To Clone Or Not To Clone

This image is based on a capture from February 2006 taken on the valley floor in Yosemite’s very early spring.

If you look carefully at the left center of the image in the larger size, you’ll see a line of vehicles parked along the valley’s Northside Drive. On the right center side of the image you can see a Park Service building, and before I retouched it out there was a long red construction fence, part of the work that was going on in the valley at the time.

When I post-processed this image recently, the decision about whether to remove the cars, building, and red construction fence posed technical, aesthetic, and ethical issues.

I like the thought of using digital photography to return Yosemite to its wilderness state, although I recognize philosophical problems with this idea. In an earlier image, I used digital retouching to portray Vernal Falls as it would be without people, or fence around the observation platform, a sort of willfully and wistfully anachronistic Carleton Watkins or Eadweard Muybridge view.

My initial temptation here was to do something of the same sort. However, there were serious technical challenges to removing all human artifacts in a convincing fashion. Furthermore, as I considered the issue the cars and building didn’t really detract from the power of the image. Most people wouldn’t even notice the line of cars, unless I pointed it out to them.

But the red construction fence had to go. With the image in its smaller size it looked like a strong magenta color cast on a small area of snow rather than a fence, or some kind of digital capture flaw, and was simply distracting. The red plastic fence was also pretty easy to remove using the Clone Tool.

I leave a discussion of ethical and philosophical issues to a future story, although here’s my initial take on these issues.

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