Tag Archives: Ethics

Perfect pictures, perfect lies

Thoughts of the past • Perfect pictures, perfect lies

• Thoughts of the past •
Beauty shines through in a persons character.

The inner person…

A portrait should capture something special about the person. That special thing comes out in many ways. A different way in everyone. It’s always there. You cannot edit it in. But you can sure edit it out. Perfect lies are created when your edits make a deception of the original picture.

Perfect pictures

I love working with older people. Their characters are full and their faces tell you a lot about that inner person. Through their face they shine out as people who have experience and depth. That complements the story they tell you in words. At a recent shoot I was lucky enough to meet a large number of veterans.

We talked and I made photos of them. It was a lunch held in their honour. Many of them talked about what they did in the war. There was pride in the service they did. They talked less about what happened to them. I sensed a deep sense of melancholy in some of the words I heard. It was clear that these people remembered much more than they told.

Beautiful people are much more than just lovely faces. In our modern culture we shy away from imperfection. Every magazine shouts about the perfect in something. Faces, homes, products and many more things show some aspect of the perfect. Other media are the same.

In the faces of these veterans I saw perfection of a different kind. A completeness that comes with age. It is not the wrinkles or the blemishes. Those are surface things. It is about the roundness of experience, the depth of feeling and an acceptance of the world.

The images I made of these lovely people will not be found in magazines. They were not perfect pictures. These beautiful people showed the many imperfections we all know come with age. The point is, to me, that makes them all the more beautiful and interesting.

Perfect lies

The modern media that sell perfection create a world of perfect lies. The beauty in a person is swapped out for the false beauty made in Photo editor applications. My gentle adventure at the veterans lunch is the opposite of the smooth perfection found in the media today.

I have nothing against skilled editing. Photography today demands precise editing. Perhaps to a greater degree than in the past. To develop a photograph always involved a certain amount of editing. Today, photo editors give us much more editing power than the people using chemical films had. It is this power that allows the creation of perfect lies.

It is a shame that the power of photo editors has taken the art to beyond the true story of the photograph. I use edits in my photography. It is an important way to bring out the best in an image in post processing. However, I draw the line at creating a fiction. For me everyone has a beauty that can be shown in some way or another. You don’t need to create a fiction to bring that out. Perfect lies are told by the creation of a deceptive fiction by editing.

In the video below we can see this fiction emerging with every stroke of the brush. I question the validity of such work. It is not photography. It raises questions about how the media manipulate our view of women in particular. And other aspects of our everyday lives are affected too.

I know there are arguments for and against extreme edits. In some cases they create art. But the perfect lies are there when there is deliberate deception. Once a picture tells a story to deceive with intent, actual damage can be done. Modern media would have young people believe that gaunt is good. So many women hate their own bodies because they do not fit the size zero myth. Those same women have beauty of their own. They have had it all along. It is just taken away from them. It is flushed away by unreasonable expectations and the perfect lies of modern photo editing. That is a very sad thing.

How perfect lies are created

In the video below is an extreme make-over sequence. While it shows great skill, it tells a story that is a clear deception. It is important not blame people for this work. There is no conspiracy. This work is a cultural mindset. It is one we need to be aware of in our own photography. For me it is one I would like us to leave behind.

asdesigns1

If you are interested in some other extreme makeover videos there are plenty. YouTube has pages of them. Here is a sample of perfect lies in the making… PhotoShop extreme makeover videos.

Things in photography that are not true – photography lies

Photography lies – photos may not show ‘truth’

Sometimes photos pretend to be something that in reality they are not. There may be no lies involved, but the subject can be misrepresented. In fact, there are many ways that photos can be used to show something different from reality.

Photographs – proof in evidence, or photography lies?

‘Photographic evidence’ is not automatic proof. Photography lies come in many forms. Photos do not even need to be edited. Pictures can be convincing in lots of ways. We all know a short person can be photographed to look tall. And… well, just look at a few of these: Photographic illusions on Google images Photography lies on Google :: External link - opens new tab/page. Mistakes, edits and theft can all be used to spoil or lose photo-evidence. The art of illusion can also turn one thing into another in a photograph. Even digital forensics cannot detect a good illusion. Photography may be useful evidence, but it is not 100% reliable. On top of that interpretation of an image leaves us with open questions about what we see. Often we can see photography lies but our eyes deceive us. We simply do not notice them.

Photo fraud

We cannot pretend photographic fraud is a myth. Journalists have been dismissed for simple photographic edits when only slight or composition changes were at stake. There are many examples of photography lies in journalism. We recognise there are situations when manipulation costs the trust of the viewer. Nevertheless it still happens. Even top level journalists have perpetuated photography lies.

Fine line between photography lies and truths

In my view fashion magazines have frequently crossed that line using photography lies. This can particularly be seen with the obvious and routine body manipulations of celebs. photogs often remove the odd spot, wrinkle or blemish for aesthetic reasons. We may have taken a step further. However, most of us are not selling something. The extent to which misleading edits are used in the fashion and lifestyle industry is shocking. They are often easily detected. Look at these… Photoshop disasters on Google Images  Photography lies :: Photoshop disasters on Google Images ::External link - opens new tab/page. Consider these too…10 worst Photoshop disasters  Photography lies :: 10 worst Photoshop disasters :: External link - opens new tab/page; and some here too: Niaangel.blogspot Photoshop Disasters  Photography lies :: Photoshop disasters :: External link - opens new tab/page. The Internet is replete with photoshop disasters. These are just the ones that are the obvious manipulations. How many photography lies that go un-spotted will probably never be known.

Obviously past the limit…

Some of the photos we see in magazines, adverts and on TV are nothing short of criminal. In the UK the public is slowly becoming aware of this. Questions are being raised about the ethics of advert manipulation. And, more important, questions are being asked about the effects on unsuspecting or vulnerable people. Should we make celebrities thinner in photos? Should young, impressionable people see these things? Would there be less anorexia in the teen population if such editing did not happen? These are not just ethical issues. They are questions about our social direction too.

Actually the camera does lie – routinely

Many starters in photography do not realise the extent to which a camera distorts reality. This is not manipulation – it is physics. The lens which most closely approximates to the human eye is the 50mm prime. However, it is still likely to induce barrel distortions, chromatic aberrations, and random softness or distortion at the periphery of the picture.

Other lenses, most notably the fish-eye lens, are noted for distortions which are sort-after. All lenses have their special character. So do all digital image sensors. The contrast in a scene are reduced compared to the human eye too. In general, cameras don’t see exactly as we do. All sorts of aspects of a photograph differ from reality.

Lancaster Bomber fish-eye shot

• Lancaster Bomber fish-eye shot •

The fish-eye lens is noted for its ability to distort a scene.

Click image to view large.
• Lancaster Bomber fish-eye shot • By Netkonnexion on Flickr External link - opens new tab/page

Cheating? Me?

I am a member of two camera clubs. I have seen my share of new members leaving the club when they realise people have ‘cheated’ in post production. Sky’s blued, contrasts deepened; and horrors, things cloned out. Or worse, things pasted in. Unspeakable!!!

Getting on a high horse about photography lies like these are really the tantrums of a diva. On questioning one such self-righteous person, they were adamant that they did no processing and they never would. Yet, they used *.jpg images. These are notorious for the messing around done by the on-board processors in-camera. These edits are done routinely on auto-settings. This is because most entry-level photogs and snappers do not normally do their own digital developing.

As a result there are many file changes made before you see the image. Most *.jpg files have had auto processing to blue the skies, brighten the image by about 50 points, artificially enhance contrast and remove distortions of various kinds. Digital noise is pretty routinely removed too. Certain colour enhancements and changes are not unusual. There is no standard for these. The manufactures work out what they think will look best. When they get credible results they produce a new sensor/camera combination. If that is what you want to go with – great. But, don’t try and kid anyone you have an unprocessed picture. Straight out of camera (SOOC) it may be, unprocessed it is not. Are these things photography lies?

As they are not intended to mislead – no. They are not photography lies. The photographer and camera maker are both intent on something close to what the eye can see. These ‘corrections’ are really an attempt to see the camera reproduce a more real picture. If you use a RAW format image file in your capture then you will have to make similar changes. Next you will produce your *.jpg file. The benefit of RAW is you can gain more control over the outcome. You can do what the manufacturer cannot. You can make the image how you saw it in your minds eye.

What is the nature of a photograph?

In the early 1980’s I knew a man who worked ina big London advertising agencies. As a trainee in their photographic department he saw many interesting photographic processes. One, widely used today in Photoshop, was under development for a big UK airline. Money in the hundreds of thousands of pounds was being spent developing soft-edging for aeroplanes. This allowed the image to be placed in almost any sky. They were using chemical films then. The process would allow them to easily images with aircraft as they thought right for travel articles.

Is this misleading? We all know aircraft fly. What does it matter the sort of sky we see them in? The right sort of aircraft and sky can convince people they are going to exotic or sunny places. It’s a sales point. This lifestyle message comes over in a lot of much of our literature. It could be seen as manipulating how a place is viewed. Messages like this impact on buying decisions.

Camera club members, general photographers and artists routinely and robustly defend their right to edit images. This sometimes results in an image that is nothing like the original capture. Editing, even ‘processing’ is in itself an artistic pursuit. Actually, this leads us to consider the very nature of a photographic image. Clearly it is not true Record of reality. Neither is a photograph a definitive reflection of reality. Every photograph is a personal interpretation of a scene. Every one is to some extent changed by the camera equipment, the processing, and the settings. Even the way the camera was held or mounted has an impact.

In general terms edits are not about creation of photography lies. There are elements of the capture and camera mechanism that affects the result. There are inputs that are interpretation and some that are pure art.

Photography is an art and a science. We should recognise that every image, to a lesser or greater extent, changes the reality of the scene depicted. What we appreciate about an image should not be about the process. It should be about the result. Is it a great image? Does it convey the right message or impression?

Only historians of photography will be interested in the photo-production processes in the future. Everyone else will consider the image for its merit.

So, are there really photography lies?

Yes, pure and simple.

There are photo-white lies. These may be images deliberately constructed to convey particular meaning or a message. They may be real lies. They are however not setting out to mislead in malicious way. They are about artistic interpretation and technique. They will also be about the state of camera and lens technology.

Hard deceptions are where a photograph has been set up to convey a deliberate falsehood. Some of the ‘Black-hat lies’ are easy to spot. Fraud is obvious. Deliberate manipulation with intent to mislead and misleading images to fool people about their lifestyle choices are also black-hat lies. They exist and they are damaging and sometimes criminal.

Judging is not the issue

I am not judging anyone here. There are cases where the public have been misled. There are borderline issues and blatant criminality. On the other hand we should concede an important point. Artists through the ages have sought to use contemporary tools to express themselves. The use of post-processing and editing applications is no different. It’s a reality we are not going to change. I think we should live with it and enjoy it.

What we must not do is get purist about ‘straight-out-of-camera’ as if it is something virginal and untouched. Be proud, move on.

Equally we must not attempt to mislead people. As photographers we must hold up our hands and be realistic. Changes, processing, manipulations and deliberate distortions are here, they always have been. We just need to acknowledge that fact, rejoice in it and be honest.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

Of vignetting, ethics and bird song!

Three new articles on Photokonnexion…

We have published two new articles in our Photographic Glossary: “Definition: Vignette; Vignetting” is a great article providing insight into the vignette. There is a second article and the matter of modern bird-song too. Read on…

Vignetting

The newest article in the Photographic Glossary takes an in-depth look at the vignetting – the slightly dark border you find on the edge of some pictures. Did you know you can create it yourself? We would be interested in your comments below about this article.
Definition: Vignette; Vignetting

Photography – right and wrong

We have also published on a slightly more controversial subject, the rights and wrongs of certain types of photographic endeavour. The article is looking at the issues, not providing any answers. There are lots of things that could be added. Have you got any issues you can raise? We would be very interested in your thoughts. We may even write them up in the article. Let us know what you think and leave a comment.
Definition: Photography and Ethics

And bird-song?

Did you know you can follow Photokonnexion on Twitter? We are @photokonnexion  External link - opens new tab/page and would be really pleased to see new followers come online. Additional tips and insights can be found there. We will be announcing new posts and providing other useful information. A cool extension to your visits to this site.
@photokonnexion  External link - opens new tab/pagePhotokonnexion on Twitter

Enjoy!