When is Photography No Longer Photography?

With the increasing power of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence available on both phones and PCs, we have reached a point where it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between photography and composites. I’m not here to tell you that there is anything wrong with composites and I must make clear that this piece is […]

When is Photography No Longer Photography?

With the increasing power of Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence available on both phones and PCs, we have reached a point where it has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between photography and composites.

I’m not here to tell you that there is anything wrong with composites and I must make clear that this piece is not about using filters or editing to edit the appearance of an exposure. In my mind, these are akin to choosing film stock and utilizing techniques such as dodging, burning, and under or overexposing film and enlargements to get to your desired result. These were staples of any professional film photographer.

This piece is about exploring the ethics of using the word “photography” to describe exposures that bear little relation to reality.

I wouldn’t describe myself as a purist. I try not to digitally enhance my images much, but there are times where I must bend to the will of clients and provide them with what they want. I will admit that when I got married last summer, I hired a photographer who specialized in film and asked her not to bring a digital camera.

Although this was simply my preference, clients often look to social platforms like Instagram to see what is possible. Whether that be a client looking for a specific landscape photograph, or a couple wanting an engagement shoot, clients who have only been exposed to modern sharing platforms are more frequently seeing images that have been complemented with automated editing tools that change a photograph into a photorealistic composite.

It is very rare that professional photographers will label images as composites. If you search #composite on Instagram, you’ll find about 700,000 results, the majority of which are of teeth. When you put that into the context of the 50 billion images that have been uploaded to Instagram, the depth of the issue appears.

The old adage of editing was that you could take a good photograph and make it great, but a bad photograph could never be made good. This is no longer true.

By omitting the reality of a published exposure, we have put ourselves in a position in which society never really knows when a photograph is actually a photograph — a representation of the light hitting film or a sensor.

Clients are becoming less attracted to a photographer’s talent used to capture attractive images in-camera, rather how good we are at creating fantasy. Although I have not focused on the prevalence of body editing tools, these are an integral part of that fantasy in portraiture.

Below are some examples of 30-second composites. I’ve done with JPEGs using a popular, commercially available application, and the original images are straight out of the camera.

The results are utterly astounding.

A beautiful daylight shot in Seychelles has been transformed into a dramatic sunset and casual viewers won’t notice some of the imperfections that give away the composite. A photograph of a model I relit and added birds to looks realistic at first glance or the untrained eye. Imagine if I spent more than half a minute on these, then imagine what will be possible in the next five years.

So, are we under any obligation to declare the reality of what we post? On social platforms, a new requirement has emerged that requires influencers to tag posts that are advertisements. So important was it to ensure that viewers understood the nature of sponsored content that posts are now being actively removed when these guidelines are broken.

But there is no such requirement in place for composite photography.

Is it fair to landscape photographers who wake up at 2 AM to hike up a mountain in order to capture a dramatic sunrise on the fifth attempt compete with digital versions of nearly equal visual splendor? Is it fair to portrait artists to compete against computers in creating an image that clients are willing to accept as a flattering reproduction of themselves?

Photojournalists are obligated to provide unedited photographs to news outlets. The rest of us are free to create what we want under the guise of photography.

Is it now the case that what is real is no longer beautiful? And if so, what does that say about us as a society?


The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.

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One Hole at the US Open Will Have 88 Cameras for ‘Bullet-Time’ Replays

The 2021 US Open golf championship kicks off today, and if you pay attention to the broadcast, you may notice a neat new camera technology that has been deployed. This year, the sixth hole at Torrey Pines features an array of 88 cameras to capture the players’ swings in Matrix-style “bullet time.” Golf Digest reports […]

One Hole at the US Open Will Have 88 Cameras for ‘Bullet-Time’ Replays

The 2021 US Open golf championship kicks off today, and if you pay attention to the broadcast, you may notice a neat new camera technology that has been deployed. This year, the sixth hole at Torrey Pines features an array of 88 cameras to capture the players’ swings in Matrix-style “bullet time.”

reports that the 121st US Open will be the first to feature the high-tech 4DREPLAY camera ring developed by Cisco, which was also used last week at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Image by 4DREPLAY.

“That’s more cameras in one spot than NBC had on the entire grounds at Torrey Pines in 2008,” Golf Digest points out.

The 88 cameras will be arranged around the tee box, and the resulting bullet-time sequence can be paused at 34 different points in each captured swing.

While this kind of camera array is not new to sports — we’ve seen it used for various sports at the highest levels, ranging from baseball to soccer — what’s neat with the US Open’s system is that bullet-time sequences will be beamed immediately to the US Open app for fans to browse and study during the tournament.

The 88 cameras on the 6th hole of the 2021 US Open at Torrey Pines. Photo by Joshua Lee

“The angle that you get to see the swing from, we can control it,” NBC lead golf producer Tommy Roy . “That’s why around the guy behind him, around to the front, freeze it wherever we want.

“[I]t’s a really good tool for [analyst] Paul [Azinger] to analyze these swings, and I can’t wait to see what DeChambeau’s swing’s going to look like there. So that’s why you required all those there. And thankfully, the USGA was very kind about allowing us to put that there.”

Here are a few example clips showing what the 4DREPLAY “bullet time” replays will look like:

Other cameras that will be used at the US Open this year include drone cameras (for aerial views), a “scorpion crane” (a camera that follows the ball from the teeing ground to the landing area), a “rat cam” (golf carts with a camera on the back), and a “frog cam” (a camera in the water to show balls going into the water).

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