On editing photos and removing distractions

One important thing to keep in mind when composing a photo is to have a subject. If there is something in the way, it should be something leading the eye towards the main subject. All other things are distractions: they take the focus away from your main subject and should be thus removed. But should all distractions be equally removed?

Take for example this photo of the colorful Doyers street in Chinatown, Manhattan, New York. There were two major distractions that are two very different edits.


The first one, the easy one, is the guy coming out of the shop on the left. He is an ephemeral piece in this landscape. Nobody will miss him if he’s removed from the photo. Now, in a different composition, it could have worked: he might have been a side story, something adding up to a main story. There’s not a story here though, and that’s why I don’t consider this to be a street photo, is more like an urban landscape photo.

The complicated one, and that poses a dilemma, is the water tank at the top. If I remove it, would someone notice its absence? But then again, I wonder how often people notice these big things above the eye line of sight. In addition, would a photo without the water tank be “fake”? Given the crop I would be making, more focused on the painted floor, there won’t be much of the water tank in the photo anyway. If it was there, I’d only feel some sort of oppression from above, due to the lack of light above.

I ended up removing it. It doesn’t add anything of value to the image. It’s actually detrimental. If somebody notices it, well, so be it. Again, this is not street photography and it’s not photo journalism. Some photography genres are not a true depiction of the moment. If you think it further, it’s never the truth. Every photo is processed, either by the camera, internally, by the software generating an image to distribute it, by the website where you’re seeing it, maybe cropping or resizing it. Even light passing through the lens is already altered.

It’s finally time to crop the most deteriorated portion and remove those imperfections in the floor. While I usually leave imperfections because I like how they show the footprint of time, these are getting in the way of appreciating the painting on the floor.

Doyers street

And now, the photo is complete, ready for some tone and color tweaking. All this removal was performed on Affinity Photo mainly with the inpaint tool which works fantastic. Other softwares have a similar tool, like On1 Photo Raw, but they’re not nearly as precise as AP’s one. After removing the main element, some cloning with the stamp tool is good to finish blending the area with its surroundings.

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