Please Stop Passing Off Your Composite Images as Photography

Composite images have their time and place, and they can be cool, but it’s not photography.

Photoshop lets us do many wonderful things. From simple edits to complex transformations, the software has been the birth place of some spectacular work. But we have to start making a distinction between photography and Photo-shopped/composite images which really aren’t photographs at all. They are great works of art in their own right, but it’s always important to be upfront about your work, especially now in the world of ‘fake news’ and ‘fake media’.

To me (and many others I’m sure) a photograph is sacred. A photograph captures a moment in time that can never be repeated. The story that a photograph tells is true, everything about the image is pure, and the photographer who takes the image does so with the intent on it being something that’s real in a world of fake media and make-believe. Lets just get this out there. There is nothing wrong at all with Photoshop and composite images, but Photoshopping images and making real photographs are completely different things.

A recent thread on Reddit entitled ‘Never Seen A Shot Like This From an Airplane Before‘ recently caught our eye. The image was posted as being ‘the real deal’ but it is quite obviously a composite image. Many in the thread have called out the original poster for claiming the image to be real, and rightly so.

Is the image that was posted a great looking image? Sure. It is always nice to see people’s work, and the image certainly gives a sense of wonder. It also shows off the photographers editing skills, and their ability to be able to blend images together. That in itself should be praised, but why try to pass it off as a real image? Why not take the plaudits that would have come their way if they had said it was a composite image? Be proud of the work you create for crying out loud, don’t lie about how it was achieved. There is simply no need for that. There is room enough for real photography and composite images in this world.

There is nothing wrong with editing your images when it comes to making changes to shadows, highlights, and minor things like that in Photoshop, Lightroom, or Capture One Pro. These changes do not stop an image from being real, simply because the subject matter has not changed. Adding or removing objects from an image in post does create an image that isn’t telling the truth. There is nothing wrong with this, but at this point the photograph is not telling a true story, and is therefore not an honest photograph. The same goes for composite images. As soon as multiple images have been merged together, it is no longer a photograph.

composite images

There is nothing wrong with composite images. In fact, some of my favorite art pieces are composite images. But you shouldn’t try and pass off composite images as real photographs. The image may contain two, three, or more pictures that you have captured, but that doesn’t make the final image a photograph. I hate to say it, but it’s not photography. It’s nothing new. Heck, this practice goes back to film days (cue comments about Ansel Adams and others manipulating photos in a darkroom in 3, 2, 1,…), it doesn’t make it right though.

Those who make the images are incredibly skilled and talented; there is no doubt about this. But please be honest about the work you produce. You’ll get the social media praise you desire, and I guarantee you’ll feel better if you just mentioned that the images you produce are composite images. Be proud of your skill set, be proud of what you create, and let the world see your work. But drop the lies; they’re not fooling anybody.