Sunday, February 16, 2014

MORE Deep Thoughts from Cari and Me!

Thank you for all your thoughtful comments on THIS recent post.

I'd like to comment on Cari's comment, which was: "This was a big huge enormous deal when I worked at a newspaper. There are very VERY strict rules about how much a photo can be altered using software. Pretty much it boiled down to, "If you can do it in a dark room, you can do it to a photo in the newspaper." And pretty much that means using the lasso tool and some dodge and burning. Anything outside that was considered "unethical" and actually while I worked there, a fella lost his job because he altered a photo too much and put the newspaper's reputation as a trusted unbiased source in jeopardy. As a photojournalist, you had to be clear about whether or not your image was documenting something or whether it was a piece of art. If it ran in the newspaper it had better not be "blessed" at all."

Cari is absolutely correct in stating that a photojournalist has a responsibility to accurately capture an event honestly and realistically.  But that being said, even if a photo is absolutely accurate, it can still mislead or influence or sway the viewer in one way or another.

An unethical photojournalist still has the ability to alter a viewer's perception of an event even if the photos she takes are accurate.  Say for example, I'm covering a protest and the scene is one with policemen and protestors confronting each other.  I may choose a photo angle prominently showing an angry policeman's face with a club raised, (influencing the viewer to sympathize with the protestors and have negative feelings about police brutality), or maybe I will choose to shoot one of the protestors throwing a bottle at a policeman, (negative feelings toward the protestors).  Or maybe I take a shot in one direction showing beautiful blue sky and cherry blossoms in the background (happy feelings about the protest), or maybe I choose to turn the other way and take shots with the background showing a dark alley littered with garbage (negative feelings about the protest).  If I didn't produce photos that showed a balanced view of the protest, I'd be unethical, even without any post editing.

But what if I did edit my photos.  What if I wanted to use software to crop in tight to better see the subject or action of the story.  What if my best image came out a bit soft and I wanted to use software to sharpen it and make it more presentable for print.  What if I shot in color and I wanted to use software to turn it into a black & white image?  In my opinion, all these types of computer software editing would be perfectly ethical. 

Here is another example.  Say I'm a commercial photographer and I'm hired to take photos of a tropical resort for an advertising campaign with the goal of attracting more vacationers.  Of course my boss wants the photos to look beautiful and inviting, with azure blue skies and the turquoise ocean in the background.  No problem, because the resort is beautiful, the sky is beautiful and the ocean is beautiful, and I can get all that in a photo.  But what if there is a huge, stinky, garbage dump on one side of the resort, and railroad tracks with trains that run throughout the night along the other side of the resort?  Would I be unethical if I left those elements out of my photo???

Well, for me, the answer is Yes, and No!  Yes, this would be unethical if I knew my photos were being used to accurately represent what the resort looked like from the eyes of a paying vacationer, because even if the resort itself was beautiful, I know that vacationers influenced by my photos would feel disappointed if downright cheated seeing the surrounding area.  But if I was taking the photo to show the beautiful architecture of the resort and the crystal clear ocean, and my goal was to show my blog viewers a glimpse of the beauty in a certain place, then it would not be unethical to crop out those elements.

As photographers, we must compose every shot we take, and unless we are using a fisheye lens, (which also distorts reality, as do any kind of camera filters, black & white images, etc.), we always have to pick and chose what we include in the frame, and what we exclude.

So it all boils down to integrity, meaning we should be governed by the purpose and intent of the photo and the message or story we are trying to tell the viewer.  If I'm using my camera as a tool to document reality, (photojournalist, scientist, etc.), I will have a strict and stringent set of guidelines.  If, however, I'm using my camera as a tool to expand my creativity and artistry, then pretty much anything goes!