Are these photographers cheating or does reality not matter anymore?

Dec 17, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

Are these photographers cheating or does reality not matter anymore?

Dec 17, 2018

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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At the beginning of this video from Jamie Windsor, he asks a simple question. “When does photography become a lie?”. The answer, for me, is just as simple. When you’re trying to present an image as something that it is not. But, is it though? Is the answer really that straightforward?

Jamie takes an interesting look at the subject of “cheating” in the video, drawing parallels to other forms of art like painting. If we see a painting, we never doubt how “real” the scene was that we can see. We don’t even care that it’s obviously a painting. So, why do we care so much about digital manipulation in photos? Or even physical manipulation of people and objects within the scene to make it more pleasing to the viewer?

The difference, as Jamie mentions is typically one of expectation. We expect photographs to tell us the truth. After all, the camera never lies, right?

Well, no, the camera has always lied, from the instant the first one was created. Simply choosing a particular composition, focal length, and the angle from which you shoot an image is the editing and distortion of reality. But the expectation amongst the masses is still that they don’t lie, and photography is supposed to represent truth.

But, ok, let’s say we can forgive the photographer’s subjective thoughts on how to compose and shoot the photo. What about manipulation in post? Digital manipulation? Jamie attributes post-processing manipulation to October 31st, 1941, with Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico from Ansel Adams. an early print compared with another made several years later show a striking difference.

If this kind of thing was ok almost 80 years ago, why is it not ok today? And if it is still ok now, where do we draw the line at what’s acceptable and what isn’t? And when it comes to art, does it even matter?

And I think that’s why my original simple answer still holds true for me. For me, there are two ways to represent an image. As “truth” (bearing in mind what I said above about the camera always lying) or as art. When you’re trying to represent art as truth, then you’re lying. But if you’re not trying to do that, then what does it matter how you got to the end result as long as you get there?

It’s funny that nobody seems to care about this in movies anymore. We understand that they’re mostly fake these days, and marvel at the technology and skill that went into creating it. The only thing that pisses us off about visual effects in movies is when they’re obvious and look bad. In photos, we seem to be more upset when they look real.

Anyway, if you made it all the way to the bottom without actually watching Jamie’s video, go do it now. It’s well worth it.

[via Reddit]

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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47 responses to “Are these photographers cheating or does reality not matter anymore?”

  1. Howard Siegel Avatar
    Howard Siegel

    Yes it matters. When you stage a picture or crop it for a particular effect you are lying and part of fake news (msm).

    1. John Aldred Avatar
      John Aldred

      But you’re always cropping it. Whether it’s done in-camera or in post, a lens only has a set field of view.

      And, is Iron Man also fake news? Why is it ok in movies? Not all photography is documentary.

    2. Henry Rodgers Avatar
      Henry Rodgers
    3. Henry Rodgers Avatar
      Henry Rodgers

      The minute someone says fake news without even a hint of sarcasm, it’s well understood that the person is not someone you can expect an objective and rational point of view from.

      You’re wasting your time.

    4. Michael Estwik Avatar
      Michael Estwik

      So, all my nature shots of foxes, auroras and sunsets are fake news?

    5. Joel Wood Avatar
  2. Tony Kyle Avatar
    Tony Kyle

    Depends on the intended use of the photograph. Photojournalism should be as close to the truth as we can get. Maybe correct for color balance or a very slight exposure difference. Both are strong maybes. But changing the entire feel of the image, removing anything or altering anything is wrong.

    Fine art images though are different and the sky is the limit for what can be changed, added, or removed.

  3. Luigi Barbano Avatar
    Luigi Barbano

    Relativism is killing the world.

  4. Jason Michalski Avatar
    Jason Michalski

    Absolutely not a lie. It’s whatever the vision the photographer has at the time. It’s like putting a filter on a photo to capture a mood and when the viewer sees it, it brings out emotions to connect. I made a overcast photo into a beautiful sunset. I wanted to recreate what I saw in my mind with the photo I took which I turned it into fine art it’s going on canvas and sold ? To me Photography is more personalized and it’s all from the photographer ?

  5. Jason Michalski Avatar
    Jason Michalski

    I’m only taking about fine art but if it’s photojournalism and your only cropping one part of the photo like the media does then yes it’s a lie

  6. Clarence Hemeon Avatar
    Clarence Hemeon

    I think it does matter but then again since this is the age of the attention whore it makes sense that so called photographers would spend the time to make up images as long as they get the attention (feel important, special, false sense of ability, and most important money and fame).

  7. CJ Schmit Avatar
    CJ Schmit

    So now Art is going to be torn apart to tell if the piece is real or a lie? I get journalistic photography needs to be “real” but since when does artistic need to be that way? We are getting way too picky as a society these days.

  8. Howard Siegel Avatar
    Howard Siegel

    This is exactly what I was talking about. MSM showed the one on the left. Fox showed the center or right. Which is truth?

  9. Jason Michalski Avatar
    Jason Michalski

    I knew what you meant ? the whole picture is truth but it’s what people want to believe is their truth that fits their reality

  10. stewart norton Avatar
    stewart norton

    As long as no harm is done I don’t see that it really matters.

  11. Cathy Avatar

    Unless it’s photo journalism then who cares? Photography is an art form. A way for someone to be creative. My Christmas pictures this year were shot in front of a blue screen. It’s my outlet

  12. Anthony Smith Avatar
    Anthony Smith

    It’s only wrong when it’s accompanied with a lie that says the photograph is an actual scene or event. I always expect every photograph to have been edited.

  13. Andy Dench Avatar
    Andy Dench

    Sometimes there’s more truth in art than in reality. It’s often in an artistic portrayal of someone that you’re able to capture the real person. It’s rarely so black and white as to say you’re lying if you’re trying to represent truth in art.

  14. countervail Avatar

    I think the issue is if the subject matter is “news” or “art.” It’s like what we see with the 24/7 cable news channels that blur the line between news and opinion. As long as it’s clear which is which, there shouldn’t be any problem.

    1. Kevin Talbot Avatar
      Kevin Talbot

      I think this is a pretty fair distinction.

  15. John Flury Avatar
    John Flury

    I really appreciate his content. He doesn’t make it easy for himself, no “why this photographer switched to Sony” and no “10 mistakes every photographer makes”. His videos are thought-provoking, philosophical but with substance.

    1. Remytron83 Avatar

      I wish there were more like him.

    2. Lee Bennett Avatar
      Lee Bennett

      John Flury totally with you on this… I like watching camera tech videos, especially when in the market for gear, but his videos are timeless education in comparison. Very balanced too. ?

  16. Rich Morgan Avatar
    Rich Morgan

    Jason Michalski Granted, cropping and framing impact the interpretation of the actual event, but the REAL TRUTH of what is happening includes the actions of those photographed taken prior to the event, and the intentions of the individuals – what is in THEIR hearts and minds. The rest of us are mere observers with our own biases which are often influenced by external conditions, whether as photographer or on site viewer. Nothing is more unreliable than witnesses to an automobile accident.
    Unfortunately, news reporting is now primarily editorials/opinions designed for emotional impact to garner higher ratings – journalism, fact checking, are all but dead. Manipulation of the masses is the name of the game. Power and money are the goals.

  17. Jason Michalski Avatar
    Jason Michalski

    Rich Morgan your 1000% correct sir it’s sad about the journalism being dead and worse, media banks off lies and creates hysteria and chaos as you are seeing right now

  18. ArizonaSunshine1 Avatar

    Problem. How can there ever be”photographic evidence” in our justice system when you can make ANYONE LOOK LIKE THEY ARE DOING ANYTHING the manipulator likes? Terrifying.

  19. Adam Shane Avatar
    Adam Shane

    By anybodies definition that cropping is a lie: All photographs are lies… all human vision is a lie…. all unaided human perception of the world around them is a lie. Even if we had the ability to perceive the entire spectrum, we’d still be limited by our viewpoint. The only thing that is not a lie by that definition is an all encompassing 4D recording of events … which is simply not possible. As with many things in life perspective is key, and one persons truth can be another persons lie, simply based on the information they’ve been presented.

  20. Remytron83 Avatar

    It depends on what you’re shooting for. Is it for documenting a moment for history, such as the news? If so then things should not be manipulated. If it’s for art purposes then it is what it is… art. Let’s not overthink this.

  21. Михаил Бормин Avatar
    Михаил Бормин

    Then author say “this kind of thing was ok almost 80 years ago” I immediately understand: he is manipulating his readers. In editorial photo your goal is to show actual facts with as little manipulation as possible. The rest is irrelevant.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar

      I’m manipulating nobody. There was an “if” at the beginning of the line you quoted and a “?” at the end. It was a question.

  22. Lorna Taylor Avatar
    Lorna Taylor

    I think a photographer/artist can do whatever they like to their image to tell the story they were wanting to tell. I think it is cheating in competition if you ignored the rules and summit a piece that does not fit the requirements. It doesn’t make the image less a piece of art just ignoring the rules that others did follow. As far as photojournalism I think it is ok to change an image slightly because you are trying to convey and show impact images of a scene or event different than tv journalismin where the video is rolling and things are happening as they are happening. Removing one item or subject from a piece of photojournalism to show a stronger more emotional work of ok with me but you can fabract the whole thing that then is more in the art realm where anything goes.

  23. Jimmy Harris Avatar
    Jimmy Harris

    Every photo is a lie. It’s a two dimensional representation of a selectively narrow band of reflected light captured over a compressed span of time. Lenses compress, distort, and blur parts of the image that are not compressed, distorted, or blurred in real life. Films, sensors, and integrated software distort color curves and dynamic range. The idea that any photo could be or accurately represent truth is absurd! Photos can be useful for documenting people, places, things, and events, but they should only be considered supplementary to the story being told, not evidence of truthfulness.

    1. Kevin Talbot Avatar
      Kevin Talbot

      So by this definition, is everything your eyes see a lie? They have lenses and imaging “sensors” that “distort”.

      1. Jimmy Harris Avatar
        Jimmy Harris

        Kind of, but you’re misunderstanding my point. What we see are objects. What we dont see are the cells, molecules, atoms, subatomic particles, and all of the space between them. Beyond that, our brains interpret the light and forms it own images. This is why we see things in the dark that aren’t there, don’t usually see our noses, and don’t see the blind spots in the corner of our eyes.

        Anyway, my point is that cameras aren’t a perfect capture of reality. They’re flawed and should be understood as such. You’re doing yourself a disservice if you believe any photograph can represent the whole truth.

        1. Kevin Talbot Avatar
          Kevin Talbot

          Agreed – cameras are FAR from perfect. As far as the “whole truth”, we will need some philosophers and lawyers to join in ;-)

    2. A_n_S Avatar

      Those are not lies, they are imperfect depictions of the real world. A lie suggests intent to deceive. I trust that you don’t anthropomorphize your camera…

  24. Tore Hansen Avatar
    Tore Hansen

    If people think some pixels are “real” and other pixels are not, they might have to pull their head out of their ass…

  25. David Ar Lester Avatar
    David Ar Lester

    I graduated from one of the top 3 Colleges on Journalism and Communications in the USA. It was when “Ethics Mattered” . My College found several cases of Ethics Violations by some students and were dismissed from the College. Photojournalism was also part of the curriculum. Misrepresentation in News reporting(Yellow Journalism) and in photography is a big violation of ethics- it’s lieing, a scam, false reporting. The issue is also that the editors are changig the story line sometimes without the reporter’s knowledge. It seems that this process of the news is just accepted by the masses. Be careful, sometimes following that crowd means that the “M” is silent.

  26. Todd Sipes Avatar
    Todd Sipes

    It’s sad that DIYPhotography feels the need to delete comments that are in any way critical of their subpar content. This’ll be any easy “Unlike.”

    1. A_n_S Avatar

      I have been thinking about unsubscribing! Half of the articles are superfluous at best, and often misleading with click-bait titles… Let’s see if this comment gets deleted.

    2. Jamie Windsor Avatar
      Jamie Windsor

      Subpar? Ok. Well, thanks.

  27. G.I.GIO Avatar

    If you purchase a $5000.00 camera and put a $5000 lens on it… is it a crime to use presets that alter the image?

  28. Tj Ó Seamállaigh Avatar
    Tj Ó Seamállaigh

    IMHO, the question of “truth” in photography does not float up unless you are about to use photographs as tools of judgement and apply justice. Otherwise, I think the general public now and most people are aware of the powers of the editing tools and the creative minds behind it. Thus, do not be scared by a photo with vibrant colors or vibrant meaning or anything that makes catches your eyes for moments of staring. Be afraid of those which are politically-suggestive and/or biased against a specific group. Such photos are and must be subjected to further inspection to make sure it’s true (and outside the courts halls, these might lead a general public’s opinion in specific direction).

  29. John Flury Avatar
    John Flury

    John Wilhelm yep, that was mistake 1 of 10.

  30. Kevin Talbot Avatar
    Kevin Talbot

    Very good video that asks some hard questions.

    Speaking for my own photography (mostly landscape), adjusting color/=, exposure/=, sharpness, composition is fine. The human eye has a vastly wider dynamic range than any camera – technically it is not possible to capture a photo (with film or digital) that can capture that range without some exposure manipulation.

    When I add or remove elements in the photo, I always note that on my prints and clearly state the image is a composite if it is such. The famous wildlife photographer Art Wolfe got into huge trouble years ago for “cloning” animals in to create fake huge herds on the plains of Africa is one of his books. I lost a lot of respect for him based on that deception.

    For photojournalism, removing/adding elements or staging a photo is completely wrong and misleading. Likewise the image in the video showing the milkman walking in the post-war rubble would be completely wrong if it was in a documentary book about “war” as it’s completely staged. But the staged photo of the young woman elevator operator is fine by me.

    I have had people tell me its flat “wrong” to do any editing in Lightroom or whatever. program. The only “right” way is to take the photo straight out of the camera. But when I point out to them the JPEGs that come out of their camera are “manipulated” in-camera, they don’t really know how to respond. Making a print on cheap $49 inkjet printer on plain paper looks completely different that the same image printed on a high end pro inkjet printer using high quality photo paper. Is one of those “right” and one “wrong?

    In my head for my own personal work, I have a line between “photographs” and “art” were “art” can be a photograph that is heavily manipulated.

    And regarding Ansel Adams photos – they are 100% OK in my book as he was “manipulating” in the darkroom with dodging and burning and developing which is essentially what I think is OK in Lightroom for “photographs”. Had the moon been composited in, that would cross my personal line as “fake”. BTW, that is one of his most iconic photos and there’s an interesting story to it. It was a split second shot at the end of a long day with not much in the way of good photos:

    — Kevin

  31. A_n_S Avatar

    I think the article (as so often here) is missing the point. Ansel Adams is at the border of documentary and fine art and it is perfectly fine to alter images to become fine art. Where alteration is not acceptable is photo journalism, street photography and nature photography within the realms of the PSA, all of which do not allow cloning of any kind (aside from dust spots). All else is fair game and as long as somebody states what they did, I’m fine with that. Lying about an image not being a composite when it is not is what we should go after and question.

    1. Kaouthia Avatar

      No, the point wasn’t missed.