Sunday, March 22, 2015

Ethics in Photography: Do Photos Lie With Photoshop?

Before editing.
After editing (I changed gamma bright and contrast of the image)

The Webster dictionary defines ethic as follows: “rules of behavior based on ideas about what is morally good and bad”; and ethical as follows: “following accepted rules of behavior: morally right and good”.

In photography ethical issues arise over the nature of creativity, ownership, photo manipulation. The question about ethics in photography is exacerbated by individual ambitions, political views and cultural preferences.

When photography was first invented, people believed that it truly portrayed reality, more realistic than any other art form had ever done before. People trusted it.
The fundamental fact that people usually forget is that when photographers take a picture they do not make a perfectly objective recording of reality. What they make is an interpretation of reality.

No matter how hard a photographer might try, he/she is being subjective. A photographer can create different impressions of the same scene by including some elements in the frame and omitting others, by changing location, focal length or lenses, etc. That’s why the real world is not recorded with strict objectivity in photographs.

The manipulation of photographs is not new. In 1903 Edward Steichen wrote:
“In the very beginning, when the operator controls and regulates his time of exposure, when in the dark room the developer is mixed for detail, breath, flatness or contrast, faking has been resorted to. In fact every photograph is a fake from start to finish, a purely impersonal, unmanipulated photograph being practically impossible. When all is said, it still remains entirely a matter of degree and ability.”

Kenneth Brower wrote about Ansel Adams’ famous photographs:
“In his first years of printing his most famous photograph, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941, Ansel Adams, in his words, “allowed some random clouds in the upper sky area to show.” They always annoyed him, and in the 1970s he arranged in the darkroom for those clouds to evaporate. In his celebrated Winter Sunrise, The Sierra Nevada From Lone Pine, California, Adams deleted from the dark foothills of the middle ground the big “LP” that the little town's high school students had laid out in whitewashed stones.
I have a vague recollection that the photographer was less than proud of having excised the "LP." My father recalls otherwise -- that Adams simply thought the town's initials messed up his picture and he wanted them out of there.”

Photos could be made lighter and brighter, with more contrast and sharpness long before Photoshop and other popular digital-image editing programs appeared.
But until recently the amount of manipulation a photographer could make was limited. The application of new technologies changed everything.
Photographers can now radically alter colors, delete or add things, combine images. They can make reality unreal or make fantasy seem real and unmanipulated. With modern technology photographers can literally do anything they want with images.

 We now have to ask ourselves where we should draw the line in image editing.
To answer this question we need to understand if this photo supposed to be truth (photojournalism) or fantasy (art)?

Should a police photo or a news photo be manipulated?
Well, the answer is “No”. Photojournalists’ job and responsibility are to faithfully  interpret and represent reality in an image.
 News agencies have rules about manipulating imagery.
Several organizations have formulated policies and guidelines for the ethical use of editing.

The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), an organization for professional photojournalists in the U.S., lays down the guidelines for its members:

  “While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.
  Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images' content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.”

The American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) is another organization which lays down the guidelines for its members:

  “Do not manipulate images for use in a journalistic context in a manner that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.”

Should a fashion photo be manipulated?
We are unlikely to reach an unambiguous answer to this question.
Almost all of the beautiful models on the covers of magazines are photoshopped. Women and girls want to be as beautiful as models, at least on their Facebook page. And professional photographers will alter reality to suit a client’s tastes, they slenderize bodies, adjust skin tones, etc.
(Sometimes the problem is more serious. There is a link between retouched pictures and eating disorders among children and teens… But it’s not the theme of my post.)

As long as the photographers do not try to misrepresent what they are doing, there’s not the question of ethic.

“It only becomes a problem, and a question of ethics, when the artist or photographer lies about his motivations, methods, and conclusions, and presents images with the purpose to intentionally deceive.” (Nick Rains)

I am not against computer-enhanced photography per se. I belong to the school of thought that holds there is no problem in using Photoshop to make minor corrections in contrast, do small color balance adjustments, etc.
When an image is hardly manipulated, we need to understand how the photograph is presented to the public.

Photographs can be altered. But photographers must avoid fabrications and misrepresentations. Most people get upset when someone intentionally lies.

This is my opinion; like all ethical judgments, it can be different for other individual.

Before editing

After editing ("sepia")

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