End of the Night - On Cropping, Alterations, etc...

End of the Night, originally uploaded by pamhule.

Here's a photo I recently took of a young professional checking his phone on Stone Street in New York. I am generally pretty happy with the outcome. The over-exposure and black-and-white conversion accentuate the graininess. The composition is somewhat interesting. And the streetlight falls nicely on both the person in front and the three men in the distance. Overall, not bad.

But did I cheat to get this result? Yesterday, the World Press Photo disqualified one of the winners from this year's contest. This gave me pause. In order to get the result above, I tampered with the original--both with exposure levels and through cropping.

Read on to see my original image, the World Press Photo and for some more thoughts on the topic.

Here's the photo as I shot it:

End of the Night UNALTERED, originally uploaded by pamhule.

The two images are very different in feel and composition. Now, do those difference make my alterations wrong--did I cheat my audience in some way? I think not. After all, a photograph, like a drawing or painting, is not reality but merely an image of reality. I could have shot in black and white, used a lens with a longer focal length, and perhaps shot in film to achieve the outcome I eventually produced through digital alterations. Despite the changes, the final result still captures an actual moment on a New York street. And I am definitely not alone in finding cropping acceptable. Ansel Adams, Walker Evans, and Man Ray, to name a few, were all known to crop their photos.

If some retouching is justifiable, then that begs the question of when alterations go too far. It seems to me that this would depend on the context of the photo. A photojournalist should probably be held to higher standards, than a fine arts photographer. Informed by the context, a viewer of a photograph will have different expectations as to how close an image is to reality. In light of this, I did not find it surprising that the World Press Photo disqualified the following photo:

The image, titled “Street fighting, Kiev, Ukraine” originally won 3rd prize in the category "Sports Features". It's an impressive photo. I especially like the heavy grain, which adds a certain toughness to the photo. Together with the title, the viewer is left that the sense that things are really rough in the streets of Kiev. The original photo, however, tells a different story.

The photograph in questions is cropped and retouched from this:

What is surprising to me is that World Press Photo disqualified the photograph because the photographer photoshopped away the foot behind the hand--not because the image was heavily cropped and retouched in other ways. I don't think removing the foot is troublesome since it simply takes away what otherwise would be a distracting detail. Rather I am bothered by how the photographer manipulated a humdrum, after-school shot into what almost appears like war-like imagery.

I am curious to hear what other people think about this. Did I go too far in altering my photo? Should the prize winning photo have been disqualified?

(Hat tip: PetaPixel)