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Digital Image Manipulation - Is The Manipulation Of Images Ethical?

Aug 17, 2007
Anybody can spend a couple of minutes working with an imaging software and change reality into another level - the professionals simply do it better and quicker. This was not so in the case of the film cameras and their negatives or transparencies. They could not be made to lie because the alteration was easily noticeable.

However, digital image and manipulation go hand in hand under the descriptive words of "digital enhancement," referring to improving the quality of the photograph through software such as Adobe Photoshop or Photopaint. With whatever it takes to do so.

The photographers play around with things such as color, angle, size, pixels or the removal of distracting elements like tables, chairs etc. If need be, the photographers also use a digital brush to change the color of eyes or remove identifying marks. All this and more can be done with the tools available in any good photo-editing software. The picture invariably comes out looking better yet entirely different. No one will complain if the changes improve the quality of the picture.

But there are times when photographers go further and alter parts of the picture. They import another face or person into the picture or change the surroundings. When they do this, they are clearly guilty of manipulation. The photograph then is not a document but a lie. It can prove to be dangerous if it was submitted to a court of law. It could very easily upturn a verdict if the manipulation was of a quality that could fool digital forensic experts.

The danger is that the manipulation tools are so easily available to anyone who wants to use them. Anyone can buy photo-editing software, and edit or morph pictures of their choice. There have been scores of cases when pictures of celebrities have been morphed and hosted in compromising positions on the net. This is indefensible; all acts of manipulation need to be punished.

Some photographers put forward the argument that it is impossible to capture reality. They are right. Even the best digital cameras cannot capture colors in the same way that the eyes do. But this is not manipulation. This is acceptance of reality. Actually, we should feel happy that we could capture nature so closely now.

What is more important is that we do not manipulate digital images. We should limit ourselves to enhancing their quality. Ethical standards concerning computers and digital photography are not new issues, having been around for a long while. What is new is the "way of processing the digital images" where they can be modified, enhanced, or even made to lie; to the point, the public doubts anything that is photographed.

Unfortunately, the public has always looked to photographs as a form of verification, or a form of proof of something, which is now being undermined, along with the consumer and the news providers.
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