Let's Talk Sky Replacement - Photo Thoughts for the Day

A creative edit with a Milky Way sky and full Strawberry Moon over the City of Atlanta

A creative edit of a Strawberry Moon over Atlanta with the addition of the Milky Way in the sky

Photography as an Artistic Medium

I read about photography and watch video tutorials all the time. It's how I've learned most of my photo editing skills - that and having talented friends help me when I get stuck. 

A week or two ago, I was reading about some sky editing techniques. The author offered some instruction on an editing technique and then said that while the technique worked great, it was unethical to change the sky!


I was incredulous, then I laughed, then I was kind of mad. I wish I could find the article again but I look at so many articles that I've lost track of which one it was. 

It really got me thinking, and I do understand what the author was trying to say...I think. 

Photography as Art

Photography is ubiquitous. Everyone has a camera in their pocket now, so it seems a lot of people don't consider photography an art form.

Photography is different from other art mediums in that it can capture real moments as they're happening for purely journalistic purposes. 

I was at a Brooke Shaden conference a few years ago, and she told us that once during a talk she was giving, a man shouted from the audience that her photography wasn't art.

That just hurt my heart. Brooke is such a talented and creative artist - photography is the medium she chooses to express herself.  

Why do ignorant people always feel the need to broadcast their ignorance by attempting to shame or hurt others?

Photography is a medium of creativity and expression. If you think that's not art, why? 

I was a visual arts major in college, and we studied a lot of different types of mediums and expressions that were all art. 

Sky Replacement

So...sky replacement.

Here's where photography is different from other art forms. If a photo captures reality, and you believe everything you see in a photo is real, then it's unethical for someone to change reality - at least if they're claiming that what they're presenting is captured truth. 

Even back when I was in college (yep - that was a while ago!), our professors warned that photographs lie all the time.

A photo can capture a moment in time that's only 1/4000th of a second! An expression or a movement can look completely different than what was happening in reality. 

Everything is about context and what someone tells you about the photo. The narrative matters.

The Ethics of Sky Replacement in a Photo

This leads me back to the guy who wrote the article and said sky replacement is unethical. He needed to qualify that statement. 

Sky replacement is unethical when...

  • You present the moment as truth 
  • You're claiming journalistic merit for the photo (telling people the scene was actually what it looked like when you took the shot) - WHICH - is problematic too because every camera and every photographer captures the scene a little differently
  • You have a profit motive for changing the scene and lying about it

When I did real estate photography, the agent would ask me for green grass and a blue sky. I would replace the sky and fill in the grass a bit. 

Was that ethical? That's debatable.

I don't think the sky was an issue. Sometimes the only chance we had to get the photos was a rainy day. That's a little depressing for some people and the agent wanted the photos to be happy and pretty.

The grass?

Maybe. From the agent's point of view, the idea was to entice potential buyers to see the house. As soon as they were there, they'd know the reality of the grass and that reality would rarely, if ever, be a dealbreaker. 

An Artist's View

I usually mention when my photo is a creative edit, mainly because in the past I've confused people and I don't want to confuse anyone.

I posted my shot of the fireworks over the city from Jackson Street Bridge and someone commented that they were bummed because they went out on the 4th of July and there were no fireworks there.

It was an artistic composite photo that I made from different photos I took at different times in different places. 

I do try to let people know, but I also don't feel like it's required. 

I'm an artist.

Photography is my medium.

I do what I want with the photos to make them match my artistic vision.

I'm not trying to fool anyone into thinking my photos are reality.

The creative side of photography is what I LOVE about it. Without that, for me, it's just snapping pictures. 

So...whoever you were who said sky replacement was unethical...

I agree with you under a narrow set of circumstances but mostly I think you don't understand the endless possibilities of photography as an art medium.

And those are my photography thoughts for today!

Have a good one, and see you between the raindrops:)


This is a new release on the website, and you can find it here