Transcript of podcast below.
This year is the 25th anniversary of a software product known and loved by photographers and designers the world over: Adobe Photoshop. Photoshop enables skilled practitioners to perform simple colour corrections or radical alterations to content and composition. Photoshop and other photographic processing software completely changed the way photographers and designers work, to the point where Photoshop has become an almost essential component of most professional photographers toolkits.
But that same ability to digitally manipulate photographs brings with it a Pandora’s box of problems. Fashion models have their bodies digitally sculpted into more attractive forms, causing many to doubt the reality of a lot of fashion pictures. Whilst female fashion models, and stars appear to be digitally manipulated far more often than we’d like, it’s not just fashion models who experience a little creative re-modelling. National Geographic was hoodwinked in 2010, with a faked picture of a dog.
Now it’s true that some digitally faked pictures can be easy to spot but the are an awful lot of pictures out there that may be almost impossible to spot digital manipulation in, unless we were there when the picture was taken. It’s at this point I begin to wonder what all the fuss is about, after all if someone takes a picture of a bunch of daffodils and turns them into a glowing yellow ball of sunshine, why not? If the picture appeals, where’s the harm?
To a point there probably isn’t harm but what about pictures used in news stories? Is there an absolute guarantee that they’re not digitally manipulated? There are rules that news agencies impose on photographers, but rules get broken. A particularly famous example was a shot of president Obama standing on a beach, head down, during the US gulf oil spill. The dramatic picture of a troubled president, standing alone grabbed a lot of attention. The problem was that he wasn’t alone, two companions were edited out of the shot to make it more dramatic, and appealing to the audience.
The difficulty we have is that we live in an image and media hungry world, where web and social media sites post increasing numbers of pictures and may not have the time, or inclination to verify the authenticity of an image. In some cases an enhanced photograph might be no big deal, but in others it may completely change the emotional impact, or sense of a serious news story.
Whilst Photoshop itself is not the bad guy in this story, the temptation for photographers to tweak and change their photograph, to make it more dramatic will always be there. All we can do as consumers is keep a sceptical eye on the big picture: in a digital age anything can be manipulated, including us, the audience.