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Fed Up With Fake Photography ?

Whether an image is “too” pho­to­shopped, or overly retouched is a huge issue for both pho­tog­ra­phers and non-photographers. We’ve talked about it many times on our forum. It’s an issue for pho­tog­ra­phers because our medium is in the midst of a dra­matic change. Pho­tog­ra­phy has gone dig­i­tal. Every­one has a dig­i­tal cam­era. Every image is fod­der for manip­u­la­tion. Many pho­tog­ra­phers over-manipulate.

The prob­lem is that there is no con­sen­sus on how much manip­u­la­tion is too much. Some pho­tog­ra­phers say over manip­u­la­tion occurs with any­thing over and above basic edit­ing (con­trast and tonal con­trol, crop­ping and some dodg­ing and burn­ing). Oth­ers say we are crafts­man and that Pho­to­shop is a tool like any other tool, so there is no limit. (Per­son­ally I don’t buy this for a second).

Cer­tainly when you look at a photo, you often can­not tell what level of manip­u­la­tion was done and nowhere is the level of manip­u­la­tion revealed. Some­times though, you can EASILY tell when an image is over-retouched or manipulated.

This is less of a big deal when you are cre­at­ing a pho­to­graph for artis­tic rea­sons, but it’s damn seri­ous when young girls want to look like mod­els that don’t exist. The mod­els exist of course but their images are over manip­u­lated to the point of fraud. Impres­sion­able girls want to look like these mod­els hawk­ing beauty-cream. They feel bad/sad when they can’t look like these mod­els. Here is just one recent Newsweek arti­cle on this over-manipulation (hat tip to AcadieLi­bre from our forum). If this trend con­tin­ues, it won’t be long till we’ll be sell­ing anti-wrinkle cream to ten year olds or freckle remover for red headed babies.‚ All it will take is a cou­ple of‚ before and after pho­tos show­ing the ‘improve­ment’ in their appear­ances. Even babies and ten year olds want to feel ‘bet­ter’ about themselves.

But peo­ple are catch­ing on, they are get­ting fed up with this manipulation/fraud/cheating. This week in Lon­don Eng­land, Con­ser­v­a­tive party leader David Cameron was blasted for a cam­paign elec­tion poster where he looks 20 years younger than he does. Here’s the orig­i­nal poster, a spoof poster and what Cameron looks like on a nor­mal day.

Over manipulation in photography

Over manip­u­la­tion in photography

So what say you? Are you fed up with fake pho­tog­ra­phy.….….?‚ Or am I just whin­ing because I have no Elvis hair to style?

Comments

  1. Barefoot says:

    The argu­ment is nearly as old as pho­tog­ra­phy itself. To prove the point, here are a few of history’s most rec­og­niz­able pho­tographs of scenes that never existed.

    The Great Wave by Gus­tave Le Gray 1857. Impos­si­ble to get this pho­to­graph in a sin­gle expo­sure in his day.

    Fad­ing Away by Henry Peach Robin­son 1858. No less than five neg­a­tives used to make the photograph.

    The Two Ways of Life by Oscar Rej­lan­der 1857. If it had been done in PSxx it would have had as many as thirty layers.

    Lets stop with just these three. I mean, they’re from the mid nine­teenth cen­tury. At no point in time since then have we seen a decline in manip­u­la­tion by pho­tog­ra­phers. In fact, it wouldn’t be hard to image that the oppo­site was true. So, any kind of list would go on for­ever and ever. (seems funny to frame the argu­ment in the con­text of todays food, adver­tis­ing, and fash­ion pho­tog­ra­phy, so I sure as heck won’t.)

    As long as every sin­gle ele­ment in an image was first fil­tered though the lens of a cam­era I’m going to give it the ben­e­fit of doubt. You may not like what whats been crafted from begin­ning to end with ten­der lov­ing care. That’s fine. I don’t like every­thing I see that fits the bill. I do, how­ever, make every effort not to throw rocks at pho­tographs that remind me of noth­ing more than a post card or and image from a student’s text book.

    I used to let it piss me off a lit­tle for some one to say that some­thing I’ve shown had gone beyond being a pho­to­graph and become a dig­i­tal some­thing or another. Even when it was said in a kind way. Not that they didn’t like it, mind you, its just they couldn’t accept it as a pho­to­graph. When that hap­pens now, I just shrug my shoul­ders and move on.

    There’s a cou­ple of things ‘ol Peach had to say about pho­tog­ra­phy that I tend to let influ­ence me to a large degree.

    He said, “Impres­sion­ism has induced the study of what we see and shown us that we all see dif­fer­ently; it has done good to pho­tog­ra­phy by show­ing that we should rep­re­sent what we see and not what the lens sees … “ and he also said that “It is a too com­mon occur­rence with pho­tog­ra­phers to over­look the inadapt­abil­ity of a scene to artis­tic treat­ment, merely because they think it lends itself to the facil­ity, which their art pos­sesses, of ren­der­ing, with won­drous truth, minu­tiae and unim­por­tant details. To many this ren­der­ing of detail, and the obtain­ing of sharp pic­tures, is all that is con­sid­ered nec­es­sary to con­sti­tute per­fec­tion; and the rea­son for this is, that they have no knowl­edge of, and there­fore can take no inter­est in, the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of nature as she presents her­self to the eye of a well-trained painter, or of one who has stud­ied her with rev­er­ence and love. — Henry Peach Robinson

  2. Owen says:

    Hav­ing all these mod­ern tool’s is good up to a point,being able to remove unwanted objects from an image is great,light touch­ing up just to get what you wanted in the first place,is what its all about,light color changes is fine
    Many mod­ern pho­tog­ra­phers go over­board though with images,there so touched up to the point they are now removed from the real world,they are to per­fect.
    The image now looks generic just like any other dig­i­tal image so per­fect and so unreal,waterfalls in land­scape that look like silk are so stupid,but i see that all the time.
    Mod­ern photo tools are really great though for improv­ing old photo images,and thats what i use them for

  3. tiff says:

    HOWEVER‚¦Anselžs level of manip­u­la­tion and todayžs manip­u­la­tion is like horse and buggy to car. Ansel never needed a com­puter proces­sor to fin­ish or dras­ti­cally alter his work.”

    Given that he did the most with the tools he had avail­able, say­ing he would have stuck with the buggy despite being offered a car is sim­ply some­thing you can’t know. Espe­cially in light of many quotes he’s made con­cern­ing using dodg­ing and burn­ing to get the end prod­uct you desire.

    You don’t take a pho­to­graph, you make it. — Ansel Adams

    There are no rules for good pho­tographs, there are only good pho­tographs. — Ansel Adams

    We must remem­ber that a pho­to­graph can hold just as much as we put into it, and no one has ever approached the full pos­si­bil­i­ties of the medium. — Ansel Adams

    He did as much as he could with the tools he had avail­able to him in order to real­ize his vision.

    Pho­tog­ra­phy, as most of us see it, is an art, not a sci­ence. News, sci­ence, adver­tis­ing, and sim­i­lar pho­tog­ra­phy should obvi­ously not be tweaked to the point of decep­tion– when the pur­pose of a pho­to­graph is to pro­vide *an accu­rate visual descrip­tion* of a per­son, place, event, species, or prod­uct. But *art pho­tog­ra­phy* is just that– art– and every artist has equal right to do what they can to make their vision come to life.

    How­ever, I think what might be the best thing for the indus­try is to define a sep­a­rate branch for dig­i­tally manip­u­lated pho­tographs, so that both con­sumers and other artists know in gen­eral how much real­ity there is in the pho­to­graph in front of them.

    While I’m per­son­ally also rather fed-up with hav­ing to see grossly over-manipulated images, I do believe that the artist has the right. If I thought oth­er­wise, I’d have already started a cam­paign against those ghastly tone-mapped “HDR” mon­strosi­ties that are ever-so-popular these days.

  4. Alen Abdula says:

    I do min­i­mal edit­ing of my work, if any at all. These days EVERYTHING is being manip­u­lated. There was that famous video on YouTube show­ing a larger woman trans­form into beau­ti­ful skinny model… for me that is not pho­tog­ra­phy; and like men­tioned above, that is DIGITAL ART. There was a recent pho­to­jour­nal­ist com­pe­ti­tion where wed­ding pho­tog­ra­phers sub­mit­ted all kinds of images and top three final images looked sur­real and overly manip­u­lated. I guess that is where our indus­try is headed.. Imag­i­nary world. I don’t know, I’ll stick with the tra­di­tional edit­ing, basic dodg­ing, burn­ing, flash­ing, fil­ter­ing and etc… I still need to embark on my first HDR image! :)

  5. admin says:

    Thanks for the com­ments! This is a very provoca­tive topic and for many, we are going to have to agree to disagree.

    I would like to reply to a few things though;

    Ryan — “I fully sup­port a pho­tog­ra­pheržs right to do any­thing they want in pho­to­shop and not be looked at as cheat­ing. Like you said pho­to­shop is only another tool in the box and what mat­ters is the final prod­uct. Noth­ing else.

    If you believe pho­to­shop is cheat­ing than you also have to agree that all mod­ern ben­e­fits of a DSLR are as well. You shouldnt be using things like Brack­et­ing, Auto-Focus, Meter­ing etc as those are all dig­i­tal tools used to aug­ment a pho­tog­ra­pheržs skill (like pho­to­shop). I have heard many …œhard-core‚ pho­tog­ra­phers really denounce such a level of photo-manipulation, how­ever, if you think about it, unless they are walk­ing around with equip­ment like what Ansel Adams had, they too are …œcheat­ing‚ by their own def­i­n­i­tion of the term”

    There are many peo­ple that will agree with you Ryan, but not me. Here’s why;

    You can­not con­trol how oth­ers think of your pho­tog­ra­phy. If they think you are are cheat­ing, there is zero you can do about it…except won­der why they think that.

    I sup­port the right of pho­tog­ra­phers as well do do what­ever they want in pho­to­shop (it’s their work). At the extremes though (like run­ning the glow­ing edges fil­ter over the whole image) for me, what they pro­duce is NOT pho­tog­ra­phy. It’s mixed media or dig­i­tal art.…but that is NEVER writ­ten anywhere.

    Meter­ing (which of COURSE Ansel did) and brack­et­ing is WORLDS away from using the liquify fil­ter to pull in a waist­line. One you can do with the pri­mary pho­to­graphic instru­ment (the cam­era) and one you cannot.

    In terms of Ansel being a total purist…not true at all. Ansel and many of his peers also engaged in some level of dark­room manip­u­la­tion (bleach­ing etc). HOWEVER…Ansel’s level of manip­u­la­tion and today’s manip­u­la­tion is like horse and buggy to car. Ansel never needed a com­puter proces­sor to fin­ish or dras­ti­cally alter his work.

    and it’s this COMPUTER manip­u­la­tion of pho­tog­ra­phy that has also manip­u­lated the mind­set of our gen­er­a­tion for the worse. We no longer know what is true and what is pure bullshit…and that’s why some of us are fed up.

  6. RobvE says:

    Ide­ally my goal is do as much in cam­era as pos­si­ble.
    I am okay with a cer­tain level of Post pro­duc­tion. Remov­ing a branch or fix­ing my son’s snotty nose.

    I often am appalled by the gen­eral slop­pi­ness of pho­to­shop work in the pic­tures of aspir­ing pros.
    On Flickr, you can usu­ally spot the applied blur by look­ing at par­tic­u­lar parts of the image that hadn’t been masked properly..

  7. Ryan says:

    I fully sup­port a photographer’s right to do any­thing they want in pho­to­shop and not be looked at as cheat­ing. Like you said pho­to­shop is only another tool in the box and what mat­ters is the final prod­uct. Noth­ing else.

    If you believe pho­to­shop is cheat­ing than you also have to agree that all mod­ern ben­e­fits of a DSLR are as well. You shouldnt be using things like Brack­et­ing, Auto-Focus, Meter­ing etc as those are all dig­i­tal tools used to aug­ment a photographer’s skill (like pho­to­shop). I have heard many “hard-core” pho­tog­ra­phers really denounce such a level of photo-manipulation, how­ever, if you think about it, unless they are walk­ing around with equip­ment like what Ansel Adams had, they too are “cheat­ing” by their own def­i­n­i­tion of the term.

    How­ever, yes I can see the side of it this does not like the way the media has lever­aged pho­to­shop to manip­u­late the sex­u­al­ity of mod­els but it is the nature of the ter­ri­tory and ulti­mately it sells mag­a­zines so i doubt it will go away any­time soon. Per­haps even it is a good thing for the mod­els as it becomes less impor­tant for them to destroy their bod­ies try­ing to stay at size 0.

  8. Rob says:

    I beleive that all adjust­ments to be made should first be done with the set up and shoot­ing of the said sub­ject. Post image edit­ing is and has all­ways been done whether in film or the dig­i­tal for­mat. Neg­a­tives have been retouched in the dark­room and now with dig­i­tal we have tone map­ping. One has to blame the “fash­ion indus­try” for the air­brush­ing of their mod­els. The ad exec’s too are to blame. Unfor­tu­nately we live in a soci­ety that takes what is to be per­ceived as “beau­ti­ful” to the extreme. Retouch­ing the photo’s taken to the extent that all imper­fec­tions of a model have been air­brushed out only to reveal a flaw­less model ( I have yet to see a flaw­less person).This in turn sells a prod­uct to the masses.If you are sell­ing make up, do you want to con­vey a famous model with a pim­ple? No! you will have it air­brushed out. Food pho­tog­ra­phers do this pre shoot adjust­ment all the time with Raw food , burn­ing meat “just right” and then glaz­ing it over with auto­mo­tive clear spray­paint to make it look as deli­cious as pos­si­ble. None of us will ever make chicken look that good when we cook it. I do how­ever dis­agree with post­ing an image of your­self look­ing younger than you are. That IS FALSE ADVERTISING!

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