To clone or not to clone - that is the dilemma being faced by bird photographers all over the world. That out-of-focus branch that becomes a distraction from the subject - should it be cloned off or let it remain?
Making "changes" from the original photograph using such tools as Adobe Photoshop has been and continues to be the subject of seemingly endless debates. Cropping, adjusting the saturation, brightness and even sharpness are considered acceptable primarily because they don't alter the "natural" quality of the image. Many adhere to the WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) position. After all as a nature photographer, one should present his subject in its natural environment, right?
Then there are those who prefer a more "aesthetic" view - where the photograph must be as clean as possible, removing (or cloning out) any object that will distract the attention from the subject bird.
As to this second group I must confess:
I. Am. Guilty.
Not always - but only in very, very few occasions. For one thing I am not that good at Photoshop. Clone-oscopy is not my strong point. If the distracting objects are all over the image, then forget it, I'll stick to the wysiwyg principle.
Below is an example of a photograph of Blue-throated Bee-eater that I took in Subic. The original shot had some branches that touch the bird's belly. After cropping, lightening and adjusting the contrast and saturation, I decided to clone off the obtrusive branch. On the left is the original. On the right is the "photoshopped" version.
So which one is better?
Another change that I also do sometimes is blurring the background. Again, not being an expert in Photoshop, I only do this to my photographs where I can easily separate the bird from the background. For me this is also another way of minimizing the distracting objects from the main subject. The sample below was a photo of a Lesser Coucal taken by my wife, Cynthia. By blurring the branches and leaves behind the bird, the viewer will tend to focus more towards the subject. Again, on the left is the original and on the right is the cropped and cleaned version.
My stand is that when major changes like these are done on a photograph it must be declared accordingly when publishing or posting it for public viewing. Don't you think so?