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Wednesday, 08 August 2012


I was discussing/slash arguing people in landscapes with another photographer a few days ago. He also hewed to the absence of humans as an essential. I go with a human presence in my landscapes whenever feasible. I, and this purely my opinion, find the presence of another person lends warmth and, well, humanity to a photo. In my eye it creates a shared experience with the viewer. In this case, however, there are a few more people than I generally prefer in my shot.

30 miles upriver from here, on the Pacific coast, the locals figure it's usually ok for swimming after about the 3rd drowning of the year. "here" would be the Trinity river in very northern California. I kid you not. Neither does Ctein.

Best wishes,

I sympathise, don't like people in my shots either, maybe that's why I try to avoid popular "hotspots".
Very jealous of you having a summer warm enough to tempt people into running water though....

I've always found stop-action images of moving water fascinating since I first encountered them in the Sierra Club publication _Words_of_the_Earth_, a collection of photographs by Cedric Wright. While it has been 40 years since I last looked through this book, I believe there are two water images in the book that I found captivating. Also, your comment about fire probably being an appropriate subject are also anticipated in the book. There are some amazing (camp)fire images in a similar vein to those of the water.

The top photo in this post is now among my favorite Ctein photos.

I went back to that "stochastic" post and in the comments, saw something by "Dennis" that I don't remember writing (about preferring pre-visualize and be deliberate) to and that doesn't sound like something I'd say today, but could very well have been something I'd have said in the past (though 2 years ago doesn't sound "past" enough). Anyway, if it was me and if I didn't get it then, I certainly get it now. I do some of this. Lightning & ocean waves, slow shutter shots of people in motion, windblown objects. I also occasionally just "play" with my camera, shooting something & reviewing it to see how the recorded image compares to what I'm looking at. I think that playing has helped me tremendously.

Anyway, as to these photos, there was a time when I would have cringed at the first and embraced the second. Now I find the original vastly more interesting. In a span of a decade, I've gone from enjoying photos with minimal evidence of human impact to photos that either include people or are in some way about people and the things we've created. Amazing how we change ! (I think the birth of my daughter and the sudden change in my subject matter was largely responsible).

The processing is really impressive. I'm not adverse to presenting a photo as it "could have been" (i.e. "realistic" as opposed to "real"), so for me, these tools are occasionally useful for tidying something up. I use them rarely, but if the right crop of a couple kids on stage in a play or a concert includes a stray hand or elbow at the edge of the frame, I have no problem cloning it out.

I feel for you Ctein. I was backpacking in the Sierras and went cross country to a small lake that was off the main trail. I was hoping to pretend I had been the only one to see it, but there, right by the water was a big bootprint in the mud.

Didn't see any people, though.

So much Photoshop for something that could've been achieved with a paint tin, a piece of paper and a needle... ;)

I could cope with being called `misanthropic' too... Then again, I set out to capture timelessness as much as anything, so you could say what I "see" is the bit between the passing humans anyway.

"Bathers and Sunbathers"... lol, as if one were worse than the other. Thanks for the chuckle, always an interesting read.

I'm curious about the guy still in the shadows. Do you, like Dave, like a little shared experience humanity in a photo? Or is he not human -- just a clone?

Imagine if your river scene were a stitched composite of 100 small images, each taken at a time when no person was in that location. You would be creating an accurate representation of looking at that particular spot at that time and from there creating a composite image of all those individual "looks." This requires us to open up our definition of photography from "at that instant" to "this is what I saw." Is that acceptably honest? Probably not within Ctein's "brand," but perhaps within others. And from there, it's a short hop to the easier CS6 route to that image. The resulting image may not be what existed on that particular day, but it would be a plausible image that would represent the scene in a way that it truthfully exists. Unlike some of the blatant news/war images we've seen that portray a truth that never existed. I hear you, Ctein, as I am a committed straight photographer, but I've allowed myself to adapt a bit as the new tools have increased our range of options.

Where's Waldo? you left him in the upper falls on the right.....fun stuff

and maybe in the lower falls on the right behind the grass......a redhead maybe?

I have never been able to get my people disintigrator ray gun to work. Where did you get yours? Mine must be a Wal-Mart lemon.


You missed one in that 'cleaned up' shot. You know that, right?

"Very jealous of you having a summer warm enough to tempt people into running water though...."
Robin, where in the hell (not literally) have you been this summer?
We (in Maryland) just recorded the hottest July on record in 115 years of record keeping... :) I would gladly trade places with someone in the more northern climes...

What are your views on the photography of Martin Parr? He always puts the hominids centre stage in tourist locations.

Very nice, I totally agree with your sentiments of people and nature in photo's.

But if you look to the upper right shadows at the large upper falls I can still see a carbon based bipedal unit.


Only one thing about the 'after' of your 'before and after' shots: it still bears the imprint of all those feet and all that messing around with rocks in the water, especially on the left lowest level. From that point of view it might be better with the people in, a la Stephen Shore. Or maybe not...

As a luddite who won't carry a cell phone (except the pre-paid, for-emergencies-only, always-turned-off one in my car's center console), there's one thing that could change my mind.

When there's an app to do in real life what you and CS6 did to that image, I'll have a smartphone with me at all times. Even if it takes 45 minutes' work to make the human pollution disappear, benefit to the earth will greatly exceed cost to me. :-)

I learned the "stochastic" approach years ago, assisting a friend who was a commercial photographer who did a lot of one time shoots, such as topping ceremonies on a building site. As a former race car driver, he also had access to the pits, and did lots of race photos. The mantras were "film is the cheapest thing in your budget" and "when in doubt, shoot a dozen extra shots - and there's always doubt". THese were situations where if you missed the shot, there was no going back.
Although it was many years later that I went digital, I still tended to overshoot, even with full control of the situation. With digital, I expose many fewer frames, as I can now check my shots in camera. And storage cards end up much cheaper in the long run than film....

From the movie 'Barfly'-
Faye Dunaway: "I hate people... Do you... hate people.. too?"
Mickey Rourke: "Naahhh... but I sure like it when they ain't a-ROUND."

I much prefer the version with the people- perhaps you could call it "bear bait".

the first image in this post is absolutely wonderful.


I saw Waldo at x=2677 y=645.

Dear Joe and toto,

He was left as an exercise for the reader.

pax / Ctein

I like the one with people better -- kind of a cross between Gursky and Sternfeld.

Whenever faced with an overpopulated scene I always stop and ask myself this question, "What would a viewer 200 years in the future like to see?" The answer is of course: people.

Dear Tom,

"What are your views on the photography of Martin Parr?"

I don't have any. Unless I state otherwise (and sometimes I do), my columns are descriptive, not prescriptive.


Dear Jim Simmons,

The instrumentality is irrelevant to the question.

pax / Ctein

you really need to get over the real vs non real pixels. They are just pixels and one is just as good as another when it comes to an image. Get over it, the added pixel from software is just as good as the found pixel. Any pixel is possible if the budget allows :)

I also like the first version *much* better. not that I have anything against manipulating images, but the interesting part are the humans here, not the waterfalls..

Ctein, you raise an interesting question about whether the depopulated image is documentary - "It accurately portrays the falls themselves".

Yet, does it?

The moment in time that was photographed contained people. Their presence affected the flow of water in certain places. Those spots have been changed in PS.

So strictly speaking, the moment portrayed in the photograph is false. Several parts of the photograph have been doctored. As such, can it be said to be a true documentary photography? I don't think so.

Rather than removing people from the scene, documentary photography is about removing the photographer's influence from the scene and preserving the moment as it occurred.

Thank you, though, for sharing the frustration we've all felt about other people when taking photographs :-)


I imagine that the guy remaining at top right in the depopulated image is DDB - surely Ctein wouldn't want to edit him out of the picture?!

>>"Very jealous of you having a summer warm enough to tempt people into running water though...."
Robin, where in the hell (not literally) have you been this summer? <<
Sorry Ed, as this place is not "blessed" with all the paraphernalia of a full blown forum it's not at all obvious that I live in England.
Never forget that the web is world wide :-)

Sadly, I don't belief in the documentary picture. What if, in stead of 90 people, there had been a group of just a few, and with one step to the left, they could have been removed from view by a shrubbery? No digital manipulation, but just picking your point of view? Would that picture be an honest representation? Or like Jim above suggested, using several pictures to get rid of them. Or using a real long shutter time, like 1 hour, to blur them into oblivion? Would the picture have been more honest if ju took in in a hurry because there were no people in the frame, but the full bus-load just arrived and was still on its way to the waterfall?
Taking a picture is making a choices, and in doing so, one decides to leave the truth and push forward one's personal opinion. In stead of acting like it is true, I always think it is better to make people understand no picture ever tells the truth...

Robert wrote:
"you really need to get over the real vs non real pixels. They are just pixels and one is just as good as another when it comes to an image."

I don't think that's a remotely trivial thing to get over, nor do I think it's necessary. To me, the what & why we photograph is the key. I don't photograph for the result; I photograph to show what I see. When it comes to looking at art, I don't care whether it's manipulated or not, because I'm looking at the end result. (I have other standards for photojournalism, nature photography, etc.) And I appreciate that there are talented photographers who can look at a scene and see potential that will be realized with post processing. I'm not one of them, and while I admire that skill, that just doesn't interest me any more than painting or sculpture does.

I like photographs to capture reality too, but I am interested in my reality, not anyone elses :)

To make a photograph even come close to emulating the abilities of the human eye and brain takes a surprising amount of work. If you are talking about emulating the sense of wonder or occasion invoked by a scene, then that is another order of magnitude harder.

Photographs have many limitations with respect to "accurate reproduction" of the mind's eye. What you see is NOT what you get. At the very least some contrast manipulation is required.

All that I require is that the result remains convincing. Alien landscapes are fun and all that, but they don't come close to what painters can achieve. If I wanted to be an impressionist, I would learn to paint.

And lets be honest, black and white photography is not exactly "realistic" is it? Nor were Velvia or Ektachrome. When people talk about film they are generally talking about a "look" that is deliberately aesthetically manipulated - by the film manufacturer. I just prefer to do it myself.

So Ctein,

If you removed the people by putting on a very heavy ND filter, and exposing for ten minutes (or however long it took for their movement to make them "disappear") would that be an acceptable documentarian approach?

We also have a variant of that feature in Photoshop Extended (and have since CS4): http://divitalephotography.blogspot.com/2009/08/tourist-remover-in-photoshops-cs4.html

I'm not certain how a guy would go about removing tourists in that manner while still freezing moving water off the top of my head, but I bet it's possible.

Me, too, Freddy S. Whenever I see a pretty landscape scene I want to put something interesting in front of, or in, it. It would be fun to run a challenge to see what folks here would do to such an image. Me, I might compromise with Ctein by also zapping the people and leaving the scene calendar-kitschy... except for a pair of crutches placed along the river bank.

The first image is a terrific natural abstract that draws the mind through referential mimicry. Nicely seen and captured, Ctein.

Can you do it the other way round? I mean the people without the landscape?

Well, the lonely "Angler" <- fisher makes "Angler, Mülheim an der Ruhr" by Andreas Gursky for me....and what fun, when I happend to show up on the same place (with GX680 in my bag), I couldn't help not reshoting the scene.....and when I got the film back from the lab and under the scanner....low and behold...the bloody "Angler" was still at it, and that was about 21 years later. Now at that spot is a "Angelverein" so that explains that. I now wonder, did Andreas spot the "Angler" or didn't he....and got him as a present on the finished slide....5x7 in his case :-).

Greets, Ed

More "frozen" water... is a glorious photograph. Thank you for (1) creating and (2) sharing it. Delightful.

BTW, Ctein, computational photography is an other great and verry photographic way of eliminating people from pictures (or adding them if needed)....I take several shot of the same object through a long telephoto lens....then combine the shots using pano software....I can then mask people in an out the shot at will....great in these overpopulated times (and you break the limitations of the 12 Mpixel sensor...) into the Gigapixel domain if needed. And what's more you can even use a Merlin Orion motorized head to do so....now that must be tempting for an astrohead like you :).

Greets, Ed.

Interesting with people, especialy such happy ones. Boring without.

I could use the improved Spot Healing Brush right now. I'm spotting scans of 50-year-old B&W negatives for my high school reunion with CS3, and it's taking forever. Grrr...

As for northern climates, here in the Twin Cities we also just had our warmest July on record, with many 90s and not a single day in which the high was not 80 degrees or warmer. I skipped my birthday rolls in my sea kayak in mid-July because the lake temperatures were in the mid-80s and the forecast high was 102. (I like to roll once for every year, but the last time everything came together was on my 64th birthday.)

Let me be a contrarian. I don't believe your fire smoke scene is "real". I simply don't. The foreground is dark, with virtually no detail. I don't believe that's how it looked to you at the time. I suspect your eyes were able to discern a lot of detail in that foreground. I suspect what this image shows is the limited dynamic range of the camera. In which case, a gradient filter (either a grad used during shooting, or in PS after the fact) is absolutely necessary to show the scene as it actually was. A blanket statement such as "They do not think I used a . . . gradient filter in Photoshop to get that effect. My reputation lies in rendering it beautifully, not in inventing it." seems just a little misleading.

By the way, I do understand your point in all this, it's just that often times it IS necessary to manipulate the image to bring it more inline with reality.

FWIW, here's my personal "ethic". If there is a transient element I don't like in a scene I'm shooting (say a stick or piece of trash that's washed into a stream in the last rain and will be gone with the next), I have no problem removing it (physically - just toss it out of the scene). But if I don't do so because I didn't notice it, I won't clone it out - sort of my punishment for not being attentive. If OTOH there is a transient element I can't physically remove (say a contrail), I don't object to cloning that out. I will not clone out more or less permanent objects (say a tree trunk that will be in the stream til the next 100-year flood or power lines in the sky). If I can't work around or incorporate them, then I don't get a picture. Does this make sense?

I guess I must have missed the whole "genuine -vs- fake" aspect of this article.

As William Klein is so fond of saying, every photograph is essentially bullshit regardless of your intentions. From the moment you choose a point of view and choose to include/exclude elements you've entered the world of interpretation. You travel even deeper when you make the decision to open the shutter. This minute or the next? This hour or the next? Today or tomorrow? It's all subjective.

I don't really know anything about your followers, Ctein. But I'll bet they don't really follow your work for its supposed fidelity to "reality". They like your interpretation and rendering of "reality". For example, the fact that you witnessed and photographed nighttime space launches does not make your photos of the scenes special at all. The manner in which you rendered those images (i.e. your interpretation of the scenes, the laborious manner in which you cleaned and printed them) is what distinguishes those images to your followers (I'd bet).

Shackling photography to some creed of "truth" is necessary to get a paycheck in certain types of work. But it makes zero sense as a hobby and is suicide in art.

Enjoy yourself with your camera. Time is limited.

The "Frozen Water" photo is a great selective view of a phenomenon and Ctein had the gutspa and technique to bring the idea to fruition successfully. Congratulations Ctein!

This was a fun exercise. I now have some idea what to look for to tell if a scene like this has been substantially retouched: primarily areas where crisp texture gives way to mush.

But I have to make a request, too. Please don't refer to people as lice. That particular metaphor has a history. Its use in Nazi antisemitic propaganda is also discussed in Art Spiegelman's MetaMaus. (Mike, feel free to add an Amazon link if you wish.) That one poster is not an exception.

People are often a pain in the ass, but they're still people. Unfortunately it does need to be said.

I have no issue with people removing, moving or adding elements to pictures. However, I have no interest in the results as photographs. Indeed, I don't consider them to be photographs.

I have a similar aversion to heavily tonally manipulated photographs.

A recent lula contributor explained his picture of a rock (Sugar Loaf Rock?). I still do not understand how he described it as a photograph and have no interest in this type of synthetic imagery. Painting is better for this purpose in my view.

Ctein wrote:

" I photograph to show what I see."

Not at all possible today, maybe once the tech allows a camera behind your eyes it might get close, but it will never be a print as that again changes everything. You should photograph to show a print viewer what you want them to see as only you can see what you see. Just not possible to transfer your view to another intact.

As the little gecko says on TV, "Ah, come off it, mate."


I think you went in the wrong direction, Ctein.

I would have added more people to the waterfall shot -- maybe something like this, by Andreas Feininger.

Or one of the many paintings by Pieter Breugel....

Dear Robert,

"Ctein wrote:

" I photograph to show what I see.""

No I didn't. Don't put words in my mouth.


Dear Andrew,

"Please don't refer to people as lice..."

Uhhh, and I never did! See above comment to Robert.

Is there some alternate universe version of this column that people are reading???

pax / puzzled Ctein

"Shackling photography to some creed of "truth" is necessary to get a paycheck in certain types of work. But it makes zero sense as a hobby and is suicide in art."

Kenneth you summed up in a concise sentence what I have been trying to say in essays for years!

Photography is not any one thing, it's both documentary and artform, much as writing is. On the one hand you have the transcript from a court case and on the other you have science fiction, but nobody bats an eyelid.

But photography by its nature does not offer as much freedom of expression as say painting, therefore does not lend itself as well to impressionistic or abstract work. However it is entirely capable of presenting very convincing work that turns out to be totally stage managed.

The exception I suppose is photo-based graphic art, which is arguably something else. The borderline is a little vague, but I think it starts where you put elements IN to a picture that were not initially there.

Dear Jan and Ken,

Well, numerous past writings here make it clear that I'm not inclined to shackle photography to anything. I'm sure it's readily apparent to long-time readers that my tastes in photography and what I consider to be “legitimate” (for lack of a better word) photography are exceedingly broad (I'm only mentioning this for the newcomers). In fact, from private conversations, I think my idea of photography is even broader than our 'Steamed Editor's. So, we can put that aside.

I'm going to call bullshit back on William Klein and on Jan's statement that, “...no picture ever tells the truth... " Fundamentally, they are falsehoods wrapped in a paper-thin shroud of fact. It's a trick of rhetoric. Because they're being used argue that since photographs don't tell the truth, it does not matter how much they lie.

I'm going to make a reductio ad absurdum argument, now. It's not ad hominem. Just to be clear. It's for the purpose of pointing out the absurdity of these assertions.

Neither of you ever tell the truth In any absolute sense. Not the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Not unless you're one of those extraordinarily rare individuals cursed with both an eidetic memory and a 100% ironclad and inflexible set of ethics. And even then, you would only be able to tell the truth as you saw it, from your perspective and position, from the moment and location in space and time that you acquired the information you're reporting.

So, no, you guys never tell the truth.

That's as justifiable statement as yours, Jan's and Klein's positions. In fact, it closely parallels them word for word.

So, are you happy with that characterization? Even though it's factually correct, do you think it's an accurate and complete picture? And furthermore, since it's factually and scientifically possible to establish that you can't possibly tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, does that mean it does not matter when and how you lie?

It would be correct to say that no photograph tells the **whole** truth, and some photographs don't tell you any truth. That does not mean they don't tell many, many truthful and accurate things. In fact, the majority of what they tell, that people actually pay attention to, is reasonably truthful. People are good at ignoring the abstract issues, like black and white not being :real" (a deeply and profoundly silly argument) or compositional structures, unless those things produce a profoundly deceptive impression in the viewer. Which they can. And when people can tell it's done that, they don't like it. The hotel room or cruise ship suite that's photographed with the ultra-wide-angle lens that creates the impression it's three times as big as it really is. The politically biased photographs that are composed and positionally selected to make a speaker look like they have a vastly larger or smaller audience than they really did. People have an expectation of what a realistic photograph is telling them.

That it sometimes tells them something that is false, whether by accident or artistic intent, is irrelevant. What is not irrelevant is to claim that consequently it makes no difference, so what the hell? That's as nonsensical as saying that since you guys aren't capable of telling the truth, it makes no difference when you lie. You can choose to ignore the difference, you can choose to work with it, you can choose to work against it; they are all valid artistic choices. But to make believe that the matter isn't even real or of import because “...no picture ever tells the truth... " is a load of crap.

pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

Hi Ctein, sometimes we are arguing with the arguers not with you:)

Of course, what you say is entirely consistent though perhaps some people have greater semantic resistence to the over-use of the word "truth" than others. It is very difficult to present an absolute truth in the scientific sense, but nor can anything be fairly judged for falsehood unless it is first being presented as a truth.

All opinions are neither truth nor lie, just the view of the same world from a different window. You cannot dispute the opinion, only the facts that underpin it.

Truth in art is more of an emotional resonance than a factual statement and I think most of us are happy with that ambiguity. The argument is mainly about technicalities.


"Uhhh, and I never did! See above comment to Robert.

Is there some alternate universe version of this column that people are reading???"

Please look up "lousy". When you stop the flow of your prose to add a one-sentence paragraph saying that you used a word "by choice", you are inviting readers to consider the detailed meaning and associations of that very word. You can't claim it was just one word that happened to work and you're not responsible for its full meaning.

I'm a little disconcerted by your response. I took some care to make a potentially volatile point in a polite way, with an example, and you appear not even to have paused for a moment to ask yourself what I might have been talking about. Of course there are a lot of us commenting and only one of you responding. If you want to continue this, there is a little more (not a lot, I'm not an historian) that I could say about why your use of the word was disturbing in this context. Anyhow, that is the actual universe version of the column that you wrote and I read.

Ctein and I discussed this at length, because I agreed with you, and I ended up consulting with three experts: a professional writer, a professional translator, and a professional copyeditor (all three distinguished in their respective fields). I was obliged to retract my objection: all three experts sided with Ctein, concluding that his use of the word "lousy" meant "abundantly supplied with" and that "lousy" has become a metaphorical word with no necessary connection to its etymological origin in "louse," the singular of "lice." Two of the three did say that he appeared to invite the comparison to lice with his verbal highlighting of the word and/or his use of the word "with" ("lousy with"), but, when I quoted the full passage to each of them and asked the question "has he in any way called the bathers and sunbathers lice?", all three answered "no."

And there's an end on it; it was interesting to look into from an editing standpoint, but I'm not inviting any more discussion on this topic here.


Four images here: by far and away the most pleasing & interesting is the frozen water.

As for removing objects - I take a stance akin to the loose impediments rule. People & stray fauna are (re)movable.

Dear Hans,

Attempting to evaluate a print from a JPEG in a blog is a fool's errand, as Mike and I frequently point out.

Neither the highlights nor the shadows are blocked up in the original. There was plenty of exposure range in the color neg film I used to handle the brightness range of this scene, and I had little trouble rendering it in a dye transfer print.

A tobacco gradient filter produces a false rendition, not one the eye sees. There are ways to compress the luminance range of a scene to better approximate what the eye sees, but that is not one of them.

pax / Ctein

Some work is sometimes needed to produce what is remembered rather than what was.

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