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The Ethics of Photograph Manipulation
 Part 1: Introduction

January 14th, 2013 No Comments

A Thousand-Word Lie

Sophie.........Adobe Photoshop CS3

(Photo credit: justDONQUE.images)

“One picture is worth a thousand words”, so goes a hackneyed old saying.  If the saying is true and that picture is a lie, then what do we have?  We have a thousand-word lie.  And it is indeed possible to lie in photography; from fibs and little white lies through to out-and-out deceptions and black lies.

This subject has gained popularity of late to the extent that a full-blown exhibition “devoted to the history of manipulated photography before the digital age” is underway at no less than the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 

Faking It: Manipulated Photography Before Photoshop features 200 doctored photographs “created between the 1840s and 1990s.”  Ironically and appropriately at one and the same time, this exhibition is sponsored by Adobe Systems, makers of Photoshop.

The objective of this series of articles is not to provide an enumeration of manipulated photographs and doctored images; the thesis of this series is referred to in the sentence above, “a thousand-word lie.” 

From a religious perspective, lying is considered sinful; from a secular legal perspective, lying under oath is a criminal offence.  In general, lying is looked on with disfavour and issues of righteousness and trust rise up.  As such, where lying is concerned ethical implications exist, be the medium words or images.  Theology and Philosophy have laid down guideposts on the matter of falsehood and lie but, because cameras, let alone Photoshop, were not exactly commonplace in, let us say, the respective ‘heydays’ of Theology and (Classical) Philosophy, the subject of lying via pictures is not one for which the ‘rules’ have been laid down.


Photoshopping and Falsehood

Since the invention of retouching tools and the airbrush over a century ago it has never been the case that a photograph is, or has to be, an accurate and truthful reflection of reality.  Yet until only a decade ago before ‘Photoshopping’, using Photoshop and equivalent applications,  caught on in the consumer mass market, a photograph was considered to be a definitive ‘snapshot’ of reality.  “It’s a photograph!” meant that the photograph was, ipso facto, an ineluctable proof of itself.  This attitude still holds true in less-advanced nations who remain unaware of ‘Photoshopping’ (and even of Forrest Gump and Industrial Light and Magic, ancient as they are).

Lying via an image is many-hued; as mentioned, a photo may be pictorial fib or ‘little white lie’, an unspeakable black lie, or anything and everything in between, including distortion and fabrication.

Just as with the spoken word, such a photographic falsehood can sometimes be inadvertent.  Lighting, perspective, focal length, and faulty processing are a few of the reasons a photograph may end up as a false window on the world.  Intentional photographic falsehoods range from sly retouching to object removal to software-based image manipulation and reconstruction, and even constructing or reconstructing a scene for a shot, to be passed off as an authentic, as-it-happened photograph.


Kinds and Types of ‘Photographic Lies’

Where intentional photographic falsehoods are concerned, the underlying motives must also be examined.  Is the motive harmless family fun or a friendly prank?  Or is deliberate deception the goal?  Is the motive to deceive a nation or conceal a crime?  Or ‘merely’ to sell airline tickets and resort rooms?  These are not hypothetical what-ifs and abstract questions; a number of such instances of photographic manipulation have acquired notoriety over the years though other instances, as bad or worse in the extent of image manipulation, photographic lying, and ulterior motives, have escaped media scrutiny or the public eye.  We shall examine:

  • Men’s magazines and fashion glossies: airbrushing and retouching centrefolds and models;

  • The impact of illusion on, both, men’s expectations and young women’s self-image;

  • Double standards Ð while some are made more beautiful, others are made . . . more ugly;

  • ‘Making the Sale’ with a photograph Ð how far is ‘too far’?

  • Adding elements into a photograph and wholly fabricating a photograph;

  • Removal and airbrushing elements not only out of a photograph, but, out of history;

  • Fakery and manipulation in purportedly authentic war photos from the field;

  • Artificially staging a photograph to be passed off as if captured in nature; 

  • Focal length, and a telephoto lens’s inadvertent lie that triggered a nationwide furore;

  • From dodging and burning to the marvels of Photoshop,  where to draw the line?

The Goal

Can the grey zone of ethical ambiguities be resolved via such a situational, case-by-case evaluation?  Or will they yield an incoherent set of ‘answers’ that vary by circumstance and context? 

In all likelihood, expecting a Uniform Photographic Code of Ethics may be a bridge too far but, perhaps, a reasonable delineation between what’s acceptable and what’s unacceptable, what’s ethical and what’s unethical, will be possible to tease out as we progress through this series of articles inquiring into the Ethics of Photographic Manipulation.


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The Queer and the Kooky, Plus Google Outdoes Dali!

January 11th, 2013 No Comments
The Vela Pulsar and its surrounding pulsar win...

The Vela Pulsar and its surrounding pulsar wind nebula. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Welcome to our periodic roundup of all that is queer and kooky in the world of photography.  Here’s what made the news in the past 24 hours.

If you don’t know what NGC 6872 is, be informed that it is the World Champion, er, we mean the Cosmos Champion, galaxy.  ‘Size?’ you ask?  Suffice it to say it is measured in the hundreds of thousands of light years.  Here’s a picture of it.  While you’re at it, scroll about halfway down and view over 50 ‘Amazing Space Photos’.

Before moving away from the Huffington Post and the Cosmos but scaling down in size, check out this photo of the Vela Pulsar.  The headline isn’t lying when it says that Vela resembles the Phantom of the Opera’s mask!

EarthSky has identified five science apps to check out in 2013 and two of them are photograph-oriented apps, of which one allows us to stay with our outer space theme.  That’s the NASA app which includes a staggering 157,000-plus artefacts including space photos!    

If you’re less into outer space and more into Gaia, go for SciSpy.  It is a nature sharing app that lets you stay in touch with fellow Gaians and features automatic geotagging.

We’re not done with out space theme yet!  ‘The Afronauts’ sounds like a gag or joke but it’s not.  It’s the name of a book that is about a Zambian who was “a dreamer rather than a crazy man, a loser,” as described by the photojournalist author of the book, Christina de Middel.

An abortive mission to Mars by the Zambian eccentric in the mid-1960s inspired Middel to create a series of photographs recreating the man’s ‘dream’.  She must have done well because the first edition of this photo book is sold out and it has been short-listed for a German prize.

Let’s get ‘down to earth’ and close out with some really funky landscapes courtesy of Google Earth.  No tilt-shift camera could have captured these nor could Photoshop in its wildest dreams have achieved what Google Earth has done so effortlessly.

Apparently, Google Earth’s software is a little too smart for its own good.  The 3D images it produced by way of texture mapping are more like ‘6D’ images – they have a few extra ‘D’s – and is that D for Dimension or D for Dunce?

Dimension or Dunce, Google’s outdone Dali: the great artist only melted clocks while Google Earth melts entire highways!







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May Ronen Goldman ‘Live in Interesting Dreams!’

January 9th, 2013 No Comments

Let’s pay a visit to the René Magritte of Photography: an unique photographic artist, Ronen Goldman.

Goldman is not, per se, a great photographer; he’s a great creator of situations, sets, scenes, tableaux, most of which are, let us say, ‘dreamlike’.  How does he do it?  All he does is translate his dream into reality – and then photographs it!  Haven’t you always wanted to do just that?!

The slumberous inspiration for the photographs gives rise to the project’s name: The ‘Surrealistic Pillow’.  Here is where you’ll find fishbowl heads, iguana-laden beds, balloon’ish lanterns, apple barrages, fruity hail, guitar-filled woods, a bench with Kali Ma’s multiple arms, and other photographs that are just too weird to even describe!

The images clearly look like photographs but, even without any special effects Photoshopping (as opposed to the obvious combining and accumulation of discrete photographs and photographic elements), some have a painterly, feel.  This arises no doubt because of the nature of the image itself: one is accustomed to seeing ‘unreality’ in paintings whereas one is equally accustomed to seeing reality in photographs.

There’s more to these photographs than immediately meets the eye: though the origin of these images – dreams – suggests a novelty project, these photographs are more than a novelty.  That’s because Goldman concentrates his attention and shifts the emphasis from creativity in-camera when making the shot and creativity on the computer when post-processing to ‘creativity a priori’ – well before making the shot.  What a concept in the Age of Photoshop!

Also, a few photographs are truly good enough to decorate a lobby.  Consider the photograph of a girl lying on a pathway leading to an ivy-covered castle with hands emerging from bushes along each side, trying to reach the immobile girl.  Leaving aside whatever Freud or Jung may have to say about this particular scene, this photograph is superbly executed and stands as a work of art.

Ronen Goldman had a really good idea and he has been executing it equally well.  Let’s take a twist on that Chinese greeting and wish that ‘he lives in interesting dreams’!


Calling All Canonistas! — Part II !

January 7th, 2013 No Comments

We did this only last week but no, we’re not pushing Canon or playing favourites; it’s just that Canon is making both, cameras and waves.  All we wanna do is report the camera-making and the wave-making.

Looks like Canon has fallen victim to ‘The Instagram Effect’ for its new PowerShot N is . . . square-shaped!

Instagram influence is also evident in the positioning of the camera: Canon’s press release says you can add “a creative edge” using “Canon’s creative modes, including Miniature Effect, Soft Focus, Toy Camera Effect and Monochrome.”  These ‘easy play’ and ‘play easy’ effects again smack of Instagram.  

The Powershot N’s main claim to fame is that it allows near-instant sharing of photos on social networks.  That’s because this WiFi camera can be coupled to tablets and mobile-phones.

Though the specs – such as the optical zoom range – are respectable, this gimmicky camera is one with Canon not only is making waves; it hopes to catch a wave.  

Somewhat less gimmicky are three PowerShot A’s and an IXUS that Canon has announced for February launch.  

The PowerShot A1400, A2600, and A3500 are progressively more expensive, each with some extra features, with the IXUS 140 topping out in price and features.  Note that “price and features” is advisedly written for the difference in specifications is minimal, if any.  For instance, there is no difference in pixel-count; all four are 16 MP cameras and they have the same sensor, and the same goes for other key specs like ISO range.

The minimal differences include LCD size, focussing modes, battery type and WiFi in which one or another camera varies from the other three.  Is this differentiation smart or is it just overdoing it on the price points and does it muddy the waters and confuse customers?  Thus far the market’s response has been to say ‘Smart!’ to whatever Canon does.  

Let’s see what 2013 brings for Canon, what with the ‘new wave’ that is the PowerShot N.


Calling all iPhoneistas!

January 3rd, 2013 No Comments
Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...

Image via CrunchBase

If you’re an iPhone aficionado, this post is for you – here are four nifty, spanking new add-ons for your camera.

GoldenPic is an app that allows you to anticipate the kind of light you can expect at a particular place at a particular time.  It’s main claim to fame is that it provides four mini-charts, Sunrise, Sunset, Moon, and Weather, showing timings for Blue Hour Begins, Sunrise, and Golden Hour Ends for the first, reversing that order for the second mini-chart.

That – of course – is not all.  Weather, locations, moon, timezone detection and similar support round out this app.  According to ePhotozine, it’s simple and useful when an outdoor photographer wants to be in the right place at the right time but is a bit steep.

Much cheaper is the VSCO Cam.  It is a ‘value-added’ picture-taking app – it has an editor with ten features, ten filters, sharing capabilities via different social media outlets, and more.  Not bad for a buck!

Novices will like the way they can warm up or cool down a picture with a couple of clicks or add novel effects, like grain and the main attraction will surely be the instant sharing on offer: Twitter – or wherever.

Now if you’re worried that someone will steal your work off some social media website (cheesiness alert!) Have no fear, Marksta is here!  A few hours back BJP published an article about photographer John D. McHugh teaming up with a software developer to create this app that lets you put a watermark – more like a signature – in your choice of type and style on your photos, quickly and easily.

“It’s not just about protecting the commercial value of their photographs, it’s also about protecting their moral rights. What I hope is that when you use the app, you feel it’s just easy,” he says.  That should put a lid on stealing, or at least on unattributed re-use of the fruits of your skills.

Whether you go for GoldenPic or VSCO Cam, your iPhone may look a bit more stylish with Trygger Camera Clip.  The clip has an integrated polarizing filter (once seen as an essential for outdoor photographers), a sharp idea.  But is the $40 price tag justified?  Here’s what Trygger have to say about their product and campaign and they also provide a few sample images.  See if this iPhone clip is worth the price – then again, it is a polarizer lens. 


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Calling All Canonistas!

January 2nd, 2013 No Comments
English: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, with Can...

English: Canon EOS 5D Mark II camera, with Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens (fitted with a B+W 010 UV-Haze 58mm filter). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s an all Canon post today as we take in four new Canon products.

Canon is almost surely the maker that is most aggressively pursuing film-quality digital video technology in ‘cinema cameras’.  Here we look at a review of their 1D C and an interview surrounding the 5D.

The 1D C’s calling card is that you can pull high-end photographic quality stills from a video clip as video can be made in such a way so that frames are blur-free are razor sharp.  As such this camera is not only a video-and-stills hybrid; it is both at the same time.

Thus, the 1D C is a game changer; the article quotes an expert: “I see the biggest step forward using motion image capture the ability to record many individual moments in time, all the while silently as there is no shutter being released. This could have great benefits in situations where you may want to remain more candid. Subjects could also feel more relaxed not knowing ‘photographs’ are being taken.” 

Quite a concept.  Shoot photographs while you’re making . . . a movie!

Make a movie is exactly what Sachin Kabir did on a Canon 5D Mk II.  Kabir said that this camera “had been well tested by now and was making waves as a pioneering technology for low budget/independent film makers,” and cited its large sensor size as the most attractive feature.  He also said that its “immediate advantage is the ability to rig and shoot much faster than any other camera giving such high quality.”

While Kabir points out a few “quirks,” the interview supports the general view that Canon is reckoned to be the leader in this technology.

Canon is not losing sight of the bread-and-butter paraphernalia, however.

It has released a new EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 that is optimized for video performance.  Its construction, however, indicates that it is a modest and inexpensive lens.  Moreover, if you think the aperture range cries out ‘kit lens’, you’d be right – it is.

The review discloses that for an affordable kit lens it has an excellent stabilizer.

ePhotozine says that this lens is a solid value-for-money when bought as part of a kit but not when bought separately.

Actually, Canon is not losing sight of anything, it appears!

Though speculation about the 7D Mk II has been floating around for a few months, take a gander at the Japanese rumour mill’s latest sneak peeks on 7D Mk II and 70D


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The Guardian’s Best Photographs of 2012

January 1st, 2013 No Comments

Having seen the photographs our press have chosen as their ‘Best Photographs of the Year’, it may be interesting to compare what the media mavens in Old Blighty and those across the (big) pond over in America consider to be their Photos of the Year, courtesy of The Guardian and TIME respectively.

We’ll cover The Guardian’s selection in this post, specially the dramatic and dynamic images, and review those of TIME in today’s post on our sister site. 

Unlike TIME’s 366-photograph smorgasbord, The Guardian provides a far smaller selection of what are for the most part photojournalistic and editorial images, a few of them with considerable impact.  Like the very first one showing half the island of Manhattan plunged in darkness.  Compare with another aerial shot of another city – Aleppo – that was plunged in darkness but for very different reasons: shelling and bombs.

The newspaper seems to have asked the photographers behind the chosen images to write a few lines describing the ‘whats’ and ‘wheres’ of their images, plus what they mean to them.  Though these textual vignettes are sometimes self-glorifying or try to put over a less-than-first-rate photograph, at other times they shed light on a cryptic or amusing image – like this one of, shall we say, ‘Bathing Beauties Chinese Style’?  The photo and the mini-story complement one another very well.

The vignette, though so well-written, is superfluous for this brilliant shot evoking pure joy; indeed, a sense of euphoria, at an Obama election rally.  Likewise for another Obama photograph: a lovely photograph of a heartfelt embrace between man and wife.  This would be, and is, a wonderful photograph regardless of who the subjects are.

The very next image, possibly the most carefree and dynamic one in the gallery, is one for which the photo and the description play off one another.  (Indeed, a very similar photograph of Palestinian Parkour was featured in one of our posts.)

Not to be missed is another photograph from the Islamic World.  Would you believe a brilliant blue burqa and an array of laserlight speckles dotting the frame makes for an exceptionally pretty photograph?  Compare with a photograph with another kind of ‘speckles’ – real sparks from real flames.  That’s what this horseman is riding through in a very dramatic image of a religious festival in a remote Spanish village.

If these dynamic and dramatic images are not to your taste, you’ll find more sober ones if you browse through the gallery.  So go ahead, with our Best Wishes for 2013 to all our readers.


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