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|| News Item: Posted 2006-09-04

Digital Manipulation: 'If you alter a photograph, you will likely get caught and pay a possibly severe penalty for doing so.'
By Bryan Moss

Photo by Bryan Moss / Life in Corydon

Photo by Bryan Moss / Life in Corydon

South Harrison youth footballers get equipment and prepare for the season to begin.
Ethics. My grandmother put it simply: "Being good makes you happy." Altering photographs, in her language, is not being good.

But you could debate ethics for hours. Days. Two of my esteemed colleagues have been arguing whether it was right for Patrick Schneider to have changed the color of the sky in one of his photographs. Each has compelling arguments. Who among us has not moved a coke can that was in the way, or brushed aside a tree limb to see better or just stood in a place we didn't want the subjects to go to. Is it different to remove the coke can digitally? I think it is. I think it's different to alter an existing photograph.

But it doesn't matter what I think. The bottom line is that Schneider got fired for what he did. So have others whose manipulation was discovered. The ethics debate has been replaced by ethics practicality. If you alter a photograph, you will likely get caught and pay a possibly severe penalty for doing so.

We can argue the appropriateness of the harsh penalties and we can argue just what "alter" means. Is it dodging and burning? Using Auto Levels in Photoshop? Changing the white balance? Those debates will be ongoing, and no clear answer will prevail. In the meantime, people who substantially alter photographs are being fired. That's simple enough. Don't do it. It's not right, but it's also not smart.

Most radical changes, even crops, are inflicted on pictures that have flaws. Our pictures are not supposed to have flaws. But if they do, we just have to live with them.

I resist the temptation here to go into a long discussion about just how much dodging and burning and color correction is allowable. I think we all know when we're doing the wrong thing, though.

Be good.

(Bryan Moss has been on staff at some of the country's leading newspapers including the Courier Journal in Louisville and the San Jose Mercury News. He currently is the co-director of the White Cloud workshops with Mary Jo Moss: He is currently the editor and photographer on a hometown website he started, This is what's taking up his time these days. Adds Bryan: "For more alleged wisdom from me, buy a copy of my new book PhotoSynthesis, details at Among the topics it covers is how to get into the Zone when you're shooting.")

Related Links:
Book: PhotoSynthesis

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