Anyone concerned about Steve Bloom?

Discussion in 'Nature' started by kevin_schafer, Dec 28, 2004.

  1. One of's best sellers this Xmas was Steve Bloom's photographic book
    UNTAMED. Has anyone seen it? Have you any reaction? Besides the obvious captive
    animals (dolphins, pandas, tigers) -- an odd choice for a book called UNTAMED - there
    appear to be many digitally manipulated images and composites. Yet nowhere in his text
    does Bloom mention this, or that he used trained and captive animals. Art Wolfe was
    severely criticized for this 10 years ago, but there seems to be an enormous silence this
    time around. Are we getting immune to the impact of digital imagery on ethics? If so,
    that is very troubling.
  2. It is sadly the popular trend I guess. Take a look at the latest ad for Adobe; I think it speaks to the issue. Lines in the ad say: "Spread Lies" and "What fun is sticking to the truth..." and "And when you're ready to take your digital deception even further..." As a fine art nature photographer, that type of photography isn't for me, but who am I anyway? Many types of commercial photographers can benefit from this type of manipulation, and I am sure there are also many photographers who aren't using the tools to this end, but I guess the ad isn't targeting them.
  3. Do you have any proof of your claims? haveyou contacted him and asked? I went through
    his website and found occasional mention of anmal rehab centers. I would think that
    most wildlife photographers wh owantto be taken seriously, are now because of the Art
    Wolfe incident, extremely wary of grossly manipulating images. Standard darkroom and
    graphic arts techniques to get good reproduction have always been allowable but my
    recollection ofthe Art Wolfe stuff (And it was less than 10 years ago) is that he was "fixing
    shots" by using Photoshop to create larger herds of Zebras , etc. to make more aesthicaly
    pleasing images.

    here is a link to a 2000 discussion of the Art Wolfe incident;
  4. I notice you also made the same allegations on Amazon in your "review" of the book. If
    you want to start what amounts to a smear campaign against this photographer, you could
    at least offer some kind of collaboration to back up your claims.

    BTW- "collaroration" means PROOF.
  5. I did find one obvious example of manipulation on Steve Bloom's site. It's not stated that this example is a manipulation, and I don't feel that it needs to be. Photography is art and the photographer controls the final image whether everyone likes it or not. The situation would be different if he was adding a full moon over the horizon, with a bald eagle soaring, with a wolf in the foreground etc, and he claimed to have witnessed that scene. This example is a lighthouse scene taken at sunset, and apparently manipulated with a color shift to look like a night time shot lit my moonlight. It's obvious by looking at the cloud formations that the two are the same photo, worked into different final images.
  6. Kevin, Since Art Wolfe opened the door on digital manipulation many people haved rushed through that door. And if you are a struggling photographer trying to eke out a living, as I am, you may be willing to push the boundaries of reality. The worst I've seen is the wide angle perspective of Lake Powell with the 600mm full moon. And it was published in Grand Circle. The two lighthouse shots look identical but both are nice shots. If he is making money by doing it, my guess is he isn't losing sleep worrying what people think on My own particular fellings are to minimize manipulation but if adding a little red to an image will sell it, I'm going to do it. See attached. I don't think most people care about truth anymore. I think they would rather be lied to. cheers,
  7. The speculation trail continues..

    I would agree with the above comments that you can not be making these insinuations without having contacted the artist himself.
  8. In reality, how does this really differ from manipulation done with lenses, filters, cameras (e.g., tilt-shift on large format)and darkroom work (burning, dodging, contrast enhancement, etc)? People are looking for visually appealing images, not clinical images.
  9. Yes and no

    There is a long thread about Steve on

    ( registration neccessary )

    On his website he calls himself a photographic artist ( hey, if it helps sell then why not ). He also admits to manipulating some images - some are obvious- some are not, but does not label on an individual basis. So as far as I am concerned, ALL of his images are suspect - its kinda difficult to only be a little bit pregnant.

    I am sure he could care less and is laughing all the way to the bank - good for him ;O) ... however, you would not catch me buying or recommending any of his work .. I prefer wildlife to be wildlife..

    Yes Kevin, some folk do care - most do not however. Say Hi to Jeff B if you see him ..

    George McC
  10. Dave - have you actually looked at his book? First of all, I have spoken to Bloom about his
    pictures and, if pressed, he will admit that he does "creative" digital work on his images. If
    you want proof, look at the book.

    In particular, go to the images on pages 195 & 198. Both show polar bears in the snow.
    Amazingly, the snowflakes are exactly the same in both images, obviously pasted on the

    Look also at the image on page 191 : the sun on one cub comes from the right while the
    light comes from the left on the other cub. And unless I am very much mistaken, the
    images on pp 84, 85, 177 -- and dozens more -- are composites.

    The enclosed image is not in the book, but is on his website. What do you think?

    My point is that Bloom, whom I know, is undermining the value of his best work -- which
    may (or may not) be genuine - by mixing it with these kinds of images.
  11. mbb


    Sorry, but this looks more like a personal attack or act of jealousy. The way post is presented here is very unprofessional. Empty words with no proof from somebody who is trying similar field with less success. Signing here as a member and in the first day, in first post writing venomous review of successful competitor. Strange, isn't it? So far this book ('Untamed') received many very good reviews from quite accomplished photographers.

    IMHO I only can wish that manipulation should be stated under image if such process was used. But it 'should', there is no rule that it 'have to' in this kind of publication. In fact in this kind of book it would look strange if under every photo author would write detailed description what was done to the image. Judging from his (Bloom's) entire work he accomplished a lot - much more then average wildlife photographer. So, it is not a surprise that jealousy from others will start to follow.

    For those who are upset that Bloom might laugh, there is a solution to make him stop. Go out, shoot much better photos of truly untamed, wild animals an then publish them untouched :).
  12. Mark : Do I have an axe to grind? Sure, I think what Bloom is doing is deplorable, and it
    burns me up (and a lot of other full-time wildlife photographers I know ) that people are
    willing to overlook his reliance on digital short-cuts. He has some terrific pictures, but I
    challenge you to look at his book and not be shocked by the amount of unattributed
    manipulation. I simply think it's inapproproiate in a book called "Untamed" that purports
    to be about nature.

    Kevin Schafer
  13. "For those who are upset that Bloom might laugh, there is a solution to make him stop. Go out, shoot much better photos of truly untamed, wild animals an then publish them untouched :)".


    Thanks for that sane post and the sound advice!
  14. mbb


    Kevin, from time to time posts like that ignite my response. Look here:

    How you call this and more important the photos taken just a few hundreds yards away where you can not see a tracks. Most 'wildlife' photos ARE taken near places like this one. Pandas should be left alone in wild and not harassed by photographers. Pro or not. In fact most beautiful wildlife photographs I have seen were taken by 'amateurs' :).

    If you wrote this post differently I could agree with you in some points as I prefer not manipulated images of wildlife myself. Especially ones showing behavior or environment. Portraits can be more artsy in my opinion and removing some elements in background, if stated, is not a crime - it just fits in another category.

    Vivek, thank you :)
  15. Mark,

    I agree -- to a point -- with your comment that going out and shoot terrific 'genuine'
    pictures is the ultimate revenge to the creeping intrusion of digital composites and rental
    animals. Sadly, however, I am already seeing that these kinds of images raise the bar to
    an un-natural level, and both editors, and the public, begin to demand ever-more intense
    'action' shots, based on ones they have seen before, even if they never actually happened.

    I despair that within a few years no one will be able to tell the difference, or worse -- they
    won't care..

    By the way, I looked at your site, and you have some lovely stuff.
  16. mbb


    Kevin, it is just getting more and more difficult because so many people have access now to very good equipment. Slogan that the man behind a camera is most important is not always working now days. Many good men are getting behind very good cameras now. In the past 'pro' had equipment and monopoly for so often were snaps from the nature and market was buying everything. Now it has to be something special to make a cover. Pros and others as well have to change approach and live with the challenge. It may now takes a days, weeks or months to get an outstanding image. And a lot of work in wild places. Easy time is gone if you do not manipulate. But believe me the best award for you is your own satisfaction you feel when you take some outstanding image from time to time. At least this is a way I see and feel.

    Thanks for visiting my site. It was not updated for a year :( as I have no time - spending all my time outdoor shooting. Not showing my new photos here. My PS skills are shrinking as well :). Now I write to kill some time when backing up my images from a week trip :). I also found many interesting images on your site and for sure will check them all in near future if I have your word they are not manipulated :).

    Best regards, Mark
  17. Interesting question....I don't know anything about this particular photographer, nor have I seen his book, so I don't feel qualified to offer an opinion on his work. I will say this about digital manipulation in general, it seems many of the highest rated photos in the "top rated" section of this site are very heavily worked, if not actually created, in photoshop and/or mystical lighting or such, and are nothing close to reality.

    The fact that they consistantly receive high ratings would indicate a widespread acceptance of this form of processing (at least on this site). While most of these do honestly list themselves as "manipulated or unknown", are they really deserving of top ratings compared to outstanding "un-retouched" shots? Is it or, or are they really one and the same? Does use of filters, or darkroom work in the realm of Ansel Adams, fall into the same "manipulated" realm? I don't believe so... IMHO they often are only used to convey the image as actually viewed, and to overcome natural obstacles such as glare or haze.

    That aside,I guess I draw the line at attempts to pass off manipulation as reality. Although many of these manipulated shots are indeed beautiful, I'd much rather see fantastic photography that shows images as actually seen by the person who took the photo and showcasing their true photographic talent, as opposed to a showcase of someone's creative photoshop skills, as excellent as they may be. Just my 2 cents worth...
  18. I've followed this thread for a few days, and feel I now need to make a comment. First,
    Kevin, did you have Steve's permission, and that of Alamy to post the penguin image on
    this site?

    Whether Steve used digital manipulation or not does not seem to be such an important
    matter. Certainly, you and I have had images published which were improperly captioned
    by the publisher. A few examples for me: Alaska moose were put into an article on
    Maine; National Geographic credited an assignment I shot for them to another
    photographer; and animals I clearly captioned as captive (Jaguar images) were used in an
    article stating they were photographed in the wild. I've had publishers digitally change
    images of mine; if you viewed them you might tend to blame me for the alterations, but
    quite simply put I do not have the technical expertise to make good alterations.

    If you don't like Steve's book, don't buy it. It doesn't do any of us good to be so critical of
    other photographers in a public forum, especially when the photographer being critiqued
    isn't actively involved in this discussion.
  19. Steve -

    Thanks for weighing in. However, I do believe that unattributed use of digital
    manipulation is precisely the point here. I believe that there is still the assumption by the
    public that a wildlife picture in a book (like Art Wolfe's MIGRATIONS, or Steve Bloom's
    UNTAMED) or in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, represents a real event. But to paste in
    animals into dramatic backgrounds where they didn't appear, or move them around
    digitally to create a better composition is crossing a line. Fine if it's for advertising or in a
    situation where there is not the implicit trust that the picture is real.

    I think most people would be disappointed -- and feel cheated -- to discover that a
    memorable image in a book or magazine was largely created on the computer, not in the
    wild. (esp. when it is passed off as real.) The picture's "spark" is suddenly gone, and you
    are left with nothing more than a digital trick.

    In retrospect, I perhaps should not have made this discussion so focused on Bloom, but on
    the issue itself. On-line inexperience, I guess. I'm just surprised that the outrage that
    erupted over this issue around Art's Migrations book ten years ago seems to have faded
    into acceptance.
  20. NOTE TO ALL : I'm bowing out of this discussion -- having started it. I'll be out of town,
    and I think I may have made a mistake in initiating it the way I did. Best to all in 2005.
  21. I have another book by Steve Bloom, called "In praise of primates". In this book at the end he himself clearly states that he sees photography as an art and that the pictures he takes are imperfect. He perfects them to his own needs on his computer. He writes (translated into english):
    "Photographs are raw materials, which I shape to archieve estetical perfection. The computer offers me all possibilities of the traditional darkroom and at the same time some advantages of a studio. Where necessary I change vague backgrounds and remove disturbing lights. I remove elements from a scene or add aother ones. Sometimes I change the angle of light a little to archieve a lighting effect that is only possible in a studio and not in nature. With some photos I make minor changes, with others significant changes.

    The thought that there would be a perfect photograph is strange to me. Thats why I try to change the visual harmony in each of my photos before publishing"

    I think these words by himself, speak loud enough. His work is great, but after reading his statement in his book, I must say my appreciation has become less. Maybe I am a purist, but for me nature photography is about nature. Well, at least Steve Bloom doesn't try to hide it.
  22. Kevin, assuming you return to this thread upon your return, I'll chip in that I agree with you completely here, and disagree with others who feel it's ok to manipulate what may (or may not) have originally been nature photos into something which at best can only be termed "computerized photographic art" or similar and present it as "nature photography" or "wildlife photography" (no problem to use it as commercial advert work, for instance). Words like "untamed" to describe such productions (especially when captive animals are included) are at best misleading and at worst simply a lie. When heavily manipulated photos are presented as "nature" or "wildlife" photography, our trust is violated. I believe the issue of Trust in Nature Photography to be very important, and don't appreciate it when it's discarded or trivialized in the interest of making a buck or a reputation. The more people believe photos of trained dolphins leaping in perfect unison right next to the boat represents reality, the more awareness of what nature is and how it works and why it's valuable is diminished. The more skewed people's conceptions of nature become, the more endangered nature itself becomes at our hands.

    The attitude of many that nature photographers can just do whatever they want with their photos and present them however they want and "good for them", etc., only perpetuates and deepens the problem.
  23. I think slight enhancement or removal of some distraction is OK as long as the reality is not drastically changed. These are things routinely done in the wet darkroom as well.

    If a "photo" involves cutting-pasting, and moving animals and the light source around, I agree with Kevin that it is crossing the line and it should be labeled as digital art. It is no longer a genuine photograph.
  24. In this respect Frans Lanting's books are exemplary. In his "Eye to Eye", every photograph is documented at the back of his book where he describes if the animal was a captive and even if he has cropped the original full frame photograph. Nature and in particular wildlife photography has a strong documentary aspect that one should not forget. A great fraction of Lanting's work documents rare animals or rare behviours. To most people, nature photography is not art, but a document of something real that has happened. There is nothing wrong about creating an artistic and manipulated image of a wild animal, only such manipulation must be documented up front in a very clear manner.
  25. "The thought that there would be a perfect photograph is strange to me."

    Could be that the photog isn't too good if this is his experience.
  26. I think Mike D summed up my thoughts nicely. Heavy, UNDISCLOSED manipulation increases the growing divide between people and nature and reduces peoples trust in the integrity of nature photography. IMO that is very sad and dangerous.
    Bloom has been using digital manipulation as a tool for a long time. Sometimes he is more open about it than other times. I think the penguin image is laughable.
  27. I think Kevin realises (after Mark's thoughtful comments) that it is his delivery of the question that caused the problem. The majority here is not for manipulated images, especially in Nature photography.
  28. Nature: The world together with all living things and the objects and events that are NORMALLY part of it as distinguished from those that are ARTIFICIAL. Digital manipulation is artificial, therefore imho has no place in nature photography. Call me a purist or whatever you like, I will spend more time looking for the Natural image as opposed to taking a "snapshot" that I can manipulate and pass off on unsuspecting prospective buyers and viewers of those images as what was seen through the lens. Just as trailheads and trails become garbage dumps for those too lazy to carry out what they carry in, just as we have all become a bit too apathetic about what is going on with the environment and the irreversible damage done to it, many have become apathetic regarding the technology that sparks debates such as this. Digital technology, or should I say manipulation, has its place just as nature ( read the description ) photography has its place. Unfortunately the two have intertwined and formed a Frankenstien that many take for granted or are simply unaware exists
  29. Although I am not a photographer, more of a picture taker I do work in science and I have 2 voices on this subject.
    1. If one is trying to report an event as factual then manipulation must be extemely limited. If one is trying to portray nature as it is then again manipulation must be extremely limited. Any manipulation should also be acknowledged.
    2. If one is using photography as an art form one should be able to do as a painter does and use his interpretation of what one photographed but when one does this then be honest and state that the work is photographic art and manipulated to fit your perception of the actual photograph.
    I believe that over the long term that failure to meet these criteria will leave the public much worse off and in a situation as not knowing what to believe therefore doubting the honesty of most everything, not good for society.
    The ability of people to use programs like photoshop allows people that don't have some artistic skills to use others they may have to enjoy themselves and have fun. Both areas of photography as information and as art are important they just need to be used and labeled appropriately especially by people that consider themselves professional.
  30. Small point but I believe Dave Terry meant to write "corroboration" and not "collaboration".
  31. A small point, but I feel a relevant one, and one that often is missed in this kind of debate. In my opinion nature will always outdo human imagination and a computer. Captive situations may produce images but such situations often impose more restrictions than they confer freedoms (at least in so far as capturing utterly unique activity and interaction). You will see more truly astonishing and unrepeatable wildlife moments in the wild (the real wild) than in any controlled situation. Capturing those moments is the hard part! Which is why (as noted above) many amazing images are taken by 'amateurs'. For amateurs read 'people who were there at the right time and place and got it nailed'. What is sad is that sometimes those 'amazing' wild moments are the inspiration for the controlled shots that will proliferate in their wake. But I will still use digital, and even more as the technology improves, and this debate will run and run and run and.............
  32. In case some of you don't know, Kevin Schafer is an exceptional and gifted nature photographer. His images are won after hard work and effort. I can understand why he feels so much frustration. A friend of mine has digitized images of nature that are absurd but yet are passed as genuine. Two examples: a male bear with two cloned-in cubs, supposedly a family. And two adults polar bears with six cubs, another family. A lot of us frind this frustrating. Too bad Keven mentioned a name but I appreciate his view.

  33. There is nothing wrong with using photo shop or any other software to enhance or embellish an image. every photograph has been improved or manipulated in some way. with traditional film it was subjected to chemical processing. The choice of developer or toner or use of filters on the camera or in the darkroom. I know because i was one of those who did it, as a professional darkroom tech. even most digital imaged are interpt. by the camera itself. You could shoot in "raw format" but even that is manipulated somewhat in the equipment. Plus Raw images require post processing. The ART of photography is like any other art it is art because it is an artists concept of what the artist saw. Everyone sees differently. Seeing is 90% in the mind. Your eyes are a low definition optical system.
  34. The notion that a photograph can portray something equal to the original reality of the subject is a myth. This is not news to those who are familiar with the history of photography or with philosophical musings about the medium. The process of determining what to include and what to leave out, deciding when to click the shutter, selecting the time of day or season of year to make the exposure, chosing whether to shoot black and white (which isn't remotely real!) or color, using filters on the camera, using filters in post - whether chemical or digital, using shifts and swings, controlling DOF with aperture selection, choosing what paper to print on, selecting one frame over another, choosing how to verbally explain the image, dodging and burning, choosing methods of developing film for their effect on the image, shooting Velvia (!), attaching a polarizing filter, adding a hood to control flare, using flare as part of the image, brushing that bug off the leaf, adding a bug to the leaf, waiting for the bug to land/fly away, picking the prettier bird out of the flock rather than the other one with the bent wing, choosing to point your camera in the direction that excludes the power line or the buildings, shooting with very short focal lengths, shooting with very long focal lengths, and on and on and on and on...
    It is impossible for a photograph to be an analog of "reality." At best it can suggest something that the photographer saw or felt in that reality. It can evoke a memory, an association, or an imagination in the viewer. It cannot portray objective components of the "reality" of the subject such as the cool breeze on your face, the smell of pine trees, the moisture in the air, your sore feet from the long walk, the warmth of sun on the back of your neck, the sound of birds and wind - all of which are components of the "reality" we experience in the presence of the actual subject.
    And I really don't care. If the only thing that I thought photography could do was "capture" an objectively accurate rendition of reality I wouldn't bother to make photographs - which would always fail to equal the experience of that original reality. I'd get rid of may camera and just go experience it.
    But that isn't what photography does, and it would be far less than photography can do. One of the most interesting and humane things it does is it offers us a view into the mind and world of the person of the photographer. Frankly, in the end I'm far more interested in what the photograph tells me about the person who made the image, and perhaps about myself, than I am in the extent to which the photograph pretends that it can stand in for the real.
    Imagining that the purpose of photography is merely to "capture" the real, thus creating a sort of second-best shadow image of the real, is simplistic and naive. It is also nearly completely contrary to the history and development of the craft and art of photography. It is essentially impossible to find photographs that are totally "pure" - whatever that even means.
    And when I view a great and powerful photograph, virtually the last thing I ask myself is, "is this a real thing?" I think about the effect it has on me, what it tells me or suggests to me about the world, its pure aesthetic power as an image, its intrinsic beauty, the associations I draw between it and my experience.
  35. It only bothers me when people lie about it. If one would call their heavily manipulated work 'photo art' people would understand that no, this shot was not possible and he/she did it artistically. But then, again, how would they become famous if the average Joe wouldn't be so impressed? ! ;)
    Some photo art is still impressive to me, but I don't trust people who lie. In this photography world, I have come across quite a few people who think little white lies are perfectly acceptable, it's in their personality. Unfortunately average people have no clue the photo is a mock up so it works in the industry.
  36. Many years ago - about '96 I think - some pandas were on loan to the Los Angeles zoo. I happen to visit the zoo during this time. At the panda exhibit there was a 12' tall ladder with a huge camera and lens mounted upon it as well as a video camera. The photographer sat next to the ladder in a chair under an umbrella, in his hand was the remote shutter trigger. I looked over his setup and told him I am an amateur photographer and asked politely if he'd mind explaining to me his set-up. He was cool about it and told me this; The pandas sleep nearly all day long. Only a couple times a day they wake up, open their eyes, reposition, then go back to sleep. So to get an "action" photo/video he sets up his still camera for a wide portrait frame and the video camera on motion activation which will cause it to beep when it starts to record. Then the photographer takes a seat to read a book. When the panda wakes up and yawns (or blinks or whatever) the video camera starts recording and the 'beep' tells the photographer to start pulling on the remote shutter release. What does the public get to see in advertising the visiting panda? The poster will show an alert panda looking into the camera as if posing. On the TV commercials there will be a couple seconds of motion cleverly cut in to imply the rolly-polly panda is frolicking around its pen. I must have wasted 30 minutes watching that panda sleep - it never moved!

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