umbrella which, since it doesn’t have a true 30-inch diameter, was “just slightly bigger than most beauty dishes,” he says.

“I knew that the umbrella would throw a lot of light around the room but that didn’t concern me because I quickly established that I would want to place the umbrella very close to my subject to ensure rapid light fall-off, just like I would get with a beauty dish,” he says.

To avoid hotspots caused by placing such a large modifier close to his subject, Edelman cut a piece of inexpensive foam core and placed it in the middle of the umbrella. “I simply took a dinner plate and used it as my template to cut the circle. Depending on your umbrella, you can just poke the end of the umbrella through the foam core, or if your umbrella doesn’t have a point, a small circle of gaffer tape will hold the very light foamcore in place,” he says.

“By placing the disc in the middle [of the umbrella], it blocks the light at its brightest point—especially if you are using a speed light—and forces the light to wrap around your subject,” Edelman notes. “But because of the closeness of the umbrella—that wrap has a very rapid falloff.”

We interviewed several other photographers about their DIY light modifiers, including Amdnad Ringstadt, Nick Fancher, David Patino, and Mat Sutor. For full details, see “I Built That: 5 Homemade Light Modifier Recipes.”

PDN Video: Gregory Heisler’s Tips on Lighting Portraits

Lighting Chameleons: Wesley Mann on Adapting When Conditions Aren’t Ideal

Frames Per Second: Create Smooth Video and Tracking Shots on the Fly (and on a Budget)

Three Photographers Who Built Their Own Cameras


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Quick Tip: A DIY Beauty Dish for

Josué Rivas Wins 2018 FotoEvidence Book Award

Josué Rivas Wins 2018 FotoEvidence Book Award

First Nation photojournalist Josué Rivas has won the 2018 FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo for “Standing Strong,” a project about the spiritual awakening that took hold among people resisting the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016. Finalists for the award were Zackary Canepari for “Flint Is a Place,” about the challenges of life in Flint, Michigan; and Danielle Villasana for “The Light Inside,” about the lives of trans women in Peru.

FotoEvidence, which announced the award yesterday, will publish a book of Rivas’s work this spring. The work of all three photographers will also be shown as part of the World Press Photo exhibition in Amsterdam in April, and at the FotoEvidence Book Award exhibit at the Bronx Documentary Center (New York) in June.

World Press Photo joined as a co-sponsor of the FotoEvidence Book Award last summer. The award, launched in 2011, recognizes a documentary photographer whose project demonstrates courage and commitment in addressing a violation of human rights, a significant injustice or an assault on human dignity. See FotoEvidence website for more information. Previous winners include Daniella Zalcman, Marcus Bleasdale and Majid Saeedi.


Standing at Standing Rock (PDN Photo of the Day Featuring Riva’s “Standing Strong” work)

Working as an Outsider: Danielle Villasana on Capturing Portraits of Transgender Women

FotoEvidence Teams Up with World Press Photo for New Photography Award

Photographers Explain Their Approaches to Covering Sensitive Subjects

Winning Gold in Flint

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Josué Rivas Wins 2018 FotoEvidence Book Award

Wennman, Hangst Top Prize Winners at POYi (So Far)

Wennman, Hangst Top Prize Winners at POYi (So Far)

Magnus Wennman, staff photographer at the Swedish daily newspaper Aftonbladet, has won Newspaper Photographer of the Year honors at the 75th annual Pictures of the Year International competition. German photographer Matthias Hangst of Getty Images won Sports Photographer of the Year. The POYi competition is run by the University of Missouri School of Journalism.

Other major awards in the competition—including Reportage Photographer of the Year and Multimedia Photographer of the Year—had not been announced by press time. Judging for the POYi competition was scheduled to run through February 22.

Entries by Wennman and Hangst were judged as part of the competition’s News and Sports Divisions, respectively. Another notable winner in the News Division was Ryan M. Kelly, a staff photographer at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, VA who took first prize for Spot News with his photograph of car plowing into people demonstrating against the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last August.

First-prize winners of other News Division categories included Suzanne Kreiter—Newspaper Local Picture Story; Kevin Frayer—General News; Edu Bayer—Feature (image shown above); Tomás Munita—Feature Picture Story; Adrees Latif—Impact 2017 Natural Disaster; Asger Ladefoged—Portrait; and Andrew McConnell—Portrait Series.

First prize winners in Sports Division categories included Brandon Magnus—Sports Picture Story; Lisa Maree Williams—Sports Portrait; Kevin Dietsch—Sports Feature; Laurence Griffiths—Sports Action; and Michael Ciaglo—Recreational Sports.

POYi News Division jurors were Dave Labelle, Francine Orr, Rick Loomis and C.W. Griffin. Sports Division jurors were Damian Strohmeyer, David Eulitt, Elsa Garrison and Toni L. Sandys.

Pete Muller Wins POYi Reportage Photographer of the Year; Matt Gade Wins Sports Photographer of the Year (2017)
Marcus Yam Wins Newspaper Photographer of the Year POYi Honors (2017)
Video Pick: Magnus Wennman Pushes Boundaries with ‘Fatima’s Drawings’

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Wennman, Hangst Top Prize Winners at POYi (So Far)

World Press Photo Announces Finalists for 2018 Awards

World Press Photo Announces Finalists for 2018 Awards

World Press Photo this morning announced six finalists for the 2018 World Press Photo of the Year. The winner will be announced April 12 at a ceremony in Amsterdam.

World Press also announced three finalists in each of its eight photo categories, and three finalists in each of its four Digital Storytelling categories. This is the first time World Press has announced nominees for its prizes in advance.

There are six nominees for World Press Photo of the Year. One photographer shot two of the nominated photos:
Patrick Brown of Australia for an image of the Rohingya crisis, photographed for UNICEF.

Adam Ferguson of Australia for his portrait of a 14-year-old girl from the series, “Boko Haram Strapped Suicide Bombs to Them. Somehow These Teenage Girls Survived,” shot for The New York Times.

Toby Melville of the UK, for a photo from “Immediate Aftermath of an Attack in the Heart of London,” shot for Reuters.

Ivor Prickett of Ireland, for “The Battle for Mosul—Lined Up for an Aid Distribution,” shot for The New York Times.

Ivor Prickett for “The Battle for Mosul—Young Boy Is Cared for by Iraqi Special Forces Soldiers,” also for The New York Times.

Ronaldo Schemidt of Venezuela, for a photo of a protester in Venezuela, photographed for Agence France-Presse.

After a packet of information and photos by all the nominees were sent to press, World Press Photo sent an announcement that one image in Toby Melville’s series, nominated in the Spot News-Stories category, had been killed by Reuters in May, and should not be published. No explanation was given for why the image was pulled.

All the nominees for 2018 Photo of the Year honors are men. Last year, World Press released a State of the Industry Report based on a survey of working photojournalists around the world; only 15 percent of respondents were women.

Nominees in other categories include Ryan M. Kelly of The Daily Progress for his photo of the car attack in Charlottesville, Virginia, nominated in the Spot News-Singles category, and David Becker’s coverage of the mass shooting in Las Vegas in the Spot News-Stories category. Anna Boyiazis of the US and Tatiana Vinogradova of Russia are nominated in the category People-Stories. Ami Vitale of the US is a nominee in the Nature-Stories category and Corey Arnold and Michael Patrick O’Neill, both of the US, are nominated in Nature-Singles. Richard Tsong-Taatari of the Star Tribune in Minneapolis is nominated in General News-Singles.

The four categories of the Digital Storytelling Contest are Immersive Storytelling, Innovative Storytelling, Long Form and Short Form. The New York Times received four nominations; The Washington Post, TIME, the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the National Film Board of Canada each received one nomination.

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World Press Photo Announces Finalists for 2018 Awards

Getty Licensing Deal with Google Suggests Thawing of Relations

Getty Licensing Deal with Google Suggests Thawing of Relations

Getty Images has announced a partnership with Google that includes a multi-year deal licensing deal. In a statement released by Getty on Friday, the two companies exchanged pleasantries, but offered few details about the deal. The “collaborative relationship” between the companies, said Getty CEO Dawn Airey, will allow Getty to work “closely with [Google] to improve attribution of our contributors’ work and thereby [grow] the ecosystem.”

The announcement comes almost two years after Getty Images filed an unfair competition complaint against Google in the European Union, claiming the search engine had cut into the agency’s licensing business. The new agreement suggests the two companies may have reached a détente, at least for now. An email to Getty contributors suggested that Getty had withdrawn its unfair competition complaint against Google. “After working cooperatively with Google over the past months, our concerns are being recognized and we have withdrawn our complaint,” the email said.

Getty had filed the complaint against Google, Inc. to protest changes made in 2013 to Google Images, which had not only “impacted Getty Images’ image licensing business, but content creators around the world, by creating captivating galleries of high-resolution, copyrighted content.” Google Images went from displaying thumbnails that linked to image sources such as Getty, to displaying galleries of large images that kept search users (and their behavioral data) in the Google ecosystem.

“They’re the ones monetizing all of that [image search] traffic and user engagement,” Getty General Counsel, Yoko Miyashita told PDN in an interview shortly after the company filed its EU complaint. “We’re a competing images search engine. Search engines thrive on queries, follow-on queries and all of that engagement data to continue to improve and smarten up the algorithms. We have customers who pay us significant licensing fees to have the rights to display these images. They’re wholly dependent on that traffic to generate the advertising revenue that’s required to pay for the images they license from us. To me, its an underlying fairness issue. All of these publishers pay for the rights to display these picture galleries and Google has done it for free. It’s really hard to compete against a zero-cost competitor.”

According to Getty’s email to contributors, Google will change the structure of its Image search platform, eliminating the “View Image” button that allowed Google Images users to view a high resolution image, and will also display copyright and credit information more prominently.

Related: Getty Files Complaint Against Google in Europe
Too Big to Sue: Why Getty Images Isn’t Pursuing a Copyright Case Against Google in the U.S.

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Getty Licensing Deal with Google Suggests Thawing of Relations

Think About How You Use Instagram With the Flyer Theory

Think About How You Use Instagram With the Flyer Theory

By David Justice

No matter how you feel about Instagram, if you’re reading this you know that you need it. Period. Social Media can change careers. Instead of being stuck working with people in your 15 mile radius, you’re now open to the world. But if you’re reading this, you’re probably also using Instagram wrong. If you need help with your Instagram, there’s one cheat, trick, hack, whatever you want to call it, that’s free and more beneficial than anything else you can do.

How often do you engage with accounts you don’t follow? Do you stick to the photos in your feed? Or do you ever look at photos under hashtags? And how often are those hashtags something that aren’t for other photographers, but are for models, makeup artists, designers, and people like that? Not that often? Well let me introduce you to The Flyer Theory (patent pending).

Picture This…

You’re walking down the streets of New York. There’s advertisements and flyers everywhere down every street. If you think of Instagram tags as streets in New York, they’re all filled with flyers. Well think about every photo you post as one of those flyers. And think about all those people also walking down those same streets posting their flyers too and just ignoring what you posted for putting up their own. That’s what it’s like when you post photos with hashtags. Your flyer is on all of these streets and sure, maybe it stands out among the rest of them, but chances are you’re not going to get any real, solid engagement out of it.

Find the flyer that's all about Playstation repair. See how it just blends in with the rest of them? That's what it's like posting to Instagram. Now add in the fact that this is being updated constantly

Find the flyer that’s all about PlayStation repair. See how it just blends in with the rest of them? That’s what it’s like posting to Instagram. Now add in the fact that this is being updated constantly

Now let’s say you change it up. Now you’re going to those streets and handing out flyers to people who are walking by. You’re not limited to what streets you can post on and you’re actually putting your flyers in people’s hands. This is what interacting with people on Instagram is like. When you like photos on hashtags, you’re literally putting a notification on someone’s phone that says “Hey, my name is (your name here) and I like your photo”. Yes, most people don’t care and most people will ignore it. But not all of them. Some people will actually inspect your profile. And those people might want to follow you and hey maybe they’ll even want to pay you for a shoot.

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You need to be like this guy.

Gary Vaynerchuk has talked about this before. You can’t just be in the background. You need to put in the work. Social media doesn’t work in your favor. It’s a give and take. The work you put in is somewhat equal to what you get out of it. If you’re ignoring other people and only look at people you admire, or friends, or meme pages, you’re not going to get real engagement with new, potential clients. Yes, of course there will be some people. But you’re leaving so much on the table by not doing that.

So that’s the flyer theory. Along with the flyer theory there are some prerequisites:

  1.  Your work needs to be half-decent for the flyer theory to work. People might check out your page, but they won’t like or follow because they don’t care about what you do. Just because you put a flyer in someone’s hand doesn’t mean they are going to care about it. This isn’t some fake follower trick, you’re basically introducing yourself to people who wouldn’t know about you otherwise.
  2. You need to be smart about the tags you engage with to be effective. If you’re a MUA trying to work with photographers, why would you interact with pictures from other makeup artists? It’s definitely great to connect with other people in your area, but they’re not going to pay you. You go to places like #nycphotographer (or whatever your local city/state is) or #nycdesigner or tags like that. You try and get the attention of photographers. Not makeup artists, not dog lovers, and not bakers. Basically you think about who your perfect client is and try to get their attention.
  3. You can’t like everything. Instagram will ban you for liking too many things in an hour and there’s just some things you don’t want to like. I go through places like #nycmodel pretty regularly and I make sure not to like photos of young kids, random photos of models with their significant other or people just out clubbing. I try to like photos of people actually modeling and pictures I actually like. I’m not lying, I’m not just trying to spam. I find people whose work I actually like. I even follow a lot of them. If you want to spam people’s photos you can. There’s services for that out there. But have fun being that person who follows/unfollows everyone. No one likes that person.
  4. Diversify your bonds. You can’t just keep liking the same photos from the same people on the same tags. You have to mix it up every now and then. If you’re looking at #NYCModel every time, maybe look at #modelagency or something else that deals with models. If you consistently like things under the same tags, you’re going to at some point “dry up the well” so to speak and you’ll just be liking the same photos from the same people who don’t want to follow or like your stuff.

And that’s it. It can be shrunk down to just engage with people who are in your target demographic. And that’s seriously it. By engaging with people and putting yourself out there first, you’re inviting others to check out what you do who wouldn’t have otherwise. So go like and comment on shit and engage with people while being genuine. Because people want that and they appreciate it when you actually try and give a damn about them.

This post has been republished with permission from photographer David Justice.

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Think About How You Use Instagram With the Flyer Theory

National Geographic Photographers on What Photo Editors Really Do

National Geographic Photographers on What Photo Editors Really Do

“I’m pretty sure most people have no idea what a photo editor actually does,” says photographer David Guttenfelder at the beginning of this short video recently published by National Geographic. In the video, photographers and photo editors explain a bit about the how the photographer-editor relationship works at National Geographic. “It’s a complete partnership,” says Erika Larsen. “It’s just as personal to them as it is to me.”

One of the best things photo editors offer, the photographers say, is tough criticism. Tim Laman recalls one editor saying, “I don’t care if you spent a week sitting in a blind to get that picture, it’s still a crappy picture.” Aaron Huey says Sarah Leen made him cry. And Joel Sartore says an editor told him, “we can’t publish your excuses.”

Nearly all the photographers agree that National Geographic’s demand that they hand over every image they’ve made on an assignment makes them feel “naked.” “The first time, I don’t think I ate for several days,” says Andrea Bruce. “It’s just pure shame,” adds Charlie Hamilton James.

While the video doesn’t delve into the nitty gritty, behind-the-scenes work, it’s fun to see the people behind the pictures talking candidly about the editing process. And to see Corey Arnold talking to his cat.

Related: How Photo Editors Find and Hire Photographers

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National Geographic Photographers on What Photo Editors Really Do

Quick Tip: How to Ask Donors to Support Your Photo Project

Quick Tip: How to Ask Donors to Support Your Photo Project

Few photographers are comfortable asking for donations to support their projects. Fundraising expert Dianne Debicella, program director at Community Partners in LA (and formerly senior program director at Fractured Atlas), reminds artists that they’re not begging. She explains why confidence is so important when asking potential donors for money:

“You have to frame [the pitch] with confidence and clarity: ‘This is exactly what I ąm doing, and this is why you should be involved. So I ąm offering you this opportunity.’ This isn’t about begging, and this isn’t about handouts. This is about [asking people to] become part of your project and support it, and about you not coming across as, ‘I’m sorry to bother you, and this is something I feel embarrassed by.’ Nobody is going to want to give if you ąre acting shy about it, or if you ąre acting as if you ąre doing something wrong.

“[Try] to seed a network in order to prep [potential donors] by saying, ‘I’m going to be doing this project, and I’d love to send you more information about it.’ Or you might say, ‘I’m really excited about this work that I’m producing. Can I share some of it with you?’ That gives you an introduction, and the ability to make that ask down the road.

“If you’re sending out a request by email or snail mail, and you are uncomfortable saying, “Please give me $1,000,” you can say, “If you donate $25, it will help me buy five rolls of film. If you donate $50, that will pay for one hour of darkroom time. If you donate $250, that is going to help me pay for a lighting kit rental.”

(See more at “Advice from A Fundraising Expert about Soliciting Donations and Applying for Grants”)

How to Win Grants to Support Your Project
How Chris Buck Raised $56,000 on Kickstarter
Brian Cohen on His Fundraising Effort for a Documentary Project
Tips for Successful Fundraising from Kickstarter


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Quick Tip: How to Ask Donors to Support Your Photo Project

How to Pack Like a Professional Travel Photographer

How to Pack Like a Professional Travel Photographer

If experience is the great teacher, then travel photographers Ira Block and Colby Brown could teach a master class. Boasting nearly half a century of travel shooting between them, Brown and Block shared some of their road-won wisdom with attendees at the Sony/PDN day at B&H Photo and Video.

Here’s what we learned:

More Bags Are Better

Both photographers stressed the need to pack only the photo gear you can carry onto a plane, since you don’t want to run the risk of checking your camera gear only to have the airline lose it in transit. Pack photo gear in a roller bag for travel to/from the airport but keep a backpack in your checked luggage for transporting gear when you’re at your destination. Block checks his tripod in his luggage but also carries a smaller spare in his carry-on just in case.

Don’t Miss: New TSA Rules Mean Big Headaches for Photographers

Be Paranoid About Image Backup

Beyond the photo gear, Block and Brown are practically paranoid about backing up their images in the field. Their advice: pack plenty of SD cards. Block travels with 15 of them. When your card is full, don’t offload the images and format the card, just start a new card. This way, if your backup memory is damaged, you can still recover images off of your SD card.

As for backup memory, both photographers prefer SSD drives since they’re tiny and can take more of a pounding than hard discs. To be really safe, back up your entire travel shoot on two separate SSDs. Put one in your checked in luggage and the other in your carry on, Brown advises. For files as for flocks, there’s safety in numbers.

Don’t Miss: How to Make Sure Your Photos Last Forever (Or Close Enough)

Power Up

One of Block’s favorite pieces of camera gear to travel with is a power strip, with enough outlets to recharge a phone, camera battery and also power a laptop. He also brings a USB hub for extra charging. The power strip ensures that he’ll just need to carry a single set of outlet adapters when working in different countries, and not one for each plug he needs to work with.

As for batteries, both Brown and Block said they carry in the neighborhood of five extra camera batteries.

Pack to Survive 

Both Block and Brown often find themselves beyond the easy reach of the industrialized world’s amenities. In that case, they’re often left to purify their own water or traverse dangerous conditions with whatever’s on their feet.

A key component of Block’s travel kit is a UV water purifier. This wand-like device can be used to stir a glass of tap water to make it safe to drink or brush your teeth with. Block used to travel with iodine tablets for that purpose but those would leave the water tasting like iodine.

Brown keeps a pair of micro-spikes handy for when he needs to cross icy paths or navigate a glacier.