So, What’s The Status?
With the invention of Photoshop and other photo editing programs, product validity has become an issue. Media managers struggle with this today due to its varying nature. The ability to take a newsworthy photograph no longer lies with professional photographers. The explosion of convergence media has made it possible for the “average Joe or Jane,” to take professional pictures; adapting each image to fit a particular communication style.
Adobe Photoshop, for example, has transformed photograph editing into an art. In the past, red eye reduction and photo retouching took hours. Thanks to the precision of programs like Photoshop and iPhoto, photographers can “fix” an image in a matter of seconds.
In the past, picture refinement, took several hours. Nowadays, all it takes is someone with a working knowledge of photo editing software. Online tutorials like Lynda.com, Photoshopstar.com, good-tutorials.com offer up-to-date information on how to use many of the Adobe CS3/CS4 Suites for less than $100 or for free! And for those, with limited cash to spare, the general web offers quick, “how to…” guides on how to fix or retouch photographs.
Anyone can sign up for a YouTube and have an endless array of free phoroshop and photo editing tutorials and ‘how-to’ videos at his or her finger tips.
Over the years, public apathy towards photojournalism ethics along with ignorance about the extent of photo manipulation has made it difficult for those working in the the media to implement any true, ‘followable’ standard for photographers and graphic designers in the field.
While there are rules that clearly state what a photographer can and cannot do, many feel as if the “rules” no longer apply to them, especially with the circulation of magazines like People, Star and the National Inquirer.
Doctored photographs are published all the time in magazines like those listed above, with the intention to increase readership and overall sales. Even, reputable organizations like Coca-Cola and the American Heart Association alter photographs to garner support for a particular cause or event.
Photo cropping and image scaling have been used to create a depth perception that at times, forces people to believe in something that never took place. Many companies use these techniques to increase consumer response, event coverage or product sales.
While many of these techniques are used regularly, the question of how often and how much comes into play. Is it right for companies or organizations to show images that distort an event? Is it right for consumers to think that they are buying into something that has generated a lot of buzz, when in reality the buzz has been created for them? It is easy to say no, but when this particular formula has been used for years, and increased product sales all across the board, the question is not whether it is right, but what and where are the guidelines?
Is it safe to believe the photographs that we see everyday?
Among media managers in the communication industry today, photojournalism ethics is one of several issues that many entering the business will eventually address. “Most people haven’t noticed, but it’s getting more and more difficult to recognize reality in photographic journalism” (http://www.60-seconds.com/168_ethics.html). Due to the complex nature of photo editing programs, it has become almost impossible to note the alternations found in most media.
“While the unwary public soaks up newspaper and broadcast news reports which show stark photography, those of us who know what can be done with today’s software are taking a more careful look. A recent photo in the local newspaper editorialized the aftermath of a house fire. Most people looked at the story it told. [However,] I saw the affects of over-sharpening and was [amazed] that the image had been manipulated”
Newspapers like the New York Times, the Washington Post and USA Today provide photographers with strict guidelines on how to shoot and edit their photographs. (EXAMPLE: The Charlotte Observer’s photo policy states, “No colors will be altered from the original scene photographed” (http://www.nppa.org/news_and_events/news/2006/08/ethics.html)).
Photojournalists are required to turn in all of their proofs as well as their final portfolio in order for their photographs to be used. Although magazines like Star and the National Inquirer, require less ethics from their photographers, the problem, or question, remains the same, is it safe to believe the pictures we see in the media today?
Only time will tell.
In the past, photograph distortion took several weeks. As time progressed, photograph distortion went from taking weeks, to a few hours, to now only a few minutes. Photoshop has made it easy to doctor a photo or graphic design, with very little help.
Simple color change or image scaling can alter the perception of those looking at the design or picture. “Any [technique] that can alter the original [image] or scene captured by the camera…” is considered unethical.
And while these “rules” may apply to those working in the media, they can and do apply to anyone taking pictures to be viewed by the public, hence the problem. The creation of multi-purpose cell phones, computers, and cameras have made it easy for just about anyone to become a journalist. Nowadays, media outlets rely on the public to help them capture the news. Therefore, it is important for media managers to know and understand the ethical issues behind photojournalism. Photographs are used to help deliver a story and add validity to an event, or breaking news story. Pictures or images that distort or alter the publics’ ability to achieve an accurate representation of a news story, or product, create problems that could result in a decline in sales, product recall and overall lack of trust among consumers.
While the idea is to increase sales and product revenue, it is important for photojournalists in all markets to report what they see as they see it.
Policies like those found at the New York Times, the Charlotte Observer and the Washington Post are used to enhance the validity of stories read or viewed in print and online.
“However, I can tell you why we have policies governing the alteration of photographs. Journalism cannot be about original works of art unless it is labeled as such. That is why we label photo and art illustrations. It’s why editorials go on pages labeled for opinion. Journalism, however, does often capture art in real life. Photojournalism is one means of doing that. Writing that’s grounded in factual reporting is another. Sometimes, our tools fail us. The camera settings don’t accommodate the circumstances. The notes aren’t legible in our notebooks. The tape-recorder fails. To the extent that we journalists are confident about what we saw or heard, we may rely on our memory to tone a photo to reflect the original scene photographed, or to reconstruct the quotes. Toning for accuracy is allowable under the language of our photo policy”
It is important for journalists and photojournalists to report what they see, the use of alteration tools like cropping, blemish reduction and color modification can change the ebb and flow of an article or graphic design. One should be able to see the original version and generate his/her own thoughts on the issue or event, not the other way around. Although story angles are used to sell a particular article or picture or graphic design, audience perceptions should be left to the audience. Spinning a story or changing a photograph to reflect or depict a certain feeling or emotion is unethical and should be left to the public.