Another photojournalist who shoots for an area daily has problems with a moon photo I shot at FloydFest. He points out that I shot the photo on July 26 and the full moon did not occur until July 30.  The debate that now rages here and elsewhere deals with what is or is not an acceptable level of alteration in Photoshop. It also stands as a personal lesson to me on what happens when one is not specific enough on what is or is not done to digitally alter a photograph.

Full moon photos are something of a specialty of mine and it’s not the first time I’ve had one questioned. I admitted up front when I posted the image that it was "Photoshopped" (enhanced using Photoshop digital manipulation software).

In looking back over the files, I did enhance the moon too much. When I enhanced the moon I cropped tightly and rounded the edges because the moon, to many, appeared "full" that night..

Even though the calendar full moon was still four days away the moon often appears full due to atmospheric conditions.

The U.S. Naval Observatory says this about full moons:

Although Full Moon occurs each month at a specific date and time, the Moon’s disk may appear to be full for several nights in a row if it is clear. This is because the percentage of the Moon’s disk that appears illuminated changes very slowly around the time of Full Moon (also around New Moon, but the Moon is not visible at all then).

I photographed the scene of the moon over the state at FloydFest using three different focal lenghs: 200mm, 300mm and 600mm (a Canon 300mm f2.8 lenses with a 2x tele-extender. In all I took shot 27 image. Because the shots were taken with a Canon EOS-1Ds, which shoots full-frame at 16.7 megapixels, I did not have the "multiplier" effect of most digital SLRs which use smaller sensors.

The photo at the right is how it looked when it came out of the camera. Lots of fuzziness around the moon in the photo but those who saw the moon that night could see the shadows and detail.

Because the image was shot in RAW format, there is a lot more detail in the image. You can change the exposure, the contrast, the shadws and much more. For example, I can isolate the moon in Photoshop and then use enhancing tools to incrementally pull out the detail that was not immediately visible.

It’s a painstakingly slow process that must be performed at pixel level but if the detail is in the image file you can sometimes retrieve it.

So I isolated the moon and pulled out just that image and saved it as a new file. I made several copies and experimented with different enhancements. With each step, I saved a copy of the image and then went back and worked on another one, saving each so I had a trail of changes. My plan was to use the image in an upcoming class that I would be teaching at The Jacksonville Center to show how Photoshop can bring out detail most might think is not there.

I also sharpened the edges of the moon and cleaned up the haze that was more visible in the photo than to the naked eye. On one version, I cropped in tight and rounded the edges, making a not quite full moon appear full. Working just on these versions took over three hours. Then I worked on two of the background images and dodged out the hazy moon and inserted the enhanced moon back into the image.

The first image I posted was, in retrospect, too enhanced and the moon too sharp and too rounded given the conditions. I went back to another version of the image and backed off three levels  of burning and sharpening and rebuilt the image which is the currrent illustration posted on this web site (left).

It is an example of what can be done with Photoshop if one has the patience and training.

Is it dishonest? It is if you don’t reveal the photo was enhanced. I initially thought I had but I did not include enough detail on how the image was manipulated. The National Press Photographers Association has guidelines on digital manipulation of photos:

As journalists we believe the guiding principle of our profession is accuracy; therefore, we believe it is wrong to alter the content of a photograph in any way that deceives the public.

My intention in creating the image was not to deceive the public. When it was posted I explained it was digitally enhanced to improve the detail on the moon. Attendees at the festival that night remarked about the brightness and size of what appeared to be a full moon. Too many, the moon apppeared to be full. It also appears in the video I shot that night and the video was not enhanced. I feel the image above was closer to how the moon looked to the crowd than the one  that first came out of the camera and I tried to explain that when it was posted on this blog. But is is a photo illustration, not a photograph — and there is a difference.

News organizations have differing guidelines for what may or may not been done to digital images. Some prohibit even dodging and burning (lightening or darkening an area of the photograph for emphasis or detail). As one photo editor told me this week: "Our photographers are told to shoot, crop, write the caption and send. Nothing more."

I did explain on this blog that the image was Photoshopped and I submitted another version of the image to the local paper that I freelance for and explained what I did to the editor.  The caption in the paper partially explained how it was taken but the photo was not labeled a photo illustration and it should have been along with an explanation that it was digitally altered. I accept the fault for that and have written a more complete explanation for this week’s edition.

With the exception of a free-lance gig with the local paper, I don’t shoot for journalism purposes, I’m a commercial photographer who produces images and illustrations for clients and for display in galleries and shows. Many of these are enhanced with Photoshop in ways that are acceptable for gallery use but not for publication by a news organization. I also post Photoshop enhanced photos on this web site. It is important for me, and other photographers, to remember that when we work in both venues that journalism has different rules and guidelines. This was the only time in more than 40 years in journalism that I submitted a photo illustration for a news publication and, based on my experience I doubt I will do so again. In the past I have limited my photo illustration work to this blog and for photos which hang in a gallery and which are displayed for sale. I also teach a class in Advanced Photoshop techniques at The Jacksonville Center and will use this photo to both show what can be done and to explain the pitfalls that come with digital manipulation.

It is also important to identify when an image has been altered or enhanced. I tried to do so when I posted the image last week. I apologize to anyone who feels they were misled. It was not my intention.

(The issue is being discussed in the post that included the original photo. I’ve disabled the discussion here so it can be discused in one place and we can avoid redundancy.)