In today’s world of technology, almost anything is possible with digital photography thanks to tools like Photoshop and other photo editing programs. Of course, this brings other questions as well. Is photo manipulation ethical? How much is too much? When do people cross the line between just enhancing an image and turning the picture into something completely fake? This is a question that all digital photographers must face at some point in their life. After all, almost anyone will use photo editing to some level.
Most pros agree that enhancing photos is perfectly acceptable. This is mainly because any digital camera, no matter how expensive it was, will have limitations. Digital image sensors aren’t able to capture the full spectrum of contrast in a real-life scenario. That can affect the contrast and brightness of an image.
Additionally, even if you carefully meter your pictures, there is still a good chance that the color can be somewhat off. That means you need to use photo editing to enhance the picture so that it will look the best it possibly can. The tools you can use to enhance, and that aren’t considered unethical by most people include:
If you talk to almost any photographer, no matter what, they will enhance their images to some degree through color and contrast correction. This was considered the norm even before digital photography, and hardly anyone would consider it cheating in any way.
The Gray Areas
Once you move beyond basic enhancements to heavier photo manipulation, you will start getting into gray areas so to speak. Some of these types of edits could be considered “cheating” to some degree depending on who you talk to about them. In your own photography, it is a decision you will have to make for yourself. Would you consider editing things out of your image to make it more perfect? Some examples of gray areas may include:
- Taking out a piece of trash on the ground you didn’t notice when framing the photo.
- Removing power lines that are blocking part of the view.
- Enhancing colors in certain portions of the image, like the sky or water.
- Taking out the car that rounded the curve at the worst possible moment.
There are varying opinions about whether or not this is ethical treatment of photography, so you will have to make the determination yourself.
If you take a landscape photo and completely change elements in it, then you can hardly call it a “true” image, and this is the area that almost all photographers consider unethical.
For example, if you took a picture of a beautiful mountain meadow and never saw a moose in it, you really shouldn’t use Photoshop to add the animal in or take it out. Your picture is no longer true to life and you are essentially “cheating” to get an image that other photographers wait hours, days, or even weeks to capture. There are examples of heavily manipulated images on the newsstands almost every day.
There is an ethics code behind digital photography, especially when you take landscapes. Some photo editing is not considered unethical at all. In fact, you are expected to color correct your images so that they look their best. There are also some areas that fall in limbo and force each individual photographer to make their own moral decision. Of course, there are also some types of manipulation that are just downright unethical. If you are taking landscape photography, the best thing to do is strive to get the best image in the first place so that you don’t have to do that much through photo editing software.
Article by Michael Greene
Michael Greene is a professional landscape photographer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. Take a tour of his professional collection of landscape and travel photography from the Pacific Coast to the East Coast at WildMoments.net.