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Is composite photography really photography or is it a graphic illustration?

Leading Creator

With AI encroaching in the photography workspace now, I thought it was the perfect time to bring up this question!  Because today's technology allows users to simply do one-click edits of adding a new sky, light element(s), or even a new or additional subject to your original photography,  I'm curious if people believe this type of art is actually considered photography. Or should it be labeled as a Photo Illustration, much like AI photography is going to be labeled as? 

Also, is stacking imagery from the same scene (with minor differences in composition/exposure) still considered a photo as well if you're taking elements from other photos and combining them after the fact? (Example below).

I'm always curious as to what others think so let's get this discussion going!

Exposure change on lower part of frame by comping in a new lower image (from the previous shot)Exposure change on lower part of frame by comping in a new lower image (from the previous shot)Original FrameOriginal Frame


Leading Creator

There are a lot of questions there Drew. I personally do not change skies. I want my images to relay an emotion(s) that I felt when I captured the image. As for stacking - that is just a way to overcome the camera / lens ability to render the image either correctly exposed and/or having extreme depth-of-field. So my summary is anytime I add something to the scene that was not there in the original capture, I would list it as digitally altered - not what I saw literally; rather what I saw in my mind. As for processing of a RAW file, I see it as a necessity similar to making a print from a negative. Al Weber was a friend of mine and taught with Ansel Adams for 20 years. He told me one day at lunch that Ansel always told people he manipulated his black-and-white images. He was very fond of using a Kodak #25 Wratten filter to render his blue skies black. Moreover, he did extensive burning and dodging and kept detailed notes. A great book was released by his office manager after he passed where she showed a number of Ansel's more famous images and showed you the progression from a straight contact print all the way to finished gallery print. Included Ansel's notes. Al told me he would have been all over Photoshop because he loved to tinker... Too bad he never made it to the digital era! Lastly, IMO, there was not a color chrome film out there that truly captured an image the way our eyes see color and light. My favorite all-time film was Kodachrome 25 because it rendered a painterly look...

Prime Creator

I think if all the elements are photographic, then it is still a photograph. An in camera double exposure is still a photograph...

Mover & Shaker

If something is added or removed from the image then it is altered. If multiple images are used to make one image then it can go either way depending if all the objects were there in the first place. When I make my panoramic images by stitching many images I am recreating what is already there over a short period of time. However if I add a fake sky then I have overstepped what is real. Generally standard adjustments to exposure and minor color tweaks are acceptable. But changing from one color to another is not.

This is a 17 image 35,000 pixel composite panorama taken in Augusta Maine over a period of 15 seconds. Is it time altered in showing the final photograph(s) or is it real because it is 35K wide when the a1 can only deliver 8750 in one single shot?A1F00942-Pano.jpg

Prime Creator

I have been wrestling with this too. In Luminar AI you can just drop in a sky or elements and I have no idea if they are true photographs or generated images. I would say I am more comfortable calling anything made from photographs photography, even if it is composited. Where I get stumped is in manipulation of photography. I smear and change pixels, so the original image no longer remains. Is that still photography? I can also use photographs as references in Corel Painter, but then it is no longer a photograph, but a new image made with digital paint. What is it and how does that fit in? 

I think it is just easier to call a spade a spade, especially for competitions. I don't know if the general public need to know the nuances of everything though as that could get tedious. For instance, if a client wants an image with a sky that looks a certain way--say a hotel that wants murals for rooms, I don't see the harm in compositing it or using AI generated effects to please them (unless they specifically want a true photograph). In the end it is about selling images one way or another, right? If we are honest about a hybrid process, then I think it is ok.