Photo manipulation is an interesting topic because there are so many differing opinions on the ethics behind the manipulation of media. Opinions range from it’s full acceptance as an ethical practice to those of purists who will claim anything not “straight out of the camera” isn’t real and shows a lack of talent. And then theres the ethical dilema about doctored photos of models in advertising. This issue has been brought to light often recently through several ads and awareness campaigns. I have several different opinions on this myself all depending on where we fall in the discussion.
The first thing I would like to mention about Photo Manipulation is it is not inherently bad. I would define our ability as media creators to do such things as simply a tool. and like all tools it can be used for great good or for great evil (or just carelessly). Take for example this photo shoot I did for my sister’s senior portraits. I didn’t simply shoot and process color. I went through and doctored up imperfections that detracted from the photo. Using some simple brush techniques in lightroom I was able to whiten the teeth, bring out the color in her eyes and smooth her skin all without destroying her natural look. In the end I was able to give her photos that showed her in her best light. In this example I wouldn’t say I broke any ethics. I simply used the tools at hand to enhance my photography.
Many photo artists have made good use of photo manipulation to create works of art. In this context I wouldn’t have any sort of ethical problem regardless what was done. Because I am someone who believes that art doesn’t need limits put on it. There is not harm in doctoring a photo into an art piece. In fact I see a great deal of talent in people who are able to do this kind of stuff.
In professional photography often we run into imperfections in our shoots. One way to combat this is to take several shots because roughly 1 out of 10 should be solid. Or we could manipulate the image to create what we intended. In my other example from the same shoot with my sister. You can see that the doorway behind her had some form of graffiti on it. (Im actually not sure if it was supposed to be there. I suspect being on a church building that the church meant for it to be there.) I felt that that was distracting from the subject of the photo so I Used a cloning tool to remove all of the unwanted writing. The end result was a photo without unwanted graffiti.
But although there are great reasons to make use of forms of photo manipulation there are dangers in doing too much manipulation. One of the dangers is a danger of artistic complacency. By that I mean we as artists can get trapped in a fix it in post mindset. This is dangerous because while post processing and editing have great potential to save photos. I have seen so much damage done by over processing. This particular photo from the same shoot was botched because I tried and failed a fix it in post mindset. Taking this photo I knew the lighting sucked and I failed to make good settings on my camera to compensate in any way. I took this shot fully intending to “fix in post” the end result is one of my less professional looking photos.
The final danger that photo manipulation presents is that it dehumanizes people. The first thing I will mention is that if the intent is artistic or to tell a story dehumanizing may be a good thing. But I have seen in advertising people are doctored up to the point where they don’t look real any more. Unrealistic standards of beauty are being thrust upon young girls shoulders by this kind of photo manipulation and it’s creating massive self esteem issues in our generation. On top of that I would refer to this practice in any form as dishonest and personally I think it’s kind of ignorant that media companies still do it. I recently read an article about american eagle aries removing the practice completely from there advertising and not too long after sales drastically went up. I do believe that people relate more to ads that look real and look like normal people. I can also say that clothes are easier to sell when a buyer can see them on a body that looks more like theirs.
Overall I think photo manipulation is a great power and as a wise man named ben parker once said. with great power comes great responsibility.