Ed #7 Retouching

Retouching Truths

Whether you work with a professional or tackle a project on your own, there are legal and ethical issues to consider as well. Sampling, or taking bits of existing images to use in a new one, for example, might raise copyright concerns.

Photojournalists, in particular, face broader issues too. When backgrounds are cleaned up or unappealing objects disappear, some of the “truth” of the photo disappears along with them—the eyewitness view of the scene becomes an illustration of it. In its code of ethics, the National Press Photographers Association says that “Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic image’s content and context.” But the line is far from clear. A photographer in North Carolina lost some awards he received after it was learned he had used traditional wet darkroom techniques of dodging and burning to lighten and darken portions of his images. Such changes are usually considered acceptable, but then the photographer went on to delete the background, which was judged to change the content of the photo.

In advertising and corporate communications, the standards are somewhat different. Reality can be improved, but a line can still be drawn at the intent to deceive. Enhancing images might be acceptable and creating new images might be acceptable, but creating an image that lies, to support a lie, would not. That’s pretty much where the standard has always been. The technology involved does not change the ethics—the same applies whether you’re using a computer or an airbrush.

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