Do you care?

I participated in a miracle.

The scene was a beautiful, calm winter day in northern Saskatchewan. The sky was muted with heavy cloud cover that looked like it could release snow at any moment. We had the snow-packed gravel road to ourselves. Despite knowing better, I was there in the middle of the day – a less likely time to find wildlife.

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It doesn’t take long looking at this photo before you think – there’s something that doesn’t belong here but I can’t quite put my finger on it.

The lifeless grey wires hanging near the road suddenly sported the life form I had been so desperately seeking. A Great Grey Owl had wrapped its deadly talons around that cold metal while searching the landscape with its laser eyes for prey.

It is for these moments that I have spent decades preparing and practicing. I quickly adjusted my camera settings and snared various poses of the owl looking in each direction. Hints of distant trees in the soft light made an interesting backdrop as I positioned myself for the best shots. This was a good day.

But I wanted something more – that something more is both the curse and allure of wildlife photography. In this case I wanted to catch it in flight!

A heavy camera/lens combination and mere mortal powers of concentration have their limits. I focused, waited, then regrouped, only to repeat the procedure with great fear of missing the action. Then I saw the owl stir and I anticipated the launch just before it happened.

The gorgeous creature soared into the air while I fired off a flurry of shots. I had captured it! Truly a miracle to align all the factors needed to get the shot.

That should be the end of the story but sometimes life isn’t like that. While I got other photos where the owl was below the wire, you guessed it, there was a wire crossing right over top of one of the best ones.

I do not own PhotoShop but with lots of trial and some error I managed to remove the wire from the photo using other software. This all leads to my closing question …

If I had posted the owl photo below without the wire and without an explanation, would you be annoyed if you found out later I had removed the wire?

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This bird is both majestic and quirky at the same time. The eyes are gorgeous, the face so amusing and … what a great idea to have your legs covered with a built in pair of fluffy, long underwear.

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Latest Comments

  1. hannele says:

    It’s a very interesting question, and I’m surprised to see that most people don’t mind the manipulation. I think removing something from the photo, like the wire, is completely different from processing a RAW image – to me, the latter is comparable to working in a darkroom, whereas the former is manipulation.

    That being said, I don’t mind the manipulation. It’s a different thing if you’re sending it to a competition – then I think it should either be very obviously stated that something has been removed, or it shouldn’t be eligible at all. Most competitions I’ve read the rules of don’t allow this kind of manipulation, and I think that’s fair. Otherwise, at some point, it becomes a question about who is best at using photoshop, not who managed to get an amazing shot thanks to their skill (and a bit of luck).

    Very nice post, it’s great to see so much discussion about a subject like this!

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      I was also a bit surprised that people didn’t mind the manipulation.

      Your comments about competitions and photoshop contests make sense. I have come to the conclusion that the key is being honest about the approach to change made to photos so the photographer and the viewer have the same general understanding. Usually in wildlife photography that means clarifying when something significant is added or removed. Viewers don’t want to be feel cheated about what they considered reasonable. On the other extreme some photographers say none of the photos reflect reality so they are really making digital art.

      I appreciate your input. It is an interesting topic.

      Like

  2. pronghornwildlife2 says:

    May be a little late to the conversation but we all alter images to one degree or another. Thats one reason we shoot in RAW. I think, as long as the photographer is honest, it doesn’t matter at all. It’s a great shot of a beautiful Great Gray.

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Never too late – I appreciate the comments. I completely agree that honesty is the key. There are also quite different levels of understanding about photography which contribute to the confusion. Often non-photographers or casual ones don’t understand what the camera does or what a Raw photo is so they have this phantom ideal of a pure photo which doesn’t exist.

      Like

  3. artsifrtsy says:

    I don’t care if you remove the wire. I work in Photoshop all day and choose not to do much with my photos, but getting that once in a decade shot calls for it – I would have cloned that puppy out and thought nothing of it. I have a friend who specializes in eagles – his first really great soaring shot cut off the last quarter inch of feathers on the upper wing tips. He used content aware to add an inch of sky and the feathers. He posted similarly to this on FB and asked if anyone cared – no one did. For me the fact that you got it framed and in focus is more important than that you shopped out a wire.

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Doing this post has been rather enlightening. I thot there would be much more disagreement or a broader range of opinions. The only finer point where there seemed to be some difference was whether I should tell people it was done.

      I think the biggest issue quickly becomes what your audience expects. If there is a disconnect, it could cause issues.

      Like

      • artsifrtsy says:

        I think software is so available now, there is no reason not to tweak things if needed. In the film era we did this in the darkroom – dodging, burning, exposure – or in camera. There’s nothing new about photo editing. I think there are some places in advertising where it crosses a line, but as our gear gets better and better we raise the bar on our expectations.

        Like

  4. Scott Marshall says:

    simple answer – nope – the story really adds to the action and understanding for those of us that were not there of have not experienced such joy – post anticipation. The closest experience I have, is when the light does that magical moment and I am not prepared to get the shot I wanted or technical ineptitude lets me down – so I love the fact we are told that you have practiced and are prepared for the moment – my few wildlife shots are generally animals/birds in the landscape – so they are adding to the location as opposed to the other way around. All that said – a cracking shot which has justifiably made you proud.

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      The contrasts between wildlife and landscape photography are interesting. While I have done both, the adrenaline and excitement of capturing wildlife are quite addicting. Unless of course I experience long droughts and then I wonder why I couldn’t love some other kind of photography! As always, I appreciate your comments – and simple answers.

      Like

  5. artourway says:

    Perfect resolve Lyle;)

    Like

  6. caleephotography says:

    Wonderful capture, Lyle! I think the wire is distracting, so good you were able to remove it. (One day I’ll learn how to do that as well..) The last capture made laugh out loud, it’s always such a joy to visit your blog!!

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      And it’s a joy to have you visit! Glad to hear about the laughter. There was no one more than surprised than me when I was able to remove the wire on the bird itself but I was happy to see it gone. Thanks again for your comments.

      Like

  7. Beth Walsh's Photoblog says:

    No, if you had not, I would have wondered why you didn’t remove it. It certainly doesn’t add to the story so why keep it. Sometimes you can’t successful remove something and then you have to decide whether to keep or delete it . Because for me even though it is a gorgeous image of this magnificent owl in flight, my eyes would be drawn to the wire. Begging the question “What is that?” That’s not where you want the focus to be. For me the 2nd pic is the finished and best image. And that’s my 2 cents for what it’s worth. 🙂

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Thanks for your two cents which have a lot more value. It seems you dislike that wire as much as I do. It really is about the story and I find that wire terribly distracting. I appreciate your comments.

      Like

  8. Phil Lanoue says:

    I am so happy for you that you had this incredible experience with an amazing bird *and* came back with tremendous shots as well!
    I am not at all upset nor do I feel ‘cheated’ in any way to learn you digitally removed the wire. And here’s why… you did not alter the integrity or natural action of a wild bird doing what it does in the wild. This is what the owl did, it flew, you didn’t change that.
    If you put a mouse in it’s feet that would be cheating in my view. If you put the bird in a different setting that again it would be cheating. You simply displayed the owl in it’s natural environment which is the sky. The stupid wire shouldn’t have even been there to begin with and deserves to be removed.

    All this comes from a purist considering my photojournalism background, where I feel what actually happened should be what you show in your photos. The bird flew, that’s what naturally happened.

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Yes the experience and the photos are a wonderful combination.

      Well you definitely surprised me. I thot you would be the purist on this one saying that the photo shouldn’t be altered. It seems from your comments and others that the touchy zone begins when things are added to photos or when items are removed that are a significant part of the natural, or identifiable part, of the landscape.

      I am going to have to go back and ponder this whole issue so I can more clearly define my opinion on this matter and the reasons behind it. The process has been enlightening and somewhat surprising to me.

      As always, I really appreciate your input.

      Like

  9. owenslaterphotography says:

    Great grey owl picture! I’m still aiming for an inflight one and I’m sure if I got one like this I would try very hard to remove the wire as well. I have a grizzly bear in snow photo coming up where the grizzly has a big yellow ear tag in it’s ear. I plan on removing the tag and on my blog I won’t disclose it…only if I end up selling it.

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Glad you liked the photo. The ear tag is an interesting example – I had chosen to leave them all in so far. I’ll have to think about that. I also find it interesting that you feel there is a higher level of disclosure for selling than posting on the blog. I suppose that relates to the expectations of the audience. As always, I appreciate your comments.

      Like

  10. dweezer19 says:

    I think its awesome you could remove the wire. So many of my wildlife shots in Costa Rica were “ruined” by power lines, etc. a constant reminder of our intrusion upon the natural world. I would like to be able to have both. Thats a superb owl photo by the way. I love seeing birds in flight.

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      I was pleased and surprised how well the owl photo turned out – I wish my photos were all like that. We actually don’t have that many power lines around here since most of them have gone underground so it isn’t that much of a problem. But just when you get a good photo …

      Like

  11. Steve Gingold says:

    The removal of the wire does not bother me as a work of art. Obviously the usage of the image makes a difference, but as an image to be enjoyed and appreciated, no I don’t care. If something either identifiable within an image or a natural feature that belongs is removed then I feel it should remain. In this case, there is nothing about the wire that is important so good riddance. 🙂

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      I really disliked the wire so good riddance is an apt description. It definitely wasn’t important.

      I am interested in what you describe as identifiable within an image or a natural feature. Could you give examples of what you are talking about?

      Like

      • Steve Gingold says:

        One example was an article in Outdoor Photographer a while back. A well-known landscape photographer explained how he digitally removed a fence from around one of the Yellowstone geysers. Anyone who had ever been there would realize it was missing. In my mind, the picture is not an honest landscape. The same would be true for an unsightly rock being removed from a waterfall or stream image or a sign along a hiking trail. OTOH, your owl is flying against a high key sky with nothing to define its place in the world and the missing wire means nothing. Of course, if you were entering this in a “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” contest then it would matter.
        This is all subjective and each artist needs to be comfortable with his or her decision. I am often confused about the brouhaha regarding removal of objects from a photograph when it is considered art. Painters do it all the time…well many painters and much of the time.

        Like

        • Lyle Krahn says:

          Thanks for that explanation. That all makes sense.

          If you’re going to do pure art then knock yourself out with the changes. I suppose the issue is presenting a landscape as a certain place which creates an expectation from the viewers that it really is that place. A little communication regarding what you are doing probably goes a long way.

          I find this all very interesting and I’m getting closer to a clearer picture of where I’m landing on the issue. Your comments have been helpful in that process.

          Like

  12. Lakshani Suranga says:

    No way! It is better without the wire, but I’m glad you posted both shots, so we can see the difference. The natural world is more precious without the man-made obstacles. Great job, you have captured the owl’s majestic quality in its flight, and the winter background matches perfectly with the owl’s colours. I’m fascinated by owls, all sorts of them, and this image is beautiful.

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Like you, I am generally predisposed to the beauty of the natural world without man-made intrusions. I have received a number of comments like yours indicating that you liked seeing the before and after shots – I may consider doing more of that in the future. It sounds like you enjoy owls like I do. I appreciate your comments.

      Like

  13. mimar9 says:

    The closer we look the more precious we capture.

    Continue to lead.

    How cold is it up there anyway?

    Like

  14. Deb W. Trotter says:

    The bird is so amazing (giant head, “furry” legs) that having the wire in the photo doesn’t bother me. If I’d seen the second photo first and found out later that you had removed the wire, that wouldn’t bother me, either! 🙂 I can be a purist, but this is not one of those times!!

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      We definitely share an opinion on that bird! I always like to hear other people’s opinions and it was good to get yours. Clearly I’m more of a purist on the wire but it bothered me so much, I would not have posted it with the wire.

      Like

  15. hihowsyou25 says:

    interesting blog and wonderful shots, well done !

    Like

  16. Tuxedo Sophisticated Cat says:

    I would not have been annoyed by taking out the wire. Great shot by the way. I adore owls of any kind.

    Like

  17. Dick Trew says:

    Isn’t it interesting how we (myself included) wandered away from the first impression and its impact (“miracle”)? I’m not entirely certain what the miracle was if it wasn’t the finding and photographing the Great Grey Owl through serendipity. Details quickly become the focus–thankfully, the image has the power to return us to that occasion, the impact and the story. Thanks, Lyle, for challenging me to see with eyes that are more informed but heart still open to miracle.

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      It’s never a surprise to me when you come up with another enlightening perspective. This was a good one. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to consistently have informed eyes and hearts open to miracles?

      Like

  18. 1107photography says:

    I agree with the others on the artistic nature of the photograph. I think it is entirely up to you as to where you draw that line with the use of photoshop. The need to disclose only comes into play if 1) you are asked and 2) when ethical situations demand disclosure, i.e., licensing for stock or editorial use. In those two instances, of course, honesty is required, but for purely artistic use, then no — your final product is your own, as is your decision as to where to draw that manipulation line. For most of us who do landscape and wildlife photography (i hope) the use of PS is fairly limited to uses that do not change the core truth about the subject matter. That is… if the bird had been standing, and you somehow repositioned his body parts to fly–that would be an obvious lie. But your subject here is perfectly intact and true to life, so this seems no different to me than cropping out an errant limb to the side of the frame, or other innocuous distraction. Long answer, I know… but I agree it’s an interesting ethical dilemma and we all face it from time to time. Great capture, and congrats!

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      I appreciate you taking the time to spell out your views on the matter. What you say makes sense. In my search for clarity in my own thinking on this, I think how much people view it as art becomes a critical factor. If it’s all art then all changes are fair game. Some photographers claim that none of their photographs are realistic – problem solved. The other extreme is pure documentary realism but that is a bit utopian since cropping out the road or colour adjustments in the camera can change the scene quite a bit. So that leaves us with the position that you articulated which is somewhere in the middle. I like the way you described the core truth about the subject matter. Perhaps a general guideline might be taking out distractions is OK but adding in things is not.

      Then we are left with deciding when to tell people that we have made changes. The comments on this post have been interesting and helpful with that. I think it’s important that whatever I do, is within the realm of what people would expect though obviously there will be variance of opinion.

      I think I’m getting closer to forming an opinion – until a new wrinkle appears.

      Glad you enjoyed the photo.

      Like

  19. Stefano says:

    First off, great shot of a GGO in flight: congratulations! It is a beautiful capture.
    As to your question. As you know, there is an endless debate around the very question you asked. I will give you my take (which is also what I do with my own photographs).
    To me, if there is something that does not belong (such as that wire) and it can be cropped out of the final image, I do not feel obligated to say that it was there. In other words, had your wire been say in the top right corner of your image and had it not gone across the body of the bird, I think it would have been okay for you to just crop your image in such a way that you get rid of the wire. The reason is that, as a photographer, you get to choose what to show to the viewer. In my view, it would be the same as if you photographed a pristine landscape carefully composing your shot so that an ugly building is just outside your frame.
    On the other hand, in a situation like this one, when you have to more “aggressively” manipulate the image to remove something that does not belong and that would have been part of the final image had you not resorted to cloning it out, well in this case I would do what you did, meaning I would have removed it and disclosed the fact that the image had been digitally altered to remove certain content.
    I think this is especially important if you license your images to magazines, etc. as there is nothing that could ruin the reputation of a photographer more than (for instance) giving the image above to the editor without disclosing the manipulation only for the editor to find out later on, on his/her own or (even worse) as a result of complaints from the readers of the publication. This has happened several times already and has resulted in serious embarrassment even for very prestigious magazines.
    There you go, apologies for the long answer, but… you asked! 😉

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Apology not accepted:) Whenever you give a longer comment, it’s because you have something worthwhile to say. I’ll thank you instead – how’s that?

      You have obviously given this some thot and have found a reasonable way to address the whole issue with your own photographs. After writing this post and reading all the comments, I am moving closer to my own decision on this matter which will likely be quite close to where you landed. Probably the trickiest part is identifying when the changes have been aggressive enough to warrant an explanation. That depends to some degree on what would the viewers expect. A disconnect there could be viewed as a trust issue. The comments have been quite helpful in gauging that perspective.

      I appreciate your kind words about the photo. I’m still pleased and surprised it happened. And of course would love the opportunity again.

      Like

  20. sagescenery says:

    Truly a beautiful photo of a majestic bird in flight!! I’m glad you took out the wire…unless he was actually sitting on it, it makes no sense to keep it in the photo! I can’t stand telephone wires in my scenery photos, so I always try to get the best shot without the distracting elements, and if not, I definitely crop them out!! Great post!!

    Like

  21. Cornel A. says:

    No, I wouldn’t be annoyed!
    But now I want to ask you the same thing “If I had posted a photo without any explanation, would you be annoyed if you found out later I had removed a wire?”

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      I was wondering if someone would ask me! The reason I raised the specific question that I did was that my opinions on this issue are changing. I wanted to get viewers’ opinions of this blog because I was undecided on whether I needed to explain it. There was a time that I would have felt that it was in order. But to directly answer your question – if you had done it, I would not be annoyed later.

      However, if you had added a moon or made the wings longer then I would give you a different answer. The challenge is trying to give a good reason why I would say that.

      Like

  22. Honie Briggs says:

    I would not have been annoyed. I’m also glad you told the story.

    Like

  23. Simone Lipscomb says:

    As a photographer I am annoyed when people add objects to images….like big moons….I don’t have a problem with this. Bravo! Nice job editing as well. This is a huggable owl.

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      It’s interesting that you should mention the moon because it does annoy me when people do that without saying anything. I think that’s why I struggle with where the line is on photos that appear natural. If it’s pure art then anything goes. Your description of huggable owl is perfect. Thanks for the comments. Much appreciated.

      Like

  24. northerndesert says:

    I am all for removing distracting and ugly objects from our photos if we can. Like you said, you have searched and waited for years to get a shot like this and it just happens that you find it on a less than perfect perch. Fantastic photo by the way. 🙂

    Like

  25. Dana S. Hugh says:

    This bird looks so unreal, more art than nature 🙂 and I like the one witouth wires. It doesn’t matter if you tell me your secret or not, important is the result. And of course I won’t surpass your work to obtain that result.

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      I know that owl would look quite different in different situation but the conditions that day really give it an unreal look. Thanks for sharing your opinions on this. I appreciate that.

      Like

  26. judysbirds says:

    Ditto. Incredible shot, any way around.

    Like

  27. Mike Powell says:

    I do find the wire to be distracting and I’m glad that you were able to remove it. I have gotten over the notion that our photos should reflect reality. When I put my eye to my camera’s viewfinder, all concepts of objective reality go out the window. I make lots of creative choices about framing and composition and exposure and depth of field in an effort to capture an image that draws the viewer’s eye to what I want them to see. I shoot in RAW, so virtually all of my images have to be tweaked in a number of ways. I’m ambivalent about whether you should reveal that you removed the wire–it doesn’t affect my perception in any way. I think your final image is . You captured a powerful, majestic bird in a dramatic way. Bravo.

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Your description of where you came from, and where you are now, closely mirrors my thot journey. During a leadership course a few years back, our instructor challenged us on our assumptions of reality since everyone in the room was experiencing a slightly different reality. That stuck with me when I later challenged my own views on photography. The bird really is majestic and I was excited to find it. As always, I appreciate your perspectives and comments.

      Like

  28. Karolyn Cooper says:

    I would not be annoyed. I am delighted to see such a great picture of an owl, wire or no wire.

    Like

  29. doraiswamyganeshd says:

    Dear Lyle, Was the wire something to do with the camera gear ? Any way as usual they are great pictures to cherish for a long time to come. Regards, Ganesh.

    Like

  30. Victor Rakmil says:

    No, the final is a great photograph!

    Like

  31. niasunset says:

    This is amazing photograph, and dear Lyne, I don’t care the wire too, and yes, today’s technology is amazing too. To capture a wild birds is not easy and you captured such a beautiful moment of his flight, this is the important part. I can see the whole expression of him. Thank you, have a nice day, love, nia

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      I appreciate your thots and perspectives as always. I think it’s the challenge of catching that moment that makes it so special. It sounds like you like it almost as much as me:)

      Like

  32. vanbraman says:

    I would not have a problem with you not mentioning it. However, if you were to enter it into a contest without disclosing the fact, then I would.

    I think that people today realize that most pictures have a certain amount of post-processing done to them. We all crop and adjust color, light levels, brightness, contrast, etc..

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Post processing is really a normal part of making photos so that makes sense. It’s interesting that you wouldn’t mind not mentioning but in a contest it’s different. I suppose the blog is more for fun but in a contest everything should be clear and understood.

      Like

  33. Gunta says:

    I think both are fantastic, though your hard work at removing the wire certainly takes away an unnecessary distraction. I tend to fall on the side of using whatever you have available to create a shot that pleases you. I honestly don’t understand the purist stance claiming that any post-processing is not acceptable. It’s your shot, your image from start to finish. I say do with it what you will.

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Thanks for sharing your opinion. I think I may have been a purist at one point but that logic doesn’t hold up anymore for me especially since I shoot RAW images which require processing. Then the question really becomes what principles guide you and does the audience understand them.

      Like

  34. Terry Brown says:

    That is one of he burning questions of modern photography. Portray in “best possible fashion” or “most realistic fashion”. I feel this is a “choice” and for most is easily decided by personal taste or preference. A photograph done “in camera” and one “photoshopped” both still hold artistic merit. For my part, retouching a photo to better represent what I saw with my eye, or removing a power line or other distracting element I see nothing wrong with, as long as it is not represented as having not been done. That’s my opinion, and I know there are a lot of other opinions out there. If properly represented they all have their place. Beautiful job on the capture and alterations as well. 😀

    Like

    • Lyle Krahn says:

      Thanks for taking the time to provide your perspective. There is strong logic that runs through it all. It seems to come back to whether the viewer felt deceived – the challenge there is that people come with different opinions. Glad you liked the photo – I was thrilled with the experience.

      Like

  35. Mandy says:

    Amazing shot either way. Be thankful for modern technology that lets you remove the dreaded power line. And no I would not be annoyed 🙂

    Like

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