Is Photo Retouching Ethical?

August 22, 2013 General, Photography 0 Comments

Is Photo Retouching Ethical?The concept of retouching photos is a touchy subject.

Photographers must ask themselves: When does retouching a photo cross over into going too far? Is editing a photo to convince viewers of something false an acceptable practice? Does retouching a photo set unrealistic and false expectations for consumers?

We’ve outlined both sides of the argument – and want you to decide for yourself. What side are you on?

It’s a Lie: The Argument Against Retouching

Programs like Adobe Photoshop allow users to make changes to pictures so they look slightly or completely different from their original appearance. These programs can enhance certain features, diminish or completely erase certain features and even add features.

When magazines, businesses and advertisements retouch photos, a common argument is that this delivers a false message to the consumer. The photo is not truthful and therefore it is lying to the consumer.

“Dishonest photographs add an unnecessary level of apprehension and turmoil that could be avoided,” argues photographer and author Maggie O’Briant. [] “It should be seen that digital retouching takes away from the photograph instead of adding to it.”

The Audience: The Argument for Retouching

Some people argue the opposite end of this spectrum. They believe that the problem is not the retouched photo; rather, the problem lies in the audience who misguidedly lets themselves believe that the image is true, when clearly it isn’t.

This argument addresses fashion magazines as an example. When young women look at fashion magazines in this current society, they should be well aware that the photos are retouched. They should know by now the photos are not 100 percent truthful or realistic. Choosing to consider the photos real is a naïve mistake on the consumers’ part, not an unethical mistake by the fashion magazine.

“The problem isn’t altered photographs, it’s our failure to alter our expectations of them,” says New York Magazine reporter Amanda Fortini. [] “Let’s cope with our image-drenched environment by teaching young women (and men) to cultivate the same critical skills we urge them to exercise when reading, a more complex task than pointing gleeful fingers at graphic misdemeanors.”

You Decide

When it comes down to it, the ethics of photo retouching lie primarily in the hands of the people behind the lens and the editing software: the photographers. These professionals are the ones who can decide where to draw the line. The issue of whether or not retouching photographs is ethical is a subjective concept and one that should be addressed by each individual photographer.

One thing is for sure: digital retouching and photo editing are here to stay. Whether or not photographers choose to take the edits to a dramatic, transformative level is up to them.


What do you think?