What Does Photographic Integrity Mean?
Wednesday 3 May 2017 — Category: Processing
As I alluded to in my last article, sometimes I glean culinary inspiration from OregonLive.com, the online version of Portland-based The Oregonian, which is the largest newspaper in the region. Not only do I find interesting recipes there, but I also learn about Portland restaurants, beers, pub crawls, and more.
Last year I was looking at a recipe called Simple Salt and Pepper Salmon which included the photo to the right. When I regarded that image with my photographic eye, I cringed to see the picture’s ugly and unnatural blue tint.
My mind was buzzing with questions. Is that the way the dish really looked in the author-photographer’s kitchen? Did she have some sort of blue tinted lighting there? Did her editor at OregonLive truly think that that photo was OK? Did they even consider making it look more natural and appealing? I suppose I will never know the true answers to these questions.
For some years now there has been an ongoing and often heated debate about the rules and ethics of digital photojournalism. From what I understand, some people believe that almost any type of post-processing is OK as long as it helps tell the story. Others think that a certain amount of image editing is acceptable, but then there is a debate about what kind and how much editing is OK or not. A third group believes that all post-processing is wrong and that a photo should be used just as the camera captured it.
The above salmon photo may be ethical according the third group, but I think it violates some of the of the NPPA (National Press Photographers Association) code of ethics. A couple of these standards are:
The main problem is that cameras and our eyes see things differently, so that what the camera sees and captures can be significantly different than what we saw with our eyes. My own experience is that the majority of the time the camera does not record the subject accurately. I almost never post a photo on this Web site that hasn’t had some sort of post-processing.
In order to accurately represent the subject, maintain the content’s integrity and not mislead viewers, I think many photos should be and must be edited. The camera itself is being inaccurate and misleading. It is up to photographers and photo editors to correct this with post-processing. This is what I have done with the salmon photo. To the right is my edited version. I think it is probably more accurate than the version straight out of the camera, which supposedly has more “integrity” than mine.
I wasn’t there, so I don’t know what the plate of salmon and peas looked like in real life. But I’m almost certain they did not have the blue tint captured in the original photo. I think that my version is more natural and accurate. It for sure makes the food look more appetizing. Which salmon would you rather eat? The one with a sickly blue tint, or the one with the pinkish-orange color called salmon? I think it is pretty obvious.
In this article I am talking about photojournalism. In the realm of artistic photography, you can push things even further. Ansel Adams said that you don’t take a photograph, you make it. That ascended master of photography believed that only half of the creative process occurred behind the camera, while the other half took place in the darkroom. In our modern era we have digital darkrooms at our disposal.
It really irritates me when someone looks at one of my photos, and the first thing they say is: “But is that what it really looked like?” They are implying that my post-processing created an inaccurate and misleading image. Sometimes that is true, because I’m approaching photography more as an artist than as a photojournalist. And in some cases, heavy editing is required in order to salvage a photo I would normally reject.
But what I am arguing in this article is that it can be just as easy to make a photo inaccurate and misleading by not editing as it is by editing. Photographers and editors can end up reducing or eliminating the accuracy and integrity of an image when they try to maintain photographic integrity by avoiding all post-processing.
Before I finish, let’s take one more look at the difference between the original and edited salmon photos. To make the comparison easier, I am alternating the images in the same place. Click on the photo to pause or restart the swapping.
To me it is obvious which photo is more true-to-life, natural, accurate and appealing. What do you think? Be sure to leave your comments below.