Photography Ethics and Photoshop

Are You a Photographer or a "Digital" Photographer?

Photography Ethics

Is using Photoshop really cheating when it comes to photography ethics?

I keep coming across people accusing and being accused of "cheating" an image by using the wonders of Adobe Photoshop. That their work isn’t really photography at all, but another form of art altogether.

First of all, my opinion is "so what"? What does it really matter how the artist or photographer got to the finished image?

  • As long as it is thought provoking and pleasing to the eye
  • As long as it can be used in any necessary context for publication if so desired
  • Do we really need to know how and/or why it was done?

Sure, a hard-core, original style photographer would say that the true image should be made at the time of capture. As the event happens and that any later enhancements are misleading to the end viewer. To that I say "poppycock"!

For me, the only true and real photography is that of photojournalism. As I am sure you will agree, photojournalism should not and must not be tampered with for monetary gain or to purposely mislead the viewer. Although it sometimes does right?!?!

True Photojournalism

Some of the most thought provoking photo-journalistic images have stayed in my mind since I was at primary school. One image that springs to mind is that of a young, naked Vietnamese girl. Taken just after having been napalmed during the war, running down a road...

Photography Ethics

There would be no reason and no point to further enhance this image. It tells its own horrific story as it is.

When it comes to photographs as an art form, I guess photographers have been "misleading" people for decades. Since the first "Daguerreotypes" were being made perhaps. The famous photo of the Cottingley Fairies held true for years until being finally exposed as a fake. Does it matter that it was a fake? The authors have created one of the most famous images and talked about legends for nearly a century. I am sure that it will be discussed for centuries more no doubt!

What about when an interior photographer like myself moves items of furniture in a house. Or adds a bowl of fruit to a room to enhance the image? How about when we add make up to a model before a shoot or re-arrange a wedding dress? None of these images tell the story of a scene as it was when we arrived at it. All the alterations were made manually to make the image more pleasing.

Fake it 'til you make it!

So what is the difference between doing it before the shoot at the scene, or after the shoot in Photoshop? What is the difference between pulling an obtrusive branch out of your way for that perfect landscape or simply removing it later on your PC? Why do wedding photographers carry clothes pegs to pin back the dress for some formal shots? Is that cheating?

I am sure also, that when Turner or Constable made their beautiful paintings, maybe

  • Another ship was added here
  • An annoying, unwanted bush was removed there

We'll never know. Although, it has been suggested that the "Masters" used optics to project the model’s images onto their canvasses when painting "The Renaissance". This was highlighted when someone pointed out that everyone including the animals, were left-handed! Is this cheating?

My whole point to this discussion is this. Each person who picks up and uses a camera, digital or film, has their own individual interpretation of what makes a good photograph. "Photoshopped" or not! In the same regard, each individual "viewer" that sees these images, has their own interpretation of why they like or dislike the finished product.

Exciting times despite photography ethics being occasionally overlooked

For me, this is what makes photography so unique and exciting, especially in this new digital era. There are so many combinations, techniques and tools we have at our disposal. The bountiful supply of and possibilities for different and beautiful images is endless. If it weren’t for the phrase "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", and if we all saw things in the same way, the world would be a very dull and boring place.

When it comes to photography, or any other art form come to that, do what makes you happy and proud of what you have achieved, however you got there!

Nick Stubbs

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