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What are your photography taboos? Are there things that you just won’t do to a photograph?

I thought about this over the weekend while watching Trey Ratcliff’s latest photography tutorial (review coming soon). During one of the segments, the topic came up about taking a sky from one photo and using it in another photo. The reason for it was pretty simple. Sometimes you’re at a beautiful scene and the sky just sucks. There are no clouds, or perhaps it’s a boring, overcast sky with no depth, texture or emotional impact. We want our photos to look their best, but nature doesn’t always comply when we’re at the great scene.

A Couple of Photography Taboos

Trey mentioned that’s something he never does. He said the same thing could happen at night where you put the moon in each night shot. Where does it end? Is the sky sucks, change your composition so it’s less than 5-10% of the image. People will accept a sucky sky in a small part of the photo. That’s a concept I’m going to test below.

Bald skies are uninspiring, but sometimes that’s just what you get. Do you crop them out or do you replace the sky with a shot from a different photo?

With that in mind, I know some photographers are against cropping.  Moose Peterson mentions now and then that he doesn’t crop his photos. He isn’t telling anyone else that they shouldn’t crop their photos, but this is his photography taboo. Based upon what I’ve heard him say, I believe it’s due to his sense of professionalism as a photographer and his desire to get it right “in camera.”  Nothing wrong with that goal at all. That doesn’t mean it’s for everyone, though.

I tend to like using a 16:9 crop for my finished photos. Since my camera doesn’t produce that size, I have to crop. You could say it’s an artistic choice.

For those who work in journalism, they have a lot of taboos about photo manipulation. Although I understand the logic behind those photography taboos, I also think there’s a bit of silliness involved. That’s because the result straight out of the camera doesn’t really represent reality. Still, they’re creating historical records and reporting events. Most of them don’t wish to be seen as biased by manipulating the photos. Instead, they manipulate by choosing which photos to show.

As I’m not a journalist, my photos are from my own little universe. I have no problem manipulating them as I see fit. It’s pretty rare that I replace a sky (because it can be a real pain to do), but I don’t have any objection to compositing. You can bet that I adjust colors and use content-aware tools to remove ugly bits. I’ll crop, stamp, bend, fold, spindle and kick my photos as I please before I show them here.

Since today is the last day to file your taxes here in the USA, I thought it appropriate to crop, stamp, bend, fold, spindle and kick something from the federal government for today’s photo. Here are your tax dollars at work at the FDR Memorial in Washington, D.C.

Photography Taboos

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  1. Great article and thanks for the reminder on tax deadline. LOL Don’t have a lot of photography Taboos but I’m not much for adding something to a picture that wasn’t there or moving an element to a different location… no matter how good they say the patch move tool might be (which in certain situations it’s not). But I have no problems editing the heck out of my pictures if I feel like it but I agree…. replacing the sky is a pain. Much easier to just use multiple exposures and using one for the best sky you can get.

    1. I generally don’t move things that were in a photo to another location, but I recall that was in the demo from Adobe when CS6 came out. Go ahead, move that tree.

  2. The sky thing I definitely don’t like. If it’s a photo for me, then maybe I’ll do it, otherwise I won’t. I also leave elements in the photo, especially if it’s a photo for Examiner. I’ll take elements out in a photo for me, or my portfolio, but not for any journalism stuff. Also I try not to put myself in extreme danger. I did it once last year during motocross, and I vowed never again since I thought I was going to have a heart attack. The shot would’ve been exactly the same had I stood on the other side of the fence from the 35 450’s coming around the curve towards me (I was on the edge of the track). I’ve seen some of the stuff Dave Black takes, and I love it, but I also refuse to do some of it. If that means I won’t reach the level of expert, then so be it.

    1. Don’t die for a photo. I don’t think that’s a taboo, but just common sense. Maybe Dave can stand next to a motocrosser and get a photo inches from his face, but I’d rather use a telephoto lens for that shot.

      Since you do stuff for Examiner, you need to abide by rules for photojournalists. No arguments about that. For your own stuff, do you care if you crop something out? How is that different from manipulating it otherwise in Photoshop?

      As for skies, my photo of the US Capitol has a different sky in it. I took the shot of the sky at the Marine base in Quantico and used it instead of the horrible, bland sky that was actually over the Capitol building at the time. Had to remember to put the sky in the reflection, too.

      1. Sometimes I crop stuff out for my own stuff, but sometimes I don’t. It depends how much it bothers me. For instance, a motocross shot I really wanted to use in my portfolio had a very distinct porta-potty in the background. It was a very light blue so very easy to see. For the Examiner I left it in, for me I took it out.

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