Composite photos are not REAL photos

Posted on 19th March, 2019

Composite image by Brent Shavnore (Instagram @shavnore)

Composite image by Brent Shavnore (Instagram @shavnore)

You may have seen this image (on the right) shared all over social media lately. I have seen it re-shared about 6 times in my Facebook feed and about 10 separate times on Instagram by certain “insta-hubs”.

It is a photograph taken of a spectacular supercell storm over Sydney Harbour on what looks like sunset.

“Wow!”, I hear you say. It does look incredible, but guess what – it’s fake!

The difference between a “Landscape Photograph” and “Composite Photograph”

I’m going to start with some basic knowledge on the difference between a traditional photograph and a composite photo.

A traditional landscape photograph is just that; an image captured (on a camera) of a location, person or object that has not undergone any drastic editing/manipulations (this could be a whole separate article!) to alter the scene from how it naturally appeared. A composite photograph in its simplest definition is a “photograph formed by superimposing two or more separate photographs”, typically to achieve a final image that resembles a dramatic, fantastical and other-worldly scene – an artificial “wow” factor.

Where the problem lies

The digitally created image that has been doing the rounds was conceived by a talented creator called Brent Shavnore (he has some amazing images go check it out!). I think the final piece of digital art created is amazing and a really clever demonstration of digital art.. but it is not a traditional photograph. Having said that, this person is not the topic of my argument here. I would just like to note that I have no negative thoughts towards their work or what they do.

The problem is that a lot of people have been sharing this all over social media (without giving any form of credit to the original artist or photographers I must add!), with the misconception that it is a real photograph, when in actual fact it is two photographs, taken by two completely different people and superimposed onto one another.

Below you will see the photographs used to create this. The one on the left is the original photograph of Sydney Harbour, taken by Rudy Balasko and may be purchased off Shutterstock. The one on the right is the original photograph of the storm cell, taken by Minerva Studio in Italy, also may be purchased off Shutterstock.

I have seen many of these digital composites over the years, and it can be somewhat disappointing when I know just how much time and effort a photographer puts into capturing a beautiful scene, only to see a dramatic composite photo be shared and take everyone’s attention, even from the artists that took the original photographs used in the composite.

You might be thinking “hey this wanker is just giving his own uneducated opinion – he doesn’t know what he’s on about!” 🙂

In all seriousness I’ve actually spent the last 15 years in the digital art profession so I know exactly how much or how little effort can be put into a composite image. It’s something I have played with a lot in the past to create my own photographically realistic fantasy landscapes, or to make my cars look better than what they actually were!

At the end of the day, if someone likes a photograph, whether it be real or not, it is completely up to them! After all, photography is an art and will only ever be enjoyed/interpreted by viewers that can connect with the image in their own way, much the same as how people think a particular painting looks like a uninteresting blob and another person could look at it like an absolute masterpiece.

To each their own I say, but I just hope that as we enter this ever-enhanced digital world more and more that people will show compassion and understanding for the hours of research and effort we put in as nature’s storytellers.

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