In-camera Photo Manipulation vs. Off-camera Photo Manipulation

Four years ago, in 2008, a Chinese photojournalist was made notorious for allegedly piecing together two photos into one to show  Tibetan antelopes roaming freely under a bridge of the Qinghai-Tibet Railway. He won a news photo contest award with the composite photo but his award was later repealed after savvy netizens exposed the manipulation (see the photo below; and for the news see: China Net and Wall Street Journal).

The photos that were pieced together were shot at the same location with a Canon 1D digital camera in 2006. The photographer and his editors were not satisfied that the photos at that location had either the train or the antelopes but not both. So they decided, for better propaganda effect, to combine two photos together. So, in effect, the final photo is a product of two exposures for the same landscape, but with different objects in the frames.

At that time, no Canon digital camera was capable of multiple exposure. Composite photos had to be made in computer. Even if pieced together very carefully, such composite photos tend to leave traces of imperfection which expose their composite nature. Today, many cameras such as the new Canon EOS 5D Mark III have multiple exposure functions. Combining exposures in-camera is an easy thing to do, and can be done with high perfection. The above photo could have been taken as a single picture that had had two exposures at different times (one for the train and the other the antelopes). Would that make the final photo a genuine news photo?  Or, let me put the question this way, would “in-camera photo manipulation” be seen as different from “off-camera photo manipulation” (aka “post processing”)?

I don’t know. But, as far as non-news photos such as landscape photos are concerned, I tend to think they are the same.

A few days ago, I saw the photo below online. I thought the moon was way too large in proportion to the lighthouse and too clear (exif data shows the picture was shot at 16mm focal length with a shutter speed of 30 seconds) and asked the author if it was a composite picture, and I was told “it was a double exposure”. Presumably, the exposures were made at the same location but with different focal lengths and shutter speeds only. The in-camera “piecing together” is perfect in terms of color hue, etc. But would this be truly an “non-manipulated” picture of the landscape, so much so that one can categorically assert that it is an “original” picture?

I’m not sure and wondering how much it is different from post processing in Photoshop? For example, as my Canon 5D Mark II does not have multiple exposure function, let me use Photoshop to make the moon in the picture below bigger with the moon from another picture:

Would the resulting picture below be more manipulated than the lighthouse picture above?

What’s your take?


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