Making the Real, Surreal

November 17, 2015

I recently noticed that one of my photos could very easily tip from the real to the surreal with just a few clicks in Photoshop. I was really only interested in the spiral staircase anyway, so the factory that it was attached to really didn't add to the photography - so I took it out - leaving only the staircase spiraling through the air. See the original photo here
As Mark Twain said: "Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story."
I am using the photograph to tell a story or set a mood. Photography is about seeing the world in a unique way and sometimes reality gets in the way of the story. With the post-processing tools widely available, the manipulation of the photos becomes relatively easy. Some photographers do quite a lot in post-processing and don’t mind the image looking overtly surreal, other photographers don’t want the post-processing to be too obvious. I generally fall into the latter camp with forays into the former. 
Some genres like photojournalism seek to capture reality as closely as possible, but there is still artistry behind the impactful photos. Because I am not restricted by photojournalistic ethics, I can change any photo if I think the change makes the photo better. Photography is rooted in reality, but is NOT reality.
While I’m editing, I carefully consider every element of the photo. Why did I take this photo? What are the important elements to the story or mood? Is there anything that is distracting from the story or mood? I like clean lines and favor minimalistic treatment, so I’m ok with taking out stray branches – or even entire skylines or buildings like in the photo below. Everyone finds their own mix, but don’t feel that the photos must be exactly as they arrive straight out of camera.
See my other real-surreal photos here (
Photo taken in at oil refinery in Hartford, Illinois. Sony DSC-HX90v 31.3 mm 1/160@f6.3 ISO 100.
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