I frequent 500px and enjoy viewing and voting the photos there. I thought I was mostly looking at photography on this site but it seems that my eyes were fooled more then a few times. (And this is not specific to 500px but other Photography sites as well) I am not talking about obvious "traditional" photomontage but rather images that almost seem to pose to be "real" photos.

Personally, I feel a bit tricked by these "photos" especially when seeing all the other users' comments who obviously think they are seeing "photography". (I am deliberately not linking specific photos) Doesn't this sort of thing belong to digital art or even digital rendering along the lines of Povray?

As for 500px, I was under an assumption that this site is for photography. To quote a few references; "500px.com: World's Best Photographs" and "500px is Photography"

I don't doubt that some photomontage is art but does photomontage belong in photography?

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It looks like you created the photomontage tag for this question. Unfortunately I do not know what you are referring to, although it looks like you purposely didn't include any examples. Could someone else point me in the direction of an example? \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 2:10

4 Answers 4


Ah, I see. This is one of those "where do you draw the line" things, isn't it? Is it still photography if you manipulate contrast or colour balance? Dodge or burn? Retouch complexions? Do HDR? Stitch panoramas? That's not being true to the negative, so to speak, either. How about when you use artificial lighting? Is that cheating? How much does the technique of creating an image using photographic processes have to be limited before it's "pure enough" for everybody?

Compositing is almost as old as photography itself. And much of it was originally done in-camera, since direct-to-image processes (such as Daguerreotypy) were technically far superior to negative processes for many years. Much of the photographic work I've done over the years has involved compositing, either in the darkroom or more recently in the computer. (Photoshop and its kin are a whole lot easier than stripping, lithing and masking, but it's not more inherently evil.) That can involve setting up a number of shots at different scales with the same apparent perspective and lighting (from miniatures to human models to grand landscapes), and if you think there's no photography involved in something like that just because it wasn't done as a single exposure in-camera, you're out of your gourd.

These days, I shoot mostly headshots and portraiture pro bono. A lot of what I do is in unpleasant environments (particularly in long-term care hospital facilities), and the object of my game is not to document end-of-life conditions, but to leave families with the best possible memories when the inevitable day arrives. (That's one of the reasons why I'm unlikely to post images here very often—what I do, when I can do it, is rather intimate and somewhat invasive, and not for public gawking.) Is what I do less photographic because I do background replacements and clean up the ravages (and accessories) of disease and old age? I don't lie; I selectively withhold the more brutal aspects of the truth. As far as I'm concerned, what I'm doing is precisely the difference between being a photographer and operating a camera.

Your opinion of both my older commercial work and my current charitable work as photography may be different from mine. That's okay. There's room for a lot of differing opinions in this world. But I've always been convinced that it's the ability to create art with a camera rather than merely record what's there that makes the difference between a creative photographer and a technician.

(jrista posted an answer while I was typing that is going to get my vote. I just needed to vent a little bit of spleen.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ I think your last sentence (not the one about my answer) sums it up perfectly! \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 2:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks @Stan. In my humble opinion all of these post processing techniques you described are without exception a part of photography whether it enhances the artistic vision, creates mood,etc., In the end the product is still a representation of something that has existed in reality. The images I was wondering about are those that have never existed but were created from various clips and digital techniques to look like reality. These productions are often well crafted and interesting; a form of art without a doubt. But it's real vs not real. Is the "not real" still a photograph? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 3:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jakub: That's what most of my commercial work was, and if I still had the equipment (and the stamina) I'd still be hard at it. Surrealism was my stock in trade—putting people and objects into impossible contexts and so forth. That's where the "setting up a number of shots at different scales..." thing comes from. It's not willy-nilly gluing together of random elements if it's done right; it's planned and purposeful, and the result is meant to be a trompe l'oeil. And yes, it is photography. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 3:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I see. Thanks @Stan. Well said. I will be looking at this type of photography in a different light now. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 3:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 As far as I'm concerned, what I'm doing is precisely the difference between being a photographer and operating a camera. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 12:09

The reason you see photomontages, or as its often called photomanupulation, on photography sites is it is a form of artistic expression with photography. It is not painting, or drawing, or sculpting. Such works are always composed of photography, and even though they are not a single-shot image, neither are the myriads of HDR/Enfused photos which also litter such sites.

Personally, I like seeing quality photomanips. Particularly on 1x.com, where my mind has been completely blown by many exquisitely crafted "photomontages" that blend in physical impossibilities or improbabilities so seamlessly into a real photograph that you aren't entirely aware of the discrepancy at first...or second...look.

I've been caught off guard by photos on 500px that literally looked like paintings. It turned out they were neither montages nor paintings...simply unique and amazingly crafted artistic vision.

Photography is a tool for expressing art. It is an artform in and of itself, but it rarely stops there. Film or digital, post-process work has always played a role. These days, the tools available have greatly expanded a photographers capabilities to realize visions otherwise impossible to achieve. Rather than complain about feeling "tricked", why not enjoy the detour, and examine such photos for what they are...rich, detailed, deep works of painstakingly crafted photographic ART. And if you are one of the people who thought they were looking at a real photograph, it should be hats off to the artist...they succeeded in achieving their goal.

  • \$\begingroup\$ It is funny that you called HDR photos litter. \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 2:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @dpollitt: More so in terms of distribution, than referring to them as "trash". ;) (Although I will admit, I abhor a poorly done HDR image far more than I might feel a bit miffed by seeing a poorly done photomanip.) \$\endgroup\$
    – jrista
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 2:11

It's a subjective question but it's all photography at the end of the day.

If you are shooting photojournalism then the rules are different; in this situation you shouldn't be compositing or applying a great deal of post production other than perhaps setting the white balance/colour correction/cropping etc. When you shoot photojournalism the viewer has the expectation that the photographs will be factually accurate.

If you're not shooting photojournalism then I believe you have the freedom to do whatever you like as you are effectively creating art and you have no obligation to the viewer whatsoever. In this situation there is no right or wrong.

This is of course a question that comes down to personal taste and different people will have completely different ideas of where the line (if any) should be drawn. Is it acceptable to convert a colour photo to black and white, as the scene was in colour? Is it okay to shoot with a super wide angle or zoom lens, as our eyes don't perceive the scenes in that way? Are you allowed to move distracting elements out of the scene or introduce new items to make the composition more appealing? Are you 'supposed' to shoot exactly as the scene was found in order for it to be considered a true photograph?

As photographers we have numerous creative options available when we are creating our work and I say we are all free to use any of these techniques to make the most interesting/compelling images possible. A lot of the great photographers (e.g. Ansel Adams) spent hours in the dark room manipulating their photographs. So while some of the techniques may be new, extreme post processing certainly isn't. Ansel Adams talks about this kind of thing extensively in this YouTube video which you may find interesting (all four parts are well worth watching).


  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks. My question was NOT about post processing of which I am a big fan. There is not doubt in my mind that however altered in post processing a photograph is still a photograph; a representation of something that has existed in the real word. What I meant by photomotage in my question has to do with creating a fictional reality from a myriad of photo clippings and other inputs then made to look real as if it in fact was reality. However, based on some comments and answer here I am reconsidering my view of photomontage. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 14:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ When I read your question you seemed to specifically be talking about compositing which is just one of the post processing techniques available - hence my answer. I personally think it's all fair game but I can understand that some people have preferences. If you aren't so keen on compositing then that's absolutely fair enough. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mark J P
    Commented Feb 27, 2012 at 18:52


Different words tell us that those two are in fact different things.

Naming things correctly isn't just a matter of grammar. A patchwork is not a painting, singing on playback is not singing, similarly, photomontage is not photography.

Photography is process of capturing moments, and photo manipulation is the process after that.

Putting these two different things in one box to compete with each other is unfair, because obviously photomontage has extra weapons to look more like art, or something else that you are trying to tell.

Where is the line between the two, because all digital photography today has elements of post processing with some effects quite often in the same camera, and is this line so thin like people think?

Well, for me, this border is not so thin.

The time that you should start calling your photo a photomontage is about when you cut the first object from picture, or put some object(s) in. It is very important, that particular object(s) completely change story of photo or gave it new kind of sense, or point, which did not exist before.

Even simple cropping can do that, but it is still your photo.

Removing the spots of Sun, or some dirtiness from the picture, fixing the exposure, even some effects and cropping are fine by me, but I'm not exactly a fan of hard post processing.


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