Photoshop: Friend or Foe. You Decide.

Posted Dec. 14th, 2012 by Daniel J. Cox

A recent story by the BBC gives all photographers something to think about. They discuss in detail how manipulating an image can change the way the human memory recalls things. A quote from Rose Eveleth states, “Doctored images can affect what we eat, how we vote and even our childhood recollections. The question scientists are asking is why there’s nothing we can do to stop it”. Take a look at this well documented piece on image manipulation and add your voice to the discussion. I would love to hear what our readers think about making photos on  a computer that weren’t really there in the first place.

BBC dicusses the issues with manipulated photos and how they are remembered by the human mind.

BBC dicusses the issues with manipulated photos and how they are remembered by the human mind.

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There are 18 comments on this post…
  1. Mike DonahueOn Jan. 10th, 2013

    The article title is misleading and inaccurate, but ironically fitting since the gist of the post is about the ethics of manipulation. My hope is was simply a poorly conceived title. You don’t even mention Photoshop in the post.

    The question posed by the article is not whether “Photoshop” is a friend or foe but whether photo manipulation under certain circumstances should or could be deemed unethical. Specific photographic situations will dictate that answer.

    Obviously a photo journalist shouldn’t be manipulating images to influence how they are perceived, but that’s not the standard that all photographers are, or should, be held to. Like any other thing, photo manipulation is only good or bad based on how it’s used. Used like Uelsmann and it’s art, used to trick people for nefarious purposes it’s unethical.

    Might want to consider renaming the post to something a little less incendiary or at least more accurate to the text like – Photo Manipulation – Ethical or Not? You Decide.

    (originally posted this on your Linkedin discussion)

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 20th, 2013

      Mike, thanks for your suggestion and input.

  2. T. Allan NewellOn Jan. 4th, 2013

    Daniel. I understood your original comment regarding “a photograph never lies” and my comment was more of a reiteration of it in support of your views rather than in support of the quote. Sorry for the confusion.

    With regards to captioning photos that have been manipulated, to what extent should this be done? If I change the hue, saturation, brightness or intensity, should that be noted? If I remove a rogue bird, should that be noted? Should it be noted only if the photo is meant to portray an actual event? If you look at the photos on my website….

    www.newellography.com

    can you tell which ones I have manipulated and which ones I haven’t and in the context of my website, does it really matter? You, as the viewer, are only seeing what I, as the photographer, choose for you to see and as you have no frame of reference as to accuracy of the actual scene, you must make the decision to believe or not believe what you see.

    Daniel it’s interesting that you say in reference to “images I’ve shot that look as though I was in the middle of the wilderness, but right beneath my feet is a road I used to get to this very wild looking setting” should have “additional information such as a piece of text/caption that describes more truthfully where the image was taken.” This is aside from photo manipulation itself as the road likely would not have been part of the orginal photo so the questions is, why comment on it at all unless again, the photographer is trying to pass off that image as somewhere else.

    When walking a fine line, only your ethics will keep you on the right side.

    _Allan_

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 4th, 2013

      Allan, all good dialog. No problem with the confusion regarding my original comment “a photograph never lies”.

      With regards to captioning. I don’t feel hue, saturation, brightness or intensity, is considered manipulation. However, removing a “rogue bird” is a different story. That’s manipulation. If it’s art I’m on the fence as to whether it should be identified. For myself I don’t do it. If it’s portrayed as an actual event, yes it should be noted.

      As far as walking a fine line with ethics as your guide? Only each photographer can make that call. Unfortunately, there are many that never give ethics a second thought. However, the more we all talk about it, the more it will make people think and that’s a good thing.

  3. T. Allan NewellOn Jan. 3rd, 2013

    Interesting discussion. While I believe that misrepresentation of an altered photograph is not acceptable, the definition of “altered” is somewhat vague. Removing power lines from a landscape is altering a photograph however is the photographer required to put a caveat saying “powerlines were removed to enhance the image” if they are displaying for public viewing? Like wise, before the advent of colour photography, everything was b&w. Obviously this was not a true representation of the scene photographed.

    Everyone who picks up a camera and pushes the button to take a photo is guilty of photo manipulation. Through settings on the camera to the internal limitations of the equipment, the resulting photo is not 100% accurate. Even the simple act of looking at a 4×6 photo without any peripheral input will alter the way we remember a scene.

    Daniel quoted the old adage “A photograph never lies”. I prefer to believe a photograph never speaks the truth.

    Happy shooting!

    _Allan_

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 3rd, 2013

      Allan, I agree with a lot of what you’ve written. So much so that my comment “a photograph never lies” was used to highlight just the opposite of that old adage, not as you suggest, to support it. My original comment is the following in context. “The old adage, “A photograph never lies” is and always has been less than accurate depending on the person behind the lens and what that person decides to include or not include in their photograph. I personally know of images I’ve shot that look as though I was in the middle of the wilderness, but right beneath my feet is a road I used to get to this very wild looking setting. It’s in this type of situation that it’s important for photographers to include additional information such as a piece of text/caption that describes more truthfully where the image was taken.” Finally, yes, I do believe if powerlines were removed in an image for public display it should be noted in a caption.

  4. robertOn Jan. 3rd, 2013

    this is a rubbish debate and i’m very bored hearing it again and again year in year out. what you forget, it’s the viewer who decides if an image is right/wrong, good/bad, crap/amazing, works for them/or does not. NOT the photographer or his bunch of elitist friends. Its the viewer who pays the money on which the entire business is based. Photography works on the sub conscious and always has, its not just the ‘correct’ mix of ‘perfection’ but something more human than painting by numbers. THERE are NO rules, it is art and fashion, art is either good or bad.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Jan. 3rd, 2013

      Robert, I agree with you if you’re referring to the of the market that is commercial, art etc. However, I draw the line with journalism. There does need to be rules in journalism. Thanks for sharing. It’s all good debate.

  5. Sue JarrettOn Dec. 26th, 2012

    Daniel, I agree with 99% of what you said in #7. If I was shooting a landscape I would remove a jet trail or some wires, but I don’t like young people who are such Photoshoppers that they take a snap and say “I’ll Photoshop it,” meaning to make it look like a real photo — what they should have taken with the camera at first.

    Lite HDR, so to speak, makes a landscape look like great lighting and I don’t mind that — in an fine art photo. But strong HDR makes a photo look fake. And neither should be done as a photojournalist like I was a few years ago.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Dec. 26th, 2012

      Thanks Sue for adding your voice.

  6. Curtis KnightOn Dec. 23rd, 2012

    Well said Daniel.

    I guess I come at it from the view that, unless there is a reason to believe otherwise, the photograph is an artistic rendering of what the photographer saw and then invisioned before producing the final image.

    If the image is in a journalistic/documentary setting, I simply hope the photographer has the integrity to keep himself honest.

    All photographs are manipulated. whether it’s in-camera, in the darkroom, or in photo editing software. It’s the nature of the beast. This is a technicality, I know, but everytime I here someone ask the question “did you manipulate the photo?” I have to wonder where they draw the line. I always say “yes” or “I enhanced the colors a bit” or something along that line. I rarely say “no, it hasn’t been manipulated.” I guess it’s the Quality Assurance Engineer in me that just can’t let it go… 🙂

  7. Curtis KnightOn Dec. 21st, 2012

    How is manipulating a photograph any different than painting a scene with oil, or water colors, or what-have-you?

    Art is art is art is art. Why is it ok for a painter to “interpret” a scene, but when a photographer “interprets” a scene, he is vilified by some as a fraud? I just don’t get it.

    A 2-dimentional photograph cannot faithfully represent the 3-dimentional scene, no matter what you do to it or don’t do to it. the photograph can roughly document what was there, but it cannot reproduce it.

    If a photographer claims that his photograph is a faithful reproduction of what he saw, then he is, at the very least, mistaken.

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Dec. 22nd, 2012

      Curtis, thanks for your input. For me personally, there are two discrete avenues of photography I aspire to. They are; Journalism & Art. To me they are two very distinct classifications. When I am shooting Journalism I work hard to produce images that are truthful and educational. When I’m producing Art, I use natures elements, fog, rain, unique compositions, variety of lenses etc. to craft an interesting, arresting image. Many photographers take their art one step further and bring the artistic rendition in to their computer to give them even more tools for artistic interpretation. I believe whichever path a photographer chooses, Journalism or Art, it’s imperative to share with the viewer which category the final image falls into. Is it reality or illustration? There’s nothing illegal with illustration, it’s just important to let the viewer know.

      I agree with you that manipulating a photograph is no different than, “painting a scene with oil, or water colors, or what-have-you? Art is art is art.” However, the difference becomes important due to photography’s place in history as a medium once known for absolute reality. That said, I also agree with your comment, “A 2-dimentional photograph cannot faithfully represent the 3-dimentional scene, no matter what you do to it or don’t do to it. the photograph can roughly document what was there, but it cannot reproduce it.” The old adage, “A photograph never lies” is and always has been less than accurate depending on the person behind the lens and what that person decides to include or not include in their photograph. I personally know of images I’ve shot that look as though I was in the middle of the wilderness, but right beneath my feet is a road I used to get to this very wild looking setting. It’s in this type of situation that it’s important for photographers to include additional information such as a piece of text/caption that describes more truthfully where the image was taken.

      Right or wrong, photography, since its invention, has always been looked at as the most accurate medium for documenting the truth. What most people call journalism. Photography has consistently been considered by the masses less than artistic. Thus, artistic photographers have always fought an up hill battle to be recognized as artists. Humans have an innate need for truthful and accurate information and until digital capture, photography provided the closest thing to the truth that people trusted. Unfortunately photographers desire to be artists has blurred the line even further between journalistic and artistic photography and now almost nobody believes ANY photograph they see.

      You have no idea how many people I’ve traveled with that are at ease with photographing a scene and making the comment, “I’ll just fix it in Photoshop”. Generally that comment is in reference to some sort of man made element– power lines, jet contrails, whatever– that’s mucking up the scene and taking away the natural beauty. The statement, “I’ll just fix it in Photoshop” means they’ll remove the offending items. To me that’s falsifying reality which as a journalist I don’t agree with. However, you could also easily say it’s artistic license and end the discussion there. The downside to moving what looks like a journalistic image in to the category of art is, nobody trusts photographs as reality anymore. But then again, as I said earlier, photography has never been the be all end all of truthfulness we’ve been lead to believe anyway. In the end it all comes down to the reputation of the person using the camera. Do they consider themselves an artist, a journalist, both? Only research and personal connections can shed light on that question.

  8. Richard TracyOn Dec. 20th, 2012

    The photographer you thought was a commercial photographer, it is his job to supply a “perfect” images to his client, within a certain time limit and budgetary concerns. That is different from photo journalism and fine art photography. I am sure that he would love to get the perfect shot in the camera, but he can’t call everyone back for another day of shooting because he was not happy with the results

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Dec. 20th, 2012

      Good info Richard, Thanks for your input.

  9. Chris HOn Dec. 19th, 2012

    The answer is “it depends” I shoot a lot of news and documentary. For that any overt image manipulation is forbidden (ie any outside the camera.)

    For ART you can do as much manipulation as you like.

    There are many shades in between.

    So…. It depends.

  10. Fred KurtzOn Dec. 14th, 2012

    Dan,

    I am totally against this. At the American Photo Model shot I just attended, the pro showed us an image of a model he took and told the group it was made of three shots of the same model using a tripod to keep everything in place then he used photoshop to “assemble” the three best parts of the model (face, arm & leg) into one good image. He was impressed with himself but I was not. This is not photography.

    Started packing camera gear for Kenya today! Hi to “T”.

    Fred

    • Portrait of Daniel J. Cox

      Daniel J. CoxOn Dec. 14th, 2012

      Thanks for your input Fred. Always appreciate hearing from you. Help us find others who might be interested in this subject by forwarding this on to photo friends and others.

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