How often do you use the cloning tool in your image editing software? If you work for The Economist, I’m guessing you probably won’t be using it much in the future…
While cloning is considered unethical in the world of journalism, it is incredibly common in other areas of photography. Digital editing has made it simple to remove anything you might find distasteful in a photograph. Telephone poles, trees, people, pimples, moles, cars, hands, and many more have been mercilessly replaced by a patch of grass or wall or skin. Good photography often has a clear subject, but the pursuit of simplicity and the removal of distractions seems to be getting a little out of hand lately. Tons of tutorials exist for cloning things out of photographs and a lot of tutorials even advocate replacing the entire sky! Of course replacing the sky is usually done to add something interesting rather than remove a distraction, but the bitter aftertaste is the same. Unfortunately, the internet probably will have to take the brunt of the blame for this one. When images are shown mostly at postage stamp sizes, they must have a large, clear subject or they won’t even get noticed. But what about images that you might want to hang on a wall?
To me, especially in a larger image, “distractions” can add interest. If you are going to be looking at a photo on a wall every day for months or years, wouldn’t you prefer that the photo have something new to offer as time goes on? Seemingly extraneous details can help fill in the story of a photograph and can reward repeated viewing. Of course not every photograph benefits from too many extraneous details and there are some things that are truly a distraction. Real life has distractions. Seattle is teeming with cables used to power the electric buses. These get in the way regularly when I’m trying to take photos here. But sometimes, as in the picture above, they can add to the composition and make for a more powerful image.
Next time you’re out taking pictures and you get annoyed at some distraction that will ruin your photograph, try working with it. Instead of telling yourself “I’ll fix it in post,” make the distraction a key element of your photo. Little challenges like that can help you grow and produce more interesting images. Not to mention you’ll save time on the computer so you can get out and photograph more.