The ethics of touching up photos

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                                             Unedited Image                                            

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Edited Image

Editing photographs has become a very common norm. Almost every other photographer is producing pictures that have been touched up in one way or the other: whether in the lighting, or in the effects and filters, or in cleaning up any elements that are found “unwanted”, and even chopping up the subject in a way that makes it look aesthetically clean. But what are the ethics of doing this? Are we telling authentic and true stories when we put up an image as a representation of reality, except that we doctor it in the process?

Newsworthy photography has indeed moved over, and now, everyone is a photographer. Whether with a mobile phone or a full-fledged DSLR range, the average commoner now wields the camera with aplomb, making it absolutely easy to come out with pictures regularly. And yet, these photographs don’t always satisfy the photographer’s interests – which leads to playing with effects, cleaning up of the images and the presentation of an image that looks wholly different from what the original was. Perhaps this is one of the main motivations why people say that no one looks as good as their Facebook photos, and no one looks as bad as their Driving License photos.

Doctored photographs have a history of being published and projected across many media. Reputable organizations do it for their brand campaigns. Media houses project them on their magazine covers – and now, social media houses doctored images for all the attention one can garner. In stock photography, the use of effects, filters and doctoring techniques come in handy to create a cutting edge effect.

The core ethical question though, is, how authentic are we, in the images that we put out, when we do this?

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Unedited Image

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Edited Image

In stock photography, the curation is of a range of images that include all kinds of themes and subjects. It is fully possible that there may be more than one photographer on the stock platform, who puts out a photograph of the same or a similar subject. For instance, any stock photography platform will show you scores of results for the Taj Mahal or the Pyramids of Egypt. And yet, your eye will be drawn to the ones that are more exotic and aesthetically shot – most times, these shots are a result of some degree of touching up.

Photographs are used to help deliver a story. The way a picture appears or is put together is essentially a reflection of the story it seeks to tell. The key is to remain authentic and steadfast in delivering the true story, without compromising on the quintessence of the subject and what it stands for. Playing around with effects, filters and cleaning up a photograph is not wrong – do so by all means. But stay true to the subject that made your photograph what it is.

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