Aaron Quinn raises the ethical issue of manipulating images in Photojournalism, through the use of computers, high-end camera gear and imaging editing software, as most readers feel that the images they see in newspapers and media is manipulated by journalists, as a result of which public trust is waning in journalism. Aaron Quinn says that manipulation in photography happens through couple of ways:
1. Post-shoot photo manipulation
2. Relying on intra-camera exposure calculations.
However, no matter what advances come from technology, the ethical problems that arise due to image manipulation can be tackled (eliminated) by applying multiple doctrines of ethical theory such as virtue, consequentialism, and deontology. As per virtue theory, journalists should rely on truth, integrity, justice, and prudence for good professional decisions.
As per deontology, be it the use of computers, photo editing software or use of dark rooms, telling the truth is very important when it comes to imaging decisions. And in a consequentialistic framework, no matter what tools are used to publish an image, photojournalists have to serve the best interests of the public.
Advancement in technology has positively impacted several forms of photography, including photojournalism. Traditional darkrooms have given way to high configuration computers, and use of digital imaging software (such as Photoshop) have become commonplace in the newsroom. And even though these technical improvements have made photography easier and faster, it has also created ethical challenges, as its easier now to create deception than before.
Aaron Quinn says Manipulation in photography happens at two levels:
1. During the shoot
2. During post-production
Manipulations during the shoot happens through the various camera settings (light, shutter speed, exposure, etc), whereas manipulation in post-shoot (digital touch-ups) mostly happens using photo manipulation software. Although unethical manipulations started with darkroom photography, most believe that digital manipulation practises, both positive and negative, increased with new technology, which make manipulation much faster.
Photojournalistic practises that cause the most ethical problems, when talking about digital manipulation, include: colour balancing, cropping, and the dodge-and-burn techniques. These are common image-editing techniques used by photographers around the world, including photojournalists.
However, each of these photo-editing practices has ethical implications as it has can potentially damage an image’s truth-telling capability.
Editing of an image, which is easily doable nowadays using photo editing software, can give rise to ethical implications, especially these three practices:
- 1. Colour Correction – process of altering the overall scheme of an image.
- 2. Cropping – process of reducing the size of an image by reducing its borders
- 3. Dodge and Burn – artificially lightening or darkening regions in an image
Each of the three practises has ethical implications, and can be considered unethical under certain circumstances.
Colour Correction: Many see colour correction as a harmless task with little or no ethical issue. It can be easily done on the camera, or using photo-editing software, which is the more popular method for colour correction. However, colour correction can easily be abused.
For example, photographers can make an image look warm by infusing reds, yellows, or a combination of these to make the image look more aesthetic, which is analogous to someone wearing make-up – possibly pretty, but unnatural. They can even add shades of blue, and make it look like ‘cold weather’ photos, or for enhancing already existing blue and green colours.
But the problem is that, when photographers start colour correcting, they often make aesthetic enhancements that go beyond acceptable adjustments, thus violating accuracy and integrity, which eventually leads to a loss of credibility.
However, there are a couple of exceptions to this, when colour-correction is considered acceptable.
Nikon D1 digital camera, which was a hugely popular camera and used by many, had a technical flaw. The camera used to add a tinge of yellow to its pictures. In such cases, it is acceptable to make colour balancing to the pictures.
Another exception, for example, is if a head of state dies shortly after a flawed photo is captured by the camera. In this case, manipulating the colour balance may be considered acceptable, because it is important to properly convey the subject’s illness because the news value outweighs other ethical considerations. If the camera flaw obscures the illness of the subject, it may not give the right picture to the readers, and should be corrected.
Cropping: Modern technology makes it easy to crop images, while maintaining good resolution. Cropping can be done for several reasons, but most importantly, it is an effective tool for creating visual impact. However, it can cause loss of important visual information if the cropping is not done carefully.
In photojournalism, cropping is recommended only if it increases the news value of an image. By maximising news value in an image through effective cropping, journalists can provide the most news value with few ethical risks.
However, great care must be taken while cropping, because it is easy for a photographer to eliminate areas with relevant visual data because of cropping, if he or she is not careful.
This is why it is recommended that photographers use their judgement to capture newsworthy pictures, so that they don’t have to worry about doing alterations later on.
Dodge and Burn: Although this feature is used by photographers who shoot in other styles, when it comes to photojournalism, artificially lightening or darkening regions in an image is considered a lie, a case of deception, in almost all situations. Journalists are expected to tell the truth always and the dodge and burn technique is in violation of truth.
So everybody more or less agrees that ethically there is no place for it in photojournalism.
Aaron Quinn asks journalists to apply the various ethical doctrines to image manipulation in photojournalism, which will also help them to implement good professional practices. He says consequentialism can help guide ethical decisions pertaining to photo manipulation as a way to maximize truth and accuracy.
Virtues such as integrity, accuracy and truth-telling can guide decisions, while taking into account individual traits. Deontology, which stresses on doing the right thing, despite the consequences, can help guide decisions.
Photojournalism affects the thoughts of millions of people every day. If journalists are not careful about what they report, readers/viewers can knowingly or unwittingly contribute to growing social ailments, and when that happens, technology is not solely to blame. Since there is continuing decline in public trust in journalism and media, these doctrines, along with sound moral reasoning, can help determine good and bad professional practice. Because circumstances may dictate choice, it is important to consider all of the ethical options one has at one’s disposal.
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