This article is about improving your compositions by removing distracting elements. This practice is acceptable in most photographic contests unless you are a photojournalist. Press photos should be as accurate to the situation as possible. Always check the rules before entering a contest.
The Herald Sun’s David Caird was in contention for the Nikon-Walkley Press Photographer of the Year award as a finalist, when a fellow photographer who just happened to shoot the same scene noticed differences between Caird's version of the photograph and his own.
Supposedly, there was originally a piece of straw that Caird had cloned out in post-processing. While this did not change the interpretation of the photograph, the competition's rules did explicitly state that:
"No cloning, montaging or digital manipulation other than cropping, ‘digital spotting’, burning and dodging is permitted."
As you can see above, David had the right idea, the photo is better with the straw cloned out. Too bad it was against the rules, but at least he voluntarily withdrew, once he realised the problem.
When you compose an image try to make sure there are no distracting elements in the scene. If you see one and you can remove it with your hands it will make your life much easier than having to clone it out in Photoshop. However, there are plenty of situations in which you can't go and remove the distraction, so Photoshop may be your only option.
When photographers are making art, they should feel free to use the benefits of Photoshop to their fullest. Simplifying a scene can help you to get the most out the visual experience. However, there are times, such as in press photos, when major photo manipulations are not appropriate.