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Author Topic: The Ethics of Photo Manipulation  (Read 30929 times)
Isaac
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« on: May 29, 2013, 05:49:07 PM »
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"My friends like 1b better than 1a and so do I."

I'd like Figure 1b better if the scene was photographed in broad daylight and then combined with the lighthouse and a "pleasing display of the Milky Way". That should put the image safely beyond issues of coherence and plausibility.

As-it-is Figure 1b has a blinding beam from the lighthouse which doesn't even reduce night vision let alone blind, and a mysteriously-illuminated shadow-less fence (perhaps the fence is a light source). These are issues of coherence and plausibility, not ethics.


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"To aid me in facing this ethical problem..."

Not being a photojournalist, the ethical problem reduces to - follow the rules in photographic contests or cheat.


Faking it: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop
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John Camp
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« Reply #1 on: May 29, 2013, 06:54:56 PM »
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Photographs don't have ethics, because they are pieces of paper with ink sprinkled on them.

People have ethics. If photographs are manipulated with the intent to deceive, then the photographer is unethical.

Paintings and other illustrations have nothing to do with it. When you have an art form that represents some idea of "objective reality," but that art form is necessarily produced over a more or less long span of time, then any intelligent person can deduce that what he is looking at is at best an approximation of that objective reality, because reality does not sit still to have its portrait painted.

Photographs, however, have since their inception been sold as the best representations of reality available to us. That's really the only reason anybody bothers to look at them. All the other sophomoric objections to that reality -- that is, that it's edited or cropped or whatever -- are again easily dealt with. We all *know* that a photograph doesn't represent a reality outside the photograph. So you have fifteen people in a street with protest signs, and you shoot a close-up that shows those fifteen people, then two things may happen: somebody may assume (incorrectly) that it's a small slice of life and that there are actually thousands of unseen people, or he could accept the reality of the photograph: that there were fifteen people in the street with signs. If someone makes the former assumption, that's his problem, because that's not what the photo shows. The photo isn't dissembling or lying, because it can't -- it's a piece of paper with ink sprinkled on it. The caption or accompanying headline might be, however, because it's a statement written by a person, and that person may have questionable ethics.

The ethical problem occurs when a photograph is substantively altered, but the person doing the manipulation attempts to retain its character as a photograph, and then either maintains that it is am image taken directly from a camera, or allows the viewer to believe that. (Belief is always the default, because the only reason people look at photographs is because of the long-standing implicit guarantee that this is a slice of reality. "This is something I haven't seen, and therefore I'm interested.") If a person substantively alters a photo and then claims or encourages a viewer to believe that it is a close representation of reality, then he's a fraud.

It's also necessary to note that there are all kinds of photographic representations of reality. In infra-red or other alternative light forms, or micro-photography, are objective, because what they present us is what the machine records; so is a long exposure. None of those forms attempt to deceive, they just are what they are.

The major problems with ethics comes in borderline cases. You have a blue sky but the news photographer deepens it to create a more dramatic image. Is that deceptive? Yes. You have a blue sky but the photographer deepens it because he's trying to make the scene as close to what he saw as he can. Is that deceptive? No. He's trying to get at the truth of the matter.

Unfortunately, in those borderline cases, you have to trust the photographer, and not all photographers are trustworthy. In fact, they may be pulled in two directions -- especially those photographers in competitive or free-lance positions who are working for news organizations. The two directions are: photographs that will satisfy the news desk's demand for drama ("If it bleeds, it leads") and the simultaneous demand that everything be "objectively true." The photographer's job may depend on *both* of these things at the same time, yet these things may be contradictory.

There's also an entirely different case, which doesn't really have much to do with photography. A photographer accepts a news position in which there are explicit rules governing the manipulation of photographs. Color must remain as recorded by the camera, the rules state. The photographer is free to change white balance before the shot, but is not allowed to adjust it in post-processing. The photographer then manipulates the color in post-processing to get closer to what he experienced. He is fired - not because the photo isn't more accurate, but because he violated the terms of his employment. Saying that the photo is "more accurate" is beside the point.   

As far as 1a and 1b are concerned, I have no problem with either. But if 1b were represented by the photographer as "a shot I took last night," then he's an unethical fraud. If, at the bottom of the photo, there's a tagline that says, "Composite representation of the X lighthouse with the Milky Way overhead" then there's no problem...

In the case of "nature photography," the problem is as stated above: If you represent a photo is "as taken," and it isn't, then you're a fraud. The problem with way, way too many nature photographers is that they commit "minor frauds" (in their minds) to get sales. Is this photo as represented? "Yes, except that I took out Coke can and cloned in some grass where it used to be." Saying that is fine, but how many photographers would admit to it, if they thought a sale was on the line?
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kencameron
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« Reply #2 on: May 29, 2013, 08:40:20 PM »
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Strongly argued. My reservation is around the question of whether all photographs in any way implicitly promise to be unmanipulated representations of reality. I am not sure if you hold that view, but your argument could be read that way. It applies persuasively to contexts in which an explicit promise is broken (competition rules, false statements about the removal of coke bottles) and also to contexts in which there is a strong argument that there is an implicit promise (photojournalism, reportage etc). But in most landscape photographs, there is in my view no implicit promise and I am not convinced that many sales would be lost if it were known that a coke bottle had been removed. IMO, many people buying landscape photographs want nature to be tidied up and know very well that they are buying an image designed to provide aesthetic pleasure or spiritual solace (or something like that) rather than a record of how things actually looked at a particular moment. What I am questioning here is your assertion that "belief is always the default". If the photographer makes a false claim, then of course ethical questions arise, but I don't believe any kind of default-based false claim is being made merely by cloning out a power line and putting the result on a gallery wall. Whether any kind of aesthetic offence is being committed is of course another question.
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Gordon Buck
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« Reply #3 on: May 29, 2013, 08:46:37 PM »
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"Rules?  In a knife fight?"

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Alan Klein
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« Reply #4 on: May 29, 2013, 09:00:01 PM »
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Don't do it if you have to lie about it later.
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leeonmaui
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« Reply #5 on: May 29, 2013, 10:20:54 PM »
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Aloha,

Jesus this site used to be pretty awesome. Now, not so much...

what is a fake photo? huh?
Whats in your camera bag? let me guess a camera...

Really...
I mean holy hell...
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mikeassk
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« Reply #6 on: May 29, 2013, 10:59:56 PM »
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This is a very good response.

In response to Patrick Schneider, he is an award winning photojournalist who willingly admitted to breaking the rules many times, and saying he got fired for "changing the brightness and hue of the sky in a photograph" is unfair to readers unless you explain the fact that he has done this multiple times, and these are rules that he broke at the publication he worked for.

Ethically this article is not really all there  Undecided
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David Sutton
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« Reply #7 on: May 29, 2013, 11:09:12 PM »
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During the age of the daguerreotype, roughly say, 1840 to 1860, the photograph was indeed seen as a sort of objective record of reality. Even then, many folks had trouble understanding how a photograph could depict the world apparently realistically, but without colour. B&W is highly abstracted, and this was many years before the abstract experiments of the impressionists or cubists. A whole industry evolved around exquisitely skilled hand tinting.

Cameras did not have the apparent depth of focus that of the human eye. From at least the 1850s there are many examples of photographs cut and pasted from up to 10 or 12 negatives in order to achieve "correct" DOF and exposure.

Thirdly, the emulsions in the 1800s were more sensitive to violet and blue light, resulting in the skies being blown to white. Photographers worked around this by painting in the skies or using stock images and blending them in.

In the three examples above the resulting photographs are total fabrications that give a more faithful rendering of the scene than would be possible with an un-retouched image. As Picasso said, describing the difficult relationship between reality and art, it is "a lie that tells the truth".

But the publication in 1869 of Henry Peach Robinson's "Pictorial Effect in Photography" really finally sank any notion that photography could be a mechanical, objective means of describing the world. The Victorians developed a highly sophisticated relationship to photography, both loving its seeming realistic rendering of the world, and celebrating its use for illusion.

The furore that resulted in photographic circles from the idea that an art photograph need not be factually correct as long as the illusion was convincing has continued to this day. In 1895 the author Robert Johnson, commenting on the nonsense being uttered both for and against the fabrication of images said “if the object of retouching be legitimate, and if it be carried out in a discreet and intelligent manner, the result should justify the process”.

By the way, when I use the word "fabrication", here's what I mean. For want of better words I use manipulated, retouched and fabricated, though the borderline between the categories isn't  definite. Taking a picture with any digital camera, if you look at what the camera's software does, you can say the picture is heavily manipulated. If you use your computer to remove a dust spot in that picture, that's retouching. And if you use the panorama mode in the camera to take a series of photographs and stitch them together, that's fabricated, because the camera couldn't do it with one shot.

My own opinion is that manipulating, retouching and fabricating are all vital from time time for producing good quality believable photographs, and we all sometimes push it too far.

There  are several difficulties with this approach. Often it is not only pushed too far, but right over a cliff. Though the worst excesses of HDR come to mind, I have no problem with that however, as it it obviously not purporting to be realistic. The real problem comes up in documentary work. In a sense most of our landscapes are "documentary" in that they are representations in some form or other of our external world, and if we remove whole elements in our images for the sake of the composition, then we may cause problems for future generations wanting to know what our world looked like. I think we have a responsibility to be careful about what we alter when dealing with changing the composition in post production.

On the other hand, we are often trying to do more than show merely what the sensor recorded, as that also has little correspondence to "reality". I feel strongly that all attempts to force human creativity into a box will just drive a wedge between the ideal and the practice.

Paul Strand, one of the founders of the "straight photography" style  argued that the essence of photography is "absolute unqualified objectivity", "without tricks of process or manipulation". However wasn't he quoted as saying in his later years that "I've always felt that you can do anything you want in photography if you can get away with it"?

Here's the difficulty. Photographs can be rendered with such detail and colour that sometimes people think they are looking at the real thing, a sort of window onto the world, and not an artefact. This has been both a great thing for photography and a total calamity. Brooks Jensen had a good podcast on this recently. It's not the scene, it's a representation of the scene. It's bits of dye or pigment on a piece of paper. The thing that it is is not the thing that we photographed. I think we need to regain the Victorians' sophisticated view of the art of photography.

When I'm asked about my photographs I remind people that they are records of what I saw. They are documenting my memory of events and how I felt about them. If a subject moves between the moment I saw it and the moment the shutter clicked, then I may well move it back afterwards. But what people will not see is for example, a landscape of Antarctica with a sky from Scotland. Ethics has little to do with this, it's just that I maintain that a representation of my memory and feelings is more "real" in every sense than a straight photograph. They have to be content with that or go to the place themselves and make their own images.
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trichardlin
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« Reply #8 on: May 30, 2013, 12:16:21 AM »
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Photography was considered a faithful representation of reality because of technological reasons.  Before Photoshop, it was quite difficult for mere mortals to manipulate a photograph without leaving footprints.  We are in a different world now.  With a couple of simple clicks of the mouse, we can remove unwanted features, or replace color easily, to name a few examples.  Therefore, I would argue that, outside of the world of photojournalism, one shouldn't view any photograph in the traditional sense.  Rather, photographs should be viewed as digital paintings.
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svein-frode
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« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2013, 02:43:48 AM »
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If one good thing came out of digital photography it is that most people have learned to distrust the objectivity of photographs. Sadly it is because photography is less trustworthy today than it was before the introduction of the digital darkroom.

I find it interesting though that most people I talk to about photography value unmanipulated photographs higher than the manipulated ones. People still value the truth more than they value Photoshop wizardry. Photoshop manipulation is to photography what playback is to music performances.  It devalues the experience.
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Svein-Frode, Arctic Norway

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« Reply #10 on: May 30, 2013, 08:09:41 AM »
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Is this 2003 or 2013?  Is this 1993 or 2013?  Is this 1963 or 2013? ...... This topic has been discussed for about as long as photography has been around.  It's boring. 

That said, the people who make the 'rules' for photo contests are, essentially, idiots.  What's allowed vs. what's not allowed is arbitrary, inconsistent and generally more than a little silly.

Any journalist worth his/her salt will still, to this day, say that journalistic photographs should not undergo anything more than very mild editing.  Cropping to fit, minor colour adjustments for inaccuracies in the capture medium and maybe minor dodging/burning.  That's it.  Adding/removing elements, compositing, HDR and the like aren't permissible. 

On the issue of journalistic integrity of photos, there's a pretty high profile case going on now that I'm surprised has not been mentioned in this discussion and that has got short shrift in another area of the forum.  That's the controversy over the current WPP winning photo that has undergone significant manipulation, and that was manipulated heavily from the version that was originally published to the version that was submitted to the competition.
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Ben Rubinstein
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« Reply #11 on: May 30, 2013, 11:14:44 AM »
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maybe minor dodging/burning.  

Was that ever a rule in the darkroom days? Really? Did Life magazine or Magnum have a rule that you can't burn and dodge your pictures? Why now is a camera's jpg engine's rendition suddenly the holy grail?

As for that controversy it was proven to be false. However it does show the lie of why there is any point of claiming that a photo can show a truth. Case in point I doubt it was published alongside the funeral of the pregnant woman, her husband and children from the other side of that conflict. As such however true a photographer may be, the objectivity or truth of the photo is only as true as how it is represented and what the bias is of whatever media is showing the image. One side of the media is right wing, the other left wing but I don't think I've ever heard of a truly objective centre. So what does it matter? The photo may be pure but the way it will be used is rarely so. Might as well not bother IMO, it's all lies, all agendas, it's why I don't bother with the news any more, nothing new under the sun...
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prairiewing
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« Reply #12 on: May 30, 2013, 11:29:04 AM »
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I find it interesting though that most people I talk to about photography value unmanipulated photographs higher than the manipulated ones. People still value the truth more than they value Photoshop wizardry.

I've found the same thing.  Also, in the public's eye "Photoshop" seems to be synonymous with manipulation.  I suspect that if you switch from Photoshop to Aperture or another program, manipulate all you want but simply state that you never use Photoshop, your credibility will rise.

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Pat Gerlach
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« Reply #13 on: May 30, 2013, 11:40:52 AM »
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Funny you should say that, I did some heightening of black point on a file for a client to show detail in a page with almost completely faded ink. Got a call from the client to ask if I'd used photoshop and could I show them how to do it in future. I mentioned I'd done it with a simple levels command in Capture One. They were so confused I hadn't used photoshop for this 'manipulation'. Cheesy
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Slobodan Blagojevic
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« Reply #14 on: May 30, 2013, 11:42:53 AM »
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... Why now is a camera's jpg engine's rendition suddenly the holy grail?...

Because the software algorithm behind it has no agenda?

Oh, wait... but of course... software is written by humans, and they do have agendas. So far, those humans expressed their preferences and biases toward jpeg profiles the likes of: Landscape, Portrait, Neutral, etc.

How far is the moment when, for instance, Canon starts shipping their cameras to journalists by adding, say, Pro-Palestinian jpeg profile? And Nikon responds by a Pro-Israelly one? I guess that the Canon one would have dark and gloomy rendering, with contrast, saturation and sharpness jacked up, and brightness down. The Nikon one would be bright and sunny, soft and rosy, I guess.
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Isaac
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« Reply #15 on: May 30, 2013, 11:51:46 AM »
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Also, in the public's eye "Photoshop" seems to be synonymous with manipulation.

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Merriam-Webster Definition of PHOTOSHOP: to alter (a digital image) with Photoshop software or other image-editing software especially in a way that distorts reality (as for deliberately deceptive purposes)
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Isaac
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« Reply #16 on: May 30, 2013, 12:00:15 PM »
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That's the controversy over the current WPP winning photo that has undergone significant manipulation, and that was manipulated heavily from the version that was originally published to the version that was submitted to the competition.

As for that controversy it was proven to be false.


"It is clear that the published photo was retouched with respect to both global and local color and tone. Beyond this, however, we find no evidence of significant photo manipulation or compositing."

Digital photography experts confirm the integrity of Paul Hansen’s image files
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Ben Rubinstein
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« Reply #17 on: May 30, 2013, 12:07:18 PM »
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Yeah well skies don't get that way by themselves methinks Cheesy

I still would be interested whether the famous PJ photos from the film era had 'minimal dodging and burning' to them.
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« Reply #18 on: May 30, 2013, 12:13:41 PM »
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Was that ever a rule in the darkroom days? Really? Did Life magazine or Magnum have a rule that you can't burn and dodge your pictures? Why now is a camera's jpg engine's rendition suddenly the holy grail?

That's why I said 'maybe'.  And who said the in camera JPEG was the Holy Grail?

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As for that controversy it was proven to be false. However it does show the lie of why there is any point of claiming that a photo can show a truth. Case in point I doubt it was published alongside the funeral of the pregnant woman, her husband and children from the other side of that conflict. As such however true a photographer may be, the objectivity or truth of the photo is only as true as how it is represented and what the bias is of whatever media is showing the image. One side of the media is right wing, the other left wing but I don't think I've ever heard of a truly objective centre. So what does it matter? The photo may be pure but the way it will be used is rarely so. Might as well not bother IMO, it's all lies, all agendas, it's why I don't bother with the news any more, nothing new under the sun...

You're talking about the WPP issue?  Proven to be false?  Where?  There's a fair bit of opinion being tossed around for both sides but I haven't seen anything that said the claims of manipulation have been 100% refuted.  The fact is the two images are different.  The one originally published and the one submitted for WPP.  WRT compositing, the photographer has admitted to processing the RAW file 3 different ways then combining the three in HDR software.  That's compositing.  It's somewhat alarming that a photographer of this repute wouldn't understand that what he did is of zero benefit and that he'd have achieved the same thing by tonemapping the single RAW file in HDR software, but that's a different issue.
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Isaac
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« Reply #19 on: May 30, 2013, 12:17:18 PM »
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You're talking about the WPP issue?  Proven to be false?  Where?

"It is clear that the published photo was retouched with respect to both global and local color and tone. Beyond this, however, we find no evidence of significant photo manipulation or compositing."

Digital photography experts confirm the integrity of Paul Hansen’s image files
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