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Photo reviews: Creatively Edited Photography

by Susanne Stoop

Creative editing, also known as photo montage refers to creating an image out of several photos. Of course there are more possible variants: You can paste a texture, give a photograph a nicer sky, or use the Droste effect in repeatedly applying a photo within a photo, which is getting smaller and smaller. Although the result can be pleasing, I won't include those images in my review, but will rather concentrate on works that are more complex in terms of editing and content.

Creative editing is a wonderful tool to tell stories, fairy tales or even dreams. It can also be used to bring the non-existing into reality,often within the world of advertisement, or reverse, turning parts of reality into a non existing world - the world of the surreal.

It takes a lot of imagination, skill and planning to create an amazing photo montage. Imagination, because you have to first come up with the arrangement for the photo in your mind. Then follows the planning. Which pictures do I have to take, how can they fit into the story, how to use the right colours, how to control the light and the shadows. And then there is the need for the skill to make a consistent, convincing and technically flawless image out of all the parts you have photographed.

There is a thin, but distinctive line between creative editing and conceptual photography. The ideas are easily confused, especially since conceptual photographers like to use photo montages.To put it bluntly, for creative editing the beautiful appearance of a photomontage is critical, while it is the idea that counts for a conceptual image.How that idea is shown is of less importance. In other words, creative editing may be called extrovert and conceptual photography introvert. To further clarify this distinction: Conceptual photographers should always be able to explain which idea they have imagined.

In this review I will show you some of the many sides of creative editing:
Telling stories
Abstract shows
Keep it simple
Jacob's ladder
The thin line - photo montage, conceptual or both
The heirs of Magritte and Dali

Telling stories

"Happy Hour" by Anthony Benussi


If you look closely at "Happy Hour" by Anthony Benussi, you will discover that all the characters in this tableau vivant are represented by the same person. A convenient solution for the problem of having to engage a lot of models. Each ‘character’ in this image had first gotten his own photograph and in the end all had to be merged into one image. Needless to say that this will take a lot of planning! But is also gives the image editor the flexibility to move his persons and props until they are all in the right place. In advertising photography this procedure is widely being used.

There is a lot going on at this picture, lots to discover too and yet, the picture does not appear asbeing cluttered or too busy. A job well done! A minor point of critique might be for example that the barman isn't looking at the glass he is filling.


"Those were the days" by Roel van den Broek 


While Anthony Benussi had one actor at his disposal to tell his story, Roel van den Broek had six models. They are all part of this scene showing an aspect of Dutch history of the nineteen fifties. That time is commonly being described as a time of comfort, simplicity, order and consistency. Much of this is indeed true. But that society was also accompanied by strong divisions and the ever-present authority of government and church. For many people it was also a time of oppressive civility, taciturnity and narrow morality.

At the end of the fifties the younger generation started to rebel as shown in the actions of the eldest son, ready to fill his plate instead of saying grace like his siblings. The father is ready to give him a beating, the mother looks away. Those were indeed the days.  As an experiential expert I can tell you, that Roel hit that mood of the time very well. But even without knowing all details about those days, the photo itself tells you already much about rebellion, obedience, oppression and hypocrisy of those days(I really wonder why isn't the father saying his grace, but well, those were the days. Quod erat demonstrandum.)

Abstract shows

"a giOia" by Gilbert Claes


La gioia - the joy. And indeed this colourful, bright image is a joy for the eye. It is vivid, but there is a touch of darkness, hinting perhaps that the happiness, the joy, is only a temporary, fleeting moment.

I have no idea how Gilbert edited this image, whether it is a montage or not. The photo speaks so much for itself that it is of no real importance to know. What I see is a clever play with reflections, forms, patterns and colors on a glass wall or a huge window, that tells the story of a joyful moment.


"Carrizo Skies" by Ron Jones


Carrizo Plain National Monument is a large enclosed grassland plain in southeastern San Luis Obispo County, California, about 100 miles (160 km) northwest of Los Angeles. It must be marvellous to be there and gaze at the mountains, the colors and the skies. And that is just what Ron Jones did. He looked around and wondered how he could show all the beauty he saw in one picture. The result of his photo montage is a mixture of the concrete and the abstract. He wanted the skies to dance, as Ron writes in the photo info. And they are indeed appearing to be dancing, these skies in the vivid, almost exuberant mosaic, thus expressing the joy Ron must have felt when roaming the plains. In this way the image is successful. But I wonder, haven’t there been other possibilities to express these feelings of joy and happiness?

Keep it simple


"Only human part III" by Monica Stuurop


Creative editing and photo montages need not be necessarily complicated images like this quiet picture of Monica Stuurop shows. It is simple and yet very effective. The content is strong. It speaks and invites you to ponder about the tree of live - or in biblical terms the Tree of Jesse - a depiction in art of the ancestors of Christ, shown in a tree which rises from Jesse of Bethlehem, the father of King David.

This beautiful image has one little flaw. It is the white edge around the branches, due to the reduction of the image. In other cases it may be the result of sharpening the picture or adding to much contrast. There is but one solution to this problem: erase it. A time consuming exercise, I know, and boring.


"I am flying" by Minja Silvennoinen

She is quite excited, happy and so proud of herself, this flying lady flying above a foggy landscape. Her face tells it all while she is slowly floating by. It is a form of levitation - originally a mystic phenomenon and now rather popular among photographers. There are lots of tutorials to be found on the web, as a side note.

Back to Minja's lovely photo. It is so charming that you tend to forget that there are some points of improvement.

It would have been nice if there had been more space left underneath the flying lady. Now she appears as almost glued to the top the hill. Also, a little more sky above the balloon would have given her more space to fly. In this type of photograph the subject needs some space in order to give us that flying sensation the lady must be certainly feeling.

There is also the contradiction between her scarf, which suggests speed and her hair, which is hardly ruffled and indeed hanging down, suggesting she is slowly floating by. Now I can’t really imagine that you will make a lot of speed, if you put on a balloon, but still, that contradiction is something you'll have to avoid.

Jacob's ladder


"Next!" by D.A. Wagner


Stairs in all kinds of forms are a popular subject in photography and its creative editing branch. I have been browsing the web a bit and it is amazing in how many ways you can picture a stair, ladder or escalator and use it in a photo montage.

"Next" by D.A. Wagner is a wonderful example of not only the ‘stairway to heaven’ motive, but also of the meticulous editing ( you should really read his tutorial, if you have not yet done so).

I can find very little to be faulty in this photomontage. There is but one very minor point. If you look closely at the transparent glass - or whatever it is - panel of the escalator, you can see a residue of the original photo Mr Wagner used. But let’s rest it right here! There is so much beauty to be seen that easily makes up for it: The light, the colors, the clouds and that lovely detail of the two birds,,the out of proportion beginnings of the escalator, giving the image that surreal twist.


The thin line - photomontage, conceptual or both


"Dice" by Zoltan Toth 


In a way "Dice" by Zoltan Toth and "Grace for drowning" by Milad Safabakhsh are having the same subject, being the fickleness of life. You never know how the dice is falling or when you meet your fate in life.

The dice is as symbolic as is the sea. Both are unpredictable. The sea seems to be very calm. The waves are rolling gently onto the beach. But in the background, above the fog, restless cloud are already looming - the messengers of a storm and waves that soon might hit the beach. But will they? You'll never know.

"Dice" depicts an idea and in this sense the image is conceptual. It is also a very good photomontage. To make his point, Zoltan used creative editing, but he could also have chosen another way to photographically express his thoughts. It is obvious that these disciplines do not exclude each other.

This image also shows that creative editing doesn't need vibrant colors or exuberant scenes in order to make an impression. It speaks immediately and lets you follow the idea that has been photographically expressed.

The heirs of Magritte and Dali

 "Untitled" by  Lifeware


The surrealist Belgian painter René Magritte influenced many photographers. They were inspired by his way of seeing and annexed many of the props he used: the bowler hat, the umbrella, covering one's face with an object.

René Magritte described his paintings as "visible images which conceal nothing; they evoke mystery and, indeed, when one sees one of my pictures, one asks oneself this simple question, 'What does that mean?'. It does not mean anything, because mystery means nothing either, it is unknowable."

Salvador Dali described his paintings as painted dream photographs. He painted his props very realistically, butlike in a dream the objects don't seem to have any connections with each other. The bizarre objects and environments symbolized the subconscious elements that surfaced in hisdreams. He was also a master in the art of trompe l'oeil (optical illusion) and the play with perspective.

One of Dali's heirs is Lifeware. Her wonderful photomontage shows many aspects of Dali's strange, but fascinating surreal dream world. Read about Dali and you can begin to interpret this images.


This is a wonderful article, Susanne! Motivation, inspiration, history, a tour of the 1x digital library, and a bit of critique. Thanks for your efforts!