Photoshop Code of Ethics

Yesterday, Friend-of-the-Blog Scott elaborated on a discussion he recently had with RC, Corey, and Matt about their feelings about editing and processing photos. It’s a very important conversation to have given the Katie Couric photo, the Reuters Beirut photo, and other celebrity retouching debates of late. You can read where Scott and others draw the line on editing and processing photos here.

There is a school of thought that anything beyond color corrections, cropping, and tonal balance tweaks changes a “photo” into a “manipulation.” It’s only ok to adjust the image, and it’s just plain wrong to further “massage” it.

For me, I like having an idea of what I want the finished shot to look like when it’s processed, even if that means that I do some artistic processing, cropping or cloning. And I usually don’t do too much. I don’t tend to do a lot of cloning and, when I do, it’s minor in order to remove distracting elements. When I crop, I usually keep the same aspect ratio and rarely do any creative cropping other than the occasional “fake” pano. I’ve been known to do a general sharpening and add some selective lens blur to make the main areas of the image appear sharper. Sometimes I’ll do a special effect here and there but I try not to make it look too overdone.

I have a pretty high standard for my personal work but I’ll do what I need to do to make it look like I want. I agree that some people use tools and filters because they can, not because it actually makes their images better. I’ve said that many times.

I’m actually the opposite of what Scott said when it comes to editing my own vs. others’ photos. When it comes to my professional work I deal with a wide range of photos of varying quality that come from clients and I’ll do what I can but won’t put in the same time and effort as I would with my own. I will be more spare in my edits to serve the client’s needs and the requirements of the project. (*Note, most of the photos I process for work are client-supplied for websites and videos that are generally used “as is” with only minor adjustments, unless otherwise directed by the client. These are more on the photojournalistic side of the spectrum anyway.)

For my own work, it’s no holds barred. Maybe it’s because I don’t feel I have a particular, overarching style and I don’t feel the need to reign myself into a set of guidelines for how I process. (Not that having a set of standard steps or sticking to a personal code somehow prevents you from being free to be creative.)

Where should the line be? Not to steal the conversation from Scott, but what is and is not “ok” to do when working with photos? What is the difference between “processing” and “editing” a photo? When does a photo stop being a “photo” and becomes a “manipulation”?

What are your thoughts?

*UPDATE: Friend-of-the-Blog Jeff Revell just posted a link to a PBS story about a century’s worth of American photos where you are given a history of “photographic  fakery.” Go check it out here.

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