Ethical Considerations When Editing Photos

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  • #51998
    Joshua Ong
    Participant

    Recently, I’ve been thinking of the ethical considerations when editing or processing photos. I’m not sure if this topic has already been discussed in a previous thread.

    Often when photographers edit pictures with processing softwares like Photoshop and GIMP, they either add or remove certain distracting elements to create aesthetically-looking pictures. Sunlight could be added, whilst power or telephone poles and lines could be removed. However, I have often wondered if these edits could potentially give viewers a false impression or misrepresentation of the actual subjects captured by the photographer’s DSLR. If so, this may lead to negligence on the part of the photographer/editor for misleading/deceptive conduct. To avoid such claims, the photographer could include in a photo caption a disclaimer or note stating that the photo has been edited. Or, viewers may always assume photos are processed unless told otherwise.

    I don’t have anything against photo-editing software, especially since they are excellent tools for converting dull original pictures into beautiful masterpieces. As a matter of fact, I have used GIMP to remove lens flares and wires of Christmas lights from photos for enhancement purposes. However, as Christians, I believe we should be truthful in all matters of conduct and communication, including the pictures we capture and publish. Perhaps photos could be edited in a way that preserves the originality of the subject, whether it’s a landscape or a flower.

    Just thought of sharing some thoughts/opinions on the ethicality of editing photos. I wonder if anyone has had the same thoughts on this matter.

    #52028
    Frazer Family
    Participant

    Hey @joshua_ong! This is a good topic for discussion!

    I’m not sure if this topic has already been discussed in a previous thread.

    Something similar, though not quite the same, was addressed on this thread.
    I especially appreciated @dfrazer’s reply to that thread, which in part addresses this same issue of integrity.

    #52030
    Joshua Ong
    Participant

    Hey @joshua_ong! This is a good topic for discussion!

    Thanks @frazer-family.

    Something similar, though not quite the same, was addressed on this thread.

    I especially appreciated @dfrazer’s reply to that thread, which in part addresses this same issue of integrity.

    Thanks for the reference. That was a really interesting discussion on shooting pictures for God’s glory.

    Would love the input from others on photo-processing ethics.

    #52031
    Logan Lamar
    Participant

    @joshua_ong, I think the answer is that it all depends on your genre and the purpose of your photo.

    If I am shooting for a newspaper or an event, I really don’t want to be doing a lot of Photoshop work at all.
    For instance, I don’t know how many of you have been watching the news lately, but let’s say I visited the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest Zone in Seattle (otherwise known as CHOP or CHAZ) and I took some photos there. I then grabbed a photo of President Trump and made it look like he visited the area. After this, I send my photo to a local newspaper and they use it for a headline.
    That is obviously deceptive and wrong. The purpose of this particular genre of photography is to show a specific event that actually occurred… and if it never did, I’m lying.

    I think in other genres though, we have a lot more wiggle room.

    If I am shooting a wedding–say I’m capturing the first kiss at the altar—and Uncle Ernie’s head is behind the bride’s shoulder and it’s distracting from the moment and the feeling I am trying to convey with the image, I have no problems erasing his head from the image. Had I thought of it and had I time in the moment, I could have asked him to move out of the shot without a problem and he would have gladly obliged.
    I think the key is that I’m not there at the wedding to be a security camera. I am there as an artist to capture a particular feeling or moment. Uncle Ernie’s head looking off into the distance isn’t adding to the feeling I am trying to capture—so out it goes.

    I’d say the same goes—to some degree—to editing portraits.
    While I’m editing portraits, I might sharpen and brighten the eyes up a little bit to draw the viewer’s eye into the subject’s eye, and I might do some blemish removal and skin softening. I might also leave my lens correction turned off as sometimes it can look more flattering.
    I don’t think this is necessarily deceptive or wrong. I’m trying to capture a particular person, and I want them to look nice. This is the same reason why we watch our angles and our lens choice when shooting portraits. I don’t know if you’ve ever shot someone’s face with an ultra wide angle lens, but it looks really really bad (the nose looks huge, and it’s all distorted, and it looks just bad).
    I would start to have some questions though if I began to dramatically sculpt that face into something it’s not: say, I raised the cheekbones and slimmed down the cheeks. Now I’m no longer capturing a person, but I’m making my own. I’d start to ask some questions at that point (like what purpose will this image serve?). If I were trying to replicate a painting like the Mona Lisa, I think we’d be okay. If I weren’t, I think I would check myself for impure motives.

    If I am shooting landscapes, I don’t have many problems editing certain things out or perhaps replacing a sky. I had to shoot a lighthouse, and there was a big clump of grass in front of the light. It was distracting, it wasn’t adding to the image, so out it went. I could have walked over and clipped the grass myself as I was taking the image, but I didn’t think of it at the time.
    Again, the purpose of the image is not to send the photo to the Lighthouse Society to confirm that they indeed mowed their lawn. It’s to capture a feeling and this falls well within the range of artistic expression. If I were painting a picture, I wouldn’t put the grass there. So I’ll remove it when I process my picture.

    Sometimes I’ll process the clouds in an image a lot to make it look more stormy or more calm. It all depends on what I’m trying to achieve. I also think that most people these days will assume that a professional photographer’s image has been edited to some degree.

    Of course, you can always go to far, and so I like to keep my images looking fairly realistic. However, I don’t think a disclaimer is necessary in most cases.

    Hope this helps a little!

    Logan


    @loganlamar

    #52032
    Joshua Ong
    Participant

    @loganlamar, thanks for your opinion.

    the feeling I am trying to convey with the image

    capture a particular feeling or moment

    I guess if the motive for taking a picture is to capture the feeling or emotion in a particular scene, editing out distractions or adding certain effects for enhancement would be fine.

    I like to keep my images looking fairly realistic.

    I think this is a good point to keep in mind when editing pictures.

    Thanks again for your helpful response.

    #52036
    Esther Marie
    Participant

    Hey @joshua_ong

    This is a topic I gave some thought to, when I started editing a little while ago. I do mostly wildlife/nature photography, so I’m not thinking this applies as much to portrait photography, but anyway here are my thoughts!

    One thing I aim for when I’m editing is to have the photo leave the editing process looking exactly as the scene looked to me in real life. For example, you mentioned adding sunlight, and in most cases the sunlight is there. The camera just doesn’t always capture it. The creativity comes in where everyone has their different option on how a scene look to them. Or, it could depend the purpose of the photo.

    Another thing I like to keep in mind, is if you have limitations when editing, you might think twice when composing a shot. Looking back on a photo, if there is a branch in the way I didn’t notice, I could remove it or go out and attempt to take the same photo again, this time better. Then again, there is always those exceptions, you know! I’ve always had trouble composing and seeing all the distractions when I out in the field, so it has helped me to know I’m going to be harder on myself.

    I would just say honesty is the most important part, and everyone has their standards and what they feel comfortable with.

    the feeling I am trying to convey with the image,

    I really like this point, @loganlamar! I hadn’t thought of it that way!

    #52038
    Joshua Ong
    Participant

    Hi @esther,

    Thanks for your thoughts.

    One thing I aim for when I’m editing is to have the photo leave the editing process looking exactly as the scene looked to me in real life.

    I like your point on preserving the originality of the scene. Pictures would look more “real” as opposed to “ideal.”

    I’ve always had trouble composing and seeing all the distractions when I out in the field

    Composition does take time. I guess wildlife photography offers limited time for photographers (e.g. split-second shots for birds that could quickly fly away). Seems to be a trade-off photographers must make…

    I would just say honesty is the most important part, and everyone has their standards and what they feel comfortable with.

    I agree!

    #52358
    James Staddon
    Keymaster

    Great questions, and great conversation. I do feel it has to do with the purpose of the photo. My landscape photos’ purpose is to inspire. The telephone wire distracts from the inspirational purpose of the photo, so I remove it. Saturating the colors in the sunset helps emphasize the inspirational purpose of the photo, so I saturate them. True, as Christians, we have a moral obligation to be truthful, but the purpose of me creating a landscape photo for art is not to document where the telephone poles are, or exactly what hue the colors of sunset were.

    #52426
    Frazer Family
    Participant

    it all depends on your genre and the purpose of your photo.

    Absolutely. Otherwise, there would be no room for fancy post-processing work such as photoshopping in Christian photography, like this instructional video by @jamesstaddon, for example. He had an excellent and thoroughly honest reason to create a “real-looking” image of something that never actually happened.

    #52461
    Joshua Ong
    Participant

    Thanks everyone for your thoughts on this matter.

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