Can a Photograph Lie?

Yes. I’ll just state it categorically so we can move on. All photographs are lies in some fashion. Any image represents the point of view of the maker. How they choose to frame the subject, what they choose to include or exclude, where they are in relation to the subject, all these and many more determine how the image presents the subject. So even before we get to any issues of Photoshop manipulation, the image is a work of art, not “truth”.

Even if you are a wildlife photographer who sets up a triggered blind where the animal will photograph themselves by moving through a certain area, it is still a lie, in the sense that the photographer determined the lens, the location, the foreground, the background, the shutter speed, the time of day, and many more elements. Every image ever made exhibits subjective bias. It has to.

Should it Lie?

Yes. Again, I’ll state the inevitable truth. You want it to lie. It would not be interesting unless it did. The “lie” is what makes my image different from yours. It is what makes you want to pause and look at the image.

There are people, especially in the landscape or photojournalism arenas, who still feel a good photograph should be “exactly as it appeared to the eye”. I understand their POV. I used to feel the same way. This is a chimera, though. A camera does not see the world the way our eye does. The eye does not have a wide angle or telephoto view. It is not restricted to a narrow depth of field. It cannot freeze a very small sliver of time or blur a scene over minutes. The eye “paints” an image in the brain by moving and stopping. The camera does not work that way.

There are many excellent photojournalists in the world. They try to bring us “truth”. But the only way they can do their job is through interpreting events for us. Do not trust the image; trust the journalist. When you see images on the news or the internet showing you the “truth” about something, be skeptical.

I have seen people try to recreate views exactly the way a human would see. They only use a 50mm lens (or whatever the equivalent for their format), held at the (average) height of human eyes, with a shutter speed of about 1/60th of a second and no camera movement. The results are usually unbelievably boring, and still a subjective interpretation.

The restriction that an image should be “exactly as it appeared to the eye'” is an artificial rule. The people who believe strongly in this philosophy can shoot their images the way that pleases their artistic notion of perfection. We won’t tell them that the result is a lie.

Does the Question Even Make Sense?

A photographer is an artist. Their purpose is to create unique and pleasing images. They use all the tools available to them — technology, technique, composition, post processing, compositing, etc. — to achieve their end. The image is not reality. It was never intended to be. It is a work of fiction. Most people these days recognize that. if you don’t, it would be like reading “The Lord of the Rings” and saying “hey, wait; this is a lie; it didn’t really happen”.

If you really need images to document something, the best you can do is to get sufficiently close to accomplish your goals. Realize, though, that it is only an approximation to reality. Realize what those limitations are so you can see if you can live with the reality of the unreality.


Take the above image for instance. Remote, untracked wilderness? A place you will never reach? Actually it is at a rest stop on I-70 in Utah (the restrooms are just off to the right). This is in the median between the lanes of the freeway. Nothing was edited out in Photoshop, but the framing and cropping of this made it look like wilderness. Is it a lie?

Does it Matter?

What matters is that it is what it is. Accept any image as art or at least as an interpretation by the maker. That’s what artists do. Does this mean “anything goes?” Well, yes. There should be no limit or restriction on art.

When you look at my images, assume anything you see is created as art. I hope the result is interesting to you. To see some of my lies, visit

Online Exhibit

Here is a link to an online exhibit I am in. It will be up during February of 2019. I would appreciate your comments. By coincidence, the 3 images I have in this exhibit are “almost not lying”. That is, they are minimally manipulated. All 3 are exactly as found. But the above comments apply as to the manipulation of composition, lens, etc.

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