Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Photography Ethics

Photography ethics

1. Define Ethics

2. Photographic manipulation is ethical

1. In some instances it is more real

2. Artistic (photography is only another art form)

3. Better for the bottom line, (ethics is the accepted policies of the professional public)

1. Creates emotional appeal

4. Unethical claim is a fallacy. Any media is not a true representation, nor will it ever be.

3. Photographic manipulation is unethical

1. Deceit is unethical among most people

2. Bad for the bottom line (discredits papers, lose trust of readers)

Photo manipulation is a controversial documentation/art method that has been circulating ever since the invention of the camera in the early 1800’s. Photo manipulation is the process of using traditional means such as the dark room, and more modern means such as PhotoShop to alter an image or video in any way. As developments in technology increase exponentially, it has become important for organizations and professionals to establish ethical boundaries—especially when the playing field is the news media.

Where are these boundaries? The issue is very heated and, generally, informed individuals have widely differing opinions on the matter. Most will come to the point that photo manipulation is acceptable only in certain instances.

A definition of ethics is worthy of noting: “the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture” (Dictionary.com). In the corporate world, photo manipulation usually yields a better bottom line. If an enhanced and exciting photo has greater attention-getting value than a dull shot, obviously, newspaper agencies and news broadcasters will swing towards the former. Many executives believe the general public is duly informed and can tell when a photo is manipulated. They base their decisions on the fact that viewers want to be wooed or shocked. In order to show an attractive cover, Newsweek plastered a smiling head of Martha Stewart on a thin body coming through yellow curtains. The photo was supposed to represent Martha’s imminent release from prison. Unfortunately, the photo brought heavy criticism against Newsweek for ethics in photo manipulation. A caption read “Photo illustration by Michael Elins ... head shot by Marc Bryan-Brown" (http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/farid/research/digitaltampering/). In defense, Newsweek claimed the photo was an illustration, just as the caption read (http://www.nppa.org/news_and_events/news/2005/03/newsweek.html). Was the image particularly unethical? In a world where consumers are constantly bombarded by modified images, consumers and executives have become increasingly more accepting of these images. Thus, returning to the definition of ethics, photo manipulation in many instances is an ethical procedure, because it is widely “recognized” among the American culture.

Photo manipulation is often necessary to correct mistakes captured by the camera. The human eye can record light in a “ten-million-to-one range” while photography can only capture light in a “hundred-to-one brightness range” (Brower) http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/98may/photo.htm. Because of this problem, one cannot rely wholly upon a single image for an accurate view of reality. Certain areas of a photograph may also lack in color or contrast or even be distorted by wide-angle or telephoto lenses. Manipulation can thus be a means to bring a photograph closer to reality.

Jerry Lodriguss, an Astronomical Photographer, said, “The fundamental fact that we usually forget is that when we take a picture we do not make a perfectly objective recording of reality. What we make is an interpretation of reality” (http://www.astropix.com/HTML/J_DIGIT/ETHICS.HTM). Those who criticize photo manipulation on the grounds that it produces fictional images, must understand that there has yet to be invented a type of media that can portray absolute reality. On that same token, even the way our eyes view the world differ from person to person. Therefore, a certain characteristic like the color green, which is viewed as reality to one individual, may be slightly different to another.

On the converse side of this issue, photo manipulation in many cases, is deceitful. American culture accepts lying as unethical. The National Press Photographers Association states simply, “As journalists we believe the guiding principle of our profession is accuracy; therefore, we believe it is wrong to alter the content of a photograph in any way that deceives the public” (http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/digitalethics.html).

Those who use photo manipulation in advertising and in the news often have personal agendas in mind. It is in their best interest to hide or distort truth in order to accomplish such goals as increased subscription, viewer ship or product sales. One example is when CBS used a real-time image modification system to display the CBS logo all over New York City, often in place of the NBC logo (http://www.nodeception.com/articles/pixel2.jsp). This kind of manipulation presents a reality that is not true for an actual visitor to Manhattan.

Unethical photo manipulation can cause dangerous repercussions. Because technology has allowed photo manipulation to become seemingly realistic, leaders in government and corporate positions can make highly influential or drastic decisions based on falsified information. In an article by Ivan Amato, Professor James Currie was quoted: “‘Every office you go into at the Pentagon has CNN on.’” Amato went further, “And that means, he says, that a government, terrorist or advocacy group could set geopolitical events in motion on the strength of a few hours’ worth of credibility achieved by distributing a snippet of well-doctored video” (http://www.nodeception.com/articles/pixel2.jsp).

Photo manipulation is unethical because it eventually leads to a loss in credibility. Photojournalist Allan Detrich resigned after being investigated for photo manipulation in his work for the Blade. He had added or deleted certain parts of 79 photos that year. Detrich’s credibility plummeted, even though much of his work had received awards for exceptional photojournalism (http://www.pdnonline.com/pdn/newswire/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=1003571795). Photo manipulation, for whatever the intent, can be very costly to an organization’s credibility.

Farid, Henry (2008). Photo Tampering Throughout History. Retrieved April 9, 2008, from http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/farid/research/digitaltampering/.

National Press Photographers Association (March 9, 2005). NPPA Calls Newsweek's Martha Stewart Cover “A Major Ethical Breach.” Retrieved April 9, 2008, from


Brower, Kenneth (May 1998). Photography in the age of falsification. The Atlantic Monthly. Retrieved April 8, 2008, from http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/98may/photo.htm.

Lodriguss, Jerrry. Catching the light: ethics of digital manipulation. Retrieved April 8, 2008, from http://www.astropix.com/HTML/J_DIGIT/ETHICS.HTM.

National Press Photographers Association (1991). Digital Manipulation Code of Ethics. Retrieved April 9, 2008, from http://www.nppa.org/professional_development/business_practices/digitalethics.html.

Blade Editor: Detrich Submitted 79 Altered Photos This Year

Amato, Ivan (August 2000). Lying with Pixels

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