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Christo Rei with sunsetDigital manipulation of images makes possible all sorts of visual effects that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to achieve. Indeed, some photographers apparently now believe that there is no longer any need to get up at dawn, or to wait for sunset, because “all that can be done in Photoshop”. However, this is a sadly mistaken view. There is still no substitute for high quality images arising directly from good light and composition.

The acceptability of digitally-manipulated travel images is, to some extent, a personal matter. However, particular care should be taken when making significant changes to certain categories of work. Wildlife, landscapes and natural phenomena are all examples of subjects where honest portrayal is generally regarded as important. Minor adjustments, such as tidying up foreground foliage in an otherwise good image, are likely to be acceptable. More significant changes are probably better avoided or at least declared.

Dishonest images, such as those showing circumstances that never arise, have only pictorial value and may ultimately discredit the work of a travel photographer. What is the point of showing the sun setting behind a building that faces north or south? Reasonable changes in brightness, colour and contrast, or cosmetic surgery to remove a power line or a camcorder-wielding tourist, are acceptable in most situations. However, where images are presented as accurate depictions of travel locations they should remain reasonably honest.

Digital manipulation can be very useful where special effects are required. A photographer wishing to create images in an impressionist style, or using some other painterly technique, might choose to do so using digital manipulation rather than traditional methods. This is somewhat safer ground because it is obvious to viewers that images have been manipulated for artistic purposes. Violet skies, water blurred and softened by movement, multiple exposures and montage techniques generally fall into the same category.

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