Photoshop Lesson Continued: A Jim Howell Question « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Photoshop Lesson Continued: A Jim Howell Question

Photoshop Lesson Continued: A Jim Howell Question

After yesterday’s post Jim Howell asked the following question in the Comments section:

“Arthur, this is a great composite and thanks for this tutorial, APBII, Digital Basics and thank you Robert for APTATS. I’ve looked and looked at the photos – where was the blur necessary?”

Good question Jim. And thanks for your kind words. I love this one too, especially as it looks as if the stretching bird is staring at the other two. I will answer your question in this post with my comments on two close-up images.

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This image is a tight crop of the branch after I lined up the two images. As you can see, everything to the right of the red line is sharp, everything to the left is blurred. That is especially noticeable in the rotted section.

Everything to the left of the red line is the introduced layer. First I wanted to restore the sharpness in the wood above the rotted part so I created a layer mask on the introduced layer and erased the soft stuff that covered the sharper clean wood below. The problem was that there was still an obvious sharp soft demarcation in the rotted wood….

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Next I flattened the two layers and then painted a Quick Mask of the sharper rotted wood on the right. Then I applied about a 1 pixel Gaussian blur until the texture of the rotted portion matched fairly well.

Though my repair might stand up to pixel by pixel scrutiny it looked a whole lot better than it did before the additional work πŸ™‚

Thanks again Jim for the great question.

29 comments to Photoshop Lesson Continued: A Jim Howell Question

  • Art, based upon your very first response, I must admit to having grabbed the wrong end of the stick, initially. I had thought that not all three birds were present at the same time. I see now that my conclusion was incorrect. With my sense of reality thus adjusted, your shot is no different from photostiching a panorama – it’s just a wildlife panorama. Granted, minor details may have changed between shots (a turn of the head, an expression – assuming such birds have expressions) but so do certain details in landscape panoramas – wildlife moves, clouds move, flags flutter, etc.

    Now, where’s that Fuji GX617? Actually, I’d be satisfied with an EOS 7D at the moment. πŸ™‚

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    I am fine with you thinking that it is not a photograph.

    Definition of INSIDIOUS

    a : awaiting a chance to entrap : treacherous
    b : harmful but enticing : seductive
    a : having a gradual and cumulative effect : subtle

  • Geez, what should I think now?

    Here I say over and over again what a great piece of work this is, Artie, but that I just don’t call it a “photograph.” And I think of the number of times that I have learned an exposure trick from your captions or your DVD books, and now you respond to me in such an insidious manner.

    I agree with Keith, “Aaaah, I’m out.”

  • avatar Keith Reeder

    Aaaah, I’m out – life’s too short to waste it arguing with fundamentalists and zealots of any “religion”.

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART



    If Mr. Morris’ vehicle was a few feet behind he could have got this photograph in one capture.

    Yes, but it would have been in the canal.

    If Mr. Morris had a lens shorter than the 800mm lens, he could have got this photograph in one capture.

    There was one on the passenger seat; if I reached for it when the bird stretched, I would have missed the image.

    If there was another photographer on the same location, he/she could have got this photograph with a suitable lens.

    Suitable for what? I got the image that I wanted with a lot more pixels than if I have used a shorter lens.


  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Sue, You are of course free to have your opinions and I will not be getting in a piss fight with you, but I gotta say that I disagree with pretty much everything that you have said. You have your head stuck in some very old sand and I am fine with that. Keith, Denise, and Andrew, thanks for sharing your lucid and well-reasoned thoughts. Later and love to all. artie

  • Denise, Choice of f-stops and down or eye-level is exactly what I mean — done IN the camera — not afterwards. Also, changing your position moves those branches and leaves between you and the subject out of the way and puts all three birds in your viewfinder at once.

    Keith, Each HDR image was done in the camera, yes, but putting them on top of each other in the computer later is artwork.
    Checked out my website, thanks! No, I don’t have any flight shots on it. Although I was a sports photographer for years, I never added or subtracted players, crowds or baseballs. Someone I know was fired for doing just that — moving a baseball in a shot of a pitcher. If a photojournalist does something like that, the photo is ID’ed as a photo illustration. That way the readers know that the photograph is not a “true” photograph, but an illustration.

    And dust spots are on your lens, not on the birds.

    I checked out your photos as suggested. The birds didn’t seem to be flying, however. If you were my student, I would say that the photos are very good, especially the first two, and that you should wait for the bird to move out of the dead leaves before you take the photo (composition). Most of the prize-winning, praise-winning, highly-selling bird photography I see now is set up. Birds are attracted by food to land on bare branches or limbs with colorful leaves or vines humanly attached. That way you don’t have branches and leaves hiding your subject and making you clone everything out on the computer aftertwards.

    Current genre to young people or new photographers “is do it all in the computer.”

    Old school — I could teach you how to take something out of a photograph under the enlarger. I could also teach you by composition in the camera to put two people right smack-dab next to each other and claim that it was a secret rendezvous at the divorce hearing.

  • “To me, what you do IN YOUR CAMERA is a photograph. What you add to it later is artwork.”

    I totally(humbly)disagree with that statement to me every single thing the photographer does including his/her choice of f-stops is a decision that will affect the outcome of the image as seen through the photographers eyes. It then becomes his/her artistic impression. Shooting down on a subject or deciding to get at eye level with the subject will change the entire look and feel of the image. These are all ways that the photographer interprets the scene. It then becomes art.

  • avatar Keith Reeder


    I’ll just add – because I imagine I can anticipate your likely response – that I’ve been right through your online gallery.

    They’re all images of subjects where you’ve clearly had loads of time to frame and compose the image, which is of course the idea situation: large, slow-moving (for the most part) subject matter is pretty easy, really.

    But it’s not at all the same reality that exists if say, you’re shooting a fall of hyperactive, two-inch long migrant Goldcrests ( against “busy” backgrounds, in which the only choice a photographer has is when to press the shutter…

  • avatar Keith Reeder

    I think, Sue, that the “old school” mindset exists *only* because photographers couldn’t realistically do this kind of work with film.

    There’s nothing intrinsically “wrong” about this kind of digital darkroom work, it’s just that some people are used to the idea that it used not to be possible, and this has somehow morphed into a principle.

    The idea that to have “purity” a presented image needs to be *what the camera captured* rules out sharpening, exposure correction, Levels work, saturation adjustment, aesthetic cropping, and so on… and we *all* do those things.

    What about multi-exposure HDR images? They’re all of the same scene, yet – frequently – are as unlike the original in terms of being an accurate rendition of the original scene, as it’s possible to imagine.

    The simple fact is, as soon as you agree that deleting dust spots is OK, this must be OK too – it’s logically the same thing – digitally “adding” to what was captured by the camera, even if, with dust spots, you’re only “adding” in a negative sense – and the one only differs from the other in terms of scope, which is itself an arbtrary line to draw.

    We’re just drawing our line in different places, I suppose: but neither line is inherently more right or justified than the other.

    I think though, that my position is more consistent and logical. Dust spots or half a bird: if one is OK to remove then so is the other; and once you can remove items – whatever they are – from a scene (remember, removing dust spots is actually *adding* something, in reality), then all bets are off.

    As an aside, as a keen “enthusiast” bird photographer myself, I think the notion that:

    “You compose in your camera. If your composition is not good, than neither is the photograph. Learn from it; compose better next time”

    is entirely unrealistic.

    In any genre of photography where you have no control over the subject matter (wildlife photography, many sports) you take the opportunities that present themselves, or you end up with nothing. BY DEFINITION this means that we have no say in what else might appear in an image in addition to the (say) bird we’re shooting.

    With respect, it is unfair, unreasonable, unkind, and – in fact – almost bloody-minded, to suggest that this somehow invalidates the whole image; or to imply that in digitally correcting the image so that it represents the image envisaged when the shutter was pressed – just as Bird B stuck its butt into the frame – it somehow stops being a “real” photograph.

    In fact this is the reality of bird photography, and no less *real* photography for all that.

  • I see absolutely nothing wrong what-so-ever with the techniques, skill and foresight used to achieve this end result. I strongly believe that it is up to the photographer to be truthful and honest about this type of post-production work, which Arthur is. To further add to this I do believe that a stitched panorama is indeed a photograph. A single capture could always be cropped to panoramic format, but why do that when technology will allow us to create the same image, with a much larger file size, by stitching a series of captures together.

    Arthur, I hope you will post more of these, I think they are very informative and educational.

  • Keith, what you wrote is right — removing something IS just like adding something to an image.

    Cloning out dust spots is OK, but taking out a whole tree, a boat, or a bird or adding a whole tree, a boat, or a bird makes a photographic image a piece of art. Again, nothing is wrong with that as a saleable item, just like a painting. Stitching together a panorama is stitching together a panorama — not taking “a” picture of a landscape. Also, adding canvas sky to better the composition is not a true photographic image.

    I am old school about this. You compose in your camera. If your composition is not good, than neither is the photograph. Learn from it; compose better next time. If you have to do major computer enhancement work to an image, than your exposure was poor. Learn from it; make a better exposure next time. Minor adjustments make the photograph look like the actual image you saw, not the virtual one. A “blur” is done by exposure setting in the camera. Years ago a blur would be a toss out, but now it is seen as artsy (or Artie).

    To me, what you do IN YOUR CAMERA is a photograph. What you add to it later is artwork. As I suggested in an earlier reply, have the equipment to change your composition in the camera as needed.

  • avatar Keith Reeder

    Hi Bill,

    you wrote:

    “If you add something to an image that was not there when you took the photograph it is no longer a photograph!”

    If you’re serious about this, then you rule out use of the clone tool, because if you use it to *remove* an item from an image, then – in a completely literal sense – you’re adding something to the image as it existed in life, in that you’re adding space to where once a physical object existed in the scene.

    If that’s OK simply because the source of the clone tool’s effect is still within the image, then I see a contradiction, because it’s *still* adding to the image (or, to put it another way, moving the content of the image around) in a way which does not reflect the “single slice of time recorded”.

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Thanks Keith for your incisive comments. Here are a few of my own.

    When I enter a contest, I follow the rules.

    I caption my images truthfully and let folks know what I have done.

    I choose to use modern technology to make my images more pleasing.

    In the extremely rare instances where the image does not accurately reflect the natural history of the moment, that is clearly noted in the caption. And example might be taking two ducks from a flight image and combining them with three ducks from an image taken one second later, with two of the birds in the final image actually appearing twice (with different wing positions).

    I have gone much, much farther down the slippery slope before so I was pretty surprised by some of the comments here πŸ™‚

  • avatar Bill Clausen

    I think that stiching multiple photographs is just that a stitched to gether photo taken over a perion of time. It is a beautiful,but not A Photograph!

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Bill, What did I add to this image that was not there? Have you ever heard of a stitched panorama?

    I thank all for being level-headed and respectful while stating their opinions πŸ™‚

  • avatar Bill Clausen

    Dear Folks:

    If you add something to an image that was not there when you took the photograph it is no longer a photograph! It is a work of art no question. As I said before a photograph is a slice of life a small one,but that is what it is. If you make it clearer to the viewer that is ok,but to PUT THINGS THERE that were not when the shutter was tripped then it is a work of digital art but not a photograph!
    Thanks for listening

    Bill Clausen

  • avatar Keith Reeder

    Bill, Sue,

    ultimately, how is what Art did here to create this image any different to, say, adding canvas and then more sky to one side of an image to better improve the composition? It can still be said that the added sky wasn’t in the original image, yet nobody would bat an eye at that addition.

    And – logically – why is adding to an image substantively any different to removing from it? I frequently remove the half a bird I’ve caught on the edge of the frame: doing so renders the image no more “true to life” than adding a bird – but here, Art is recreating a scene he had actually seen, from multiple images captured for that exact purpose.

    Isn’t this just like photostitching a landscape panorama, as John suggests (although he’s wrong to seemingly imply that the image created here is “a completely false image that never existed”)?

    Bill, your definition of a photograph as “a single slice of time recorded” is a perfectly valid one, but it isn’t the only valid one, and it treads a fine line.

    Art’s “blur” images don’t, by any stretch of the imagination, represent the *reality* of the scene before him, but they’re a single slice of time recorded, nevertheless. Do they qualify as photographs? Arguably they’re a more significant “manipulation” of the reality of the scene than anything done to the image under discussion…

  • avatar Bill Clausen

    I guess I sort of started this. I think most folks have given good awansers,but This is a debate that will I am afraid will go on awhile.

    I still feel a PHOTOGRAPH is a single slice of time recorded. To make the photo clearer or presented better does not interfere with the slice of time photograph.

    Putting things in the photograph that were not there crosses the line. I realize there is no exact line to define this, but the image presented as a photograph should be what existed at the time of the exposure in the format used!

  • avatar Prem Balson

    According to, a photograph is

    an image of an object, person, scene, etc, in the form of a print or slide recorded by a camera on photosensitive material.

    If we agree to this definition, then this is a photograph.

    If we want to say that this is not a photograph, then a largely accepted definition of the word photograph have to be supplied to validate the claim.

    Whether an image can be entered into a contest should not be defining what a photograph is. Those are rules put forward by those who organize the contest.

    What is the definition of a photograph? I would like to hear some more thoughts.

  • avatar Prem Balson

    I do not see any difference between actually removing an unsightly beverage can prior to pressing the shutter button and removing it later using a software tool.

  • Yes, Artie, a moment in time IS correct. That is why I shoot with a Nikon 200-400 with a 1.4 TC instead of a fixed lens so I can zoom back to capture more if necessary. I also keep a 70-200 on another body next to me in case something suddenly pops up closer.

    I understand your point, King Arthur, and like I said I love this shot.

    A photographer friend of mine took a picture of a local lighthouse on a partly cloudy summer day. One image had a great exposure of the lighthouse, while another was fabulous sky light. He layered the two together and then added some flying seagulls. It is a beautiful photo, just not a photo contest entry (unless digital enhancement is allowed).

  • avatar Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    I only have a moment to respond right now. I will likely make a post out of these. Bill, do notice that you have not been cut off.

    Have any of the naysayers stopped to consider that the photograph depicts a moment in time exactly as it existed (but for a few slivers wood from and below the perch branch)?

    Bill, Liz, John, and Sue. I would love to hear from you as above πŸ™‚

  • I agree with Bill Clausen. I would call this a piece of art, not a photograph. So, yes, Elizabeth, the name Birds As Art does apply. This a great piece of art! I love it, but it is not a photograph. This could not be legally entered into most contests, but it will sell, sell, sell!

  • I have some sympathy with Bill Clausen, here, though I think it’s perhaps a little strongly stated. I can personally see the value in photostitching multiple images for, say, a wider landscape panorama which attempts to portray reality, especially for those of us who cannot or choose not to invest in a delightful Fuji GX617 plus lenses. I have considerable trouble with creating a completely false image that never existed, though.

    On the other hand, how different is this from removing, say, an unsightly discarded Coke can or stray branches with the clone tool (ref your recent waterfall shot)? It seems a matter of degree.

    Dangerous ground, this. Food for thought.

  • avatar Elizabeth Lodwick

    The top line of the blog page says it all for me, “Birds as Art”. Yes, we manipulate pictures but the bottom line is to show what our minds saw. I have learned so much and love practicing all your tips. Thanks


  • avatar Prem Balson

    It is not accurate to say that this image never existed. This image existed but it had to be done with multiple captures.

    If Mr. Morris’ vehicle was a few feet behind he could have got this photograph in one capture. If Mr. Morris had a lens shorter than the 800mm lens, he could have got this photograph in one capture.

    If there was another photographer on the same location, he/she could have got this photograph with a suitable lens.

    So, this image existed.

    It is also the same sport. More tools are now available to play the sport.

  • Wow! This makes me realize that I have not even begun to scratch the service of image optimization. Cool stuff. I will continue following and hopefully learn some tips and tricks.

  • avatar Bill Clausen

    This is a nice picture we are discussing but, this NOT photography!! This is another sport!!

    Making a print better as we did in the darkroom is one thing. Producing an image that never ever existed is not Photography!

    I am sorry I will be cut off for this but it is how I feel!

    Bill Clausen