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This question came to my mind when I asked this question. Kindly have a look on it and the accepted answer there.

You'll see:

  1. Photo is cropped
  2. A white vertical bar thing is hidden
  3. A pipe nearby the leaf is hidden (right bottom corner)
  4. Background is blurred

I like all of those changes. It definitely makes the leaf it better. But now I have a doubt that little bit kills me. Is it moral to do such things in Photo? I read answers on a similar question but this type of editing was not discussed much there (although I assume they support such editing).

Or you should already take care of objects, unnecessary objects, main objects and other things, before taking photo, which will make photo better?

  • It's always easier in post if you considered every single aspect of your shot before you clicked, but it's not always possible. Nir's answer in the linked question is as good as it gets. – Tetsujin Aug 2 at 15:58
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    You're making the mistake of considering all of photography as one thing - it's not. There's an enormous difference between (say) photography for news purposes (the press agencies have very strict rules on manipulation) and photography as pure art. – Philip Kendall Aug 2 at 16:08
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    @twalberg - I shall have to defer to your particular definition of 'morality' then... which is resultantly ironic. – Tetsujin Aug 2 at 16:12
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    @twalberg What about deepfakes? I.e. if I edit your face onto someone else's body so that it appears you are doing something you never did (typically something obscene in nature). – user3067860 Aug 2 at 20:52
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    @user3067860 One could argue that simply editing the image isn't immoral; rather, it's using that edited image in a misleading way. – David Richerby Aug 3 at 20:19
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Artistic photography follows the beauty is in the eye of the beholder ethos. There is nothing inherently immoral about it.

Photography that is meant to make a political statement or journal actual events is held to a much different standard. Take this example:

enter image description here

The depiction is of an actual event, the right person attacking the left. However, the lighting and framing being captured on film makes the scene appear exactly the opposite.

Context is vitally important in how we judge what we see, and as photographers, we have the ability to change that context through the use of our framing. Any image captured that is used to interpret an event that leads people to a conclusion about that event that would differ from those that were actually there is an immoral image.

As a journalist, your job is to document history and relay it to others - and that is a vitally important task. If you are building a story to fit your own conclusion, then you're an activist, not a journalist, and passing your imagery off as truth is, indeed, immoral.

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    "... beauty is in the eye of the beholder... There is nothing inherently immoral about it." – George Nader had some photos in his possession that many would consider "inherently immoral". – xiota Aug 3 at 3:32
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    @Vikas Here's an attempt to break it down for you: If you do photography for art, then there are almost no rules (apart from the law of the country you are in). If you do photography for journalism, you have an obligation to stay true to the context of the depicted object and not distort the meaning of the photo by alteration. – Ian Aug 5 at 5:56
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    @Vikas to continue Ian's thought: Art is art - your leaf picture is art. Create art to satisfy yourself/your viewers. If, however, you were going to use your leaf picture as journalistic evidence/documentation of an event, editing or cropping it to leave out vital context would be immoral. Journalism has within it the tennent of accurately reporting facts of what happened (theoretically without adding judgement). Editing images can change the appearance of what those facts are. Passing that off as journalism is immoral and makes you a mere activist. – FreeMan Aug 5 at 14:53
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    While I agree with "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", it has no play in defining morality. E.g. even if it was not the case and it was universally agreed that flowers are beautify and leaves are not, a photo of a leave would still not be immoral. – Dmitry Grigoryev Aug 6 at 5:12
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    Also, your first line sound as if moral standards didn't apply to artwork, which is also not true. Again, beauty has no play in it, but there are other considerations. Art can absolutely be used to promote something immoral. – Dmitry Grigoryev Aug 6 at 5:29
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The context changes what is acceptable and what isn't. Nature photographers are expected to photograph nature, not caged animals or taxidermy specimens. Documentary photographers are expected to represent reality as nearly as possible, not to airbrush people out of photos. Contest participants are expected to follow the contest rules. No such restrictions apply to ordinary people.

The level of deception indicates how appropriate actions are. If you feel a need to hide what you're doing, you're probably doing something you shouldn't. If you fully disclose what you've done (before it is discovered by others), there's likely nothing wrong with it. (This assumes a reasonably calibrated moral compass, which you likely have, since you're asking this question in the first place.)

Tetsujin documented the alterations and showed the modified version along with the original, so what he did is fine. Consider how different that is from someone claiming the altered version is original as it came out of the camera. Consider how that's different from someone who presents the altered version while allowing others to believe it is the original, but fesses up after being caught.


Do you mean, if I'm sharing it online, I should mention that I've edited it?

You're more likely to be in the clear if you explicitly state what edits you make to photos. If you let people think you didn't, then fess up only after you're caught, there will be question about whether you intentionally let people think it was the original. Every photographer who has gotten in trouble for editing photos that people believed to have been unedited could have avoided the problem by including a single word in the caption - "Edited."

  • If a photo simply doesn't matter, it doesn't matter whether you disclose edits. Everyone who says anything goes in art is essentially saying art doesn't matter. Artists explain more about their work than anyone cares to know because it matters to them, even if no one else cares.

  • If a photo is unedited, there are no edits to disclose, and there is nothing for anyone to call out. For clarity, you may choose to notify people that the photo was unedited.

  • If it is clear from context that a photo was edited, you may decide not to mention it was edited. But for clarity, it is better to accurately describe the photo and its edits.

  • If the context implies a photo is unedited, it can be problematic to present edited photos, even when the edits are disclosed. For instance, when asking a question on this site, it is plainly dishonest to upload an image that was edited to artificially demonstrate a problem that does not exist.

  • If you fully disclose what you've done (before it is discovered by others), there's likely nothing wrong with it Do you mean, if I'm sharing it online, I should mention that I've edited it? – Vikas Aug 3 at 16:54
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    You're more likely to be in the clear if you explicitly state what edits you make to photos. If you let people think you didn't, then fess up only after you're caught, there will be question about whether you intentionally let people think it was the original. Every photographer who has gotten in trouble for editing photos that people believed to have been unedited could have avoided the problem by including a single word in the caption - "Edited." – xiota Aug 5 at 0:00
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It depends on the intent. If the goal, and actual result is "art", i.e make a nice-looking thing, then anything is acceptable. If the goal is to make the picture be a fake proof that something happened (for instance, removing Angela Merkel from a group of heads of state) then it is much more open to debate. But there is no hard rule, it could depend on the intent[*].

[*] in the case of Mrs. Merkel, it was for a newspaper read by people who find any pictures of any women offensive.

  • So the edits which were done in my photograph (the answer I mentioned in question), are fine? – Vikas Aug 3 at 16:56
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    "then anything is acceptable" - There must be limits. What if someone "needs" the blood of an innocent to create some specific piece of "art"? (The " intent" is art. The blood is incidental.) – xiota Aug 4 at 0:59
4

First things first:

Or you should already take care of objects, unnecessary objects, main objects and other things, before taking photo, which will make photo better?

What is "better"? Is it a photo that you like more than others? A photo that I like more? A photo that we all like more? A photo that has fewer flaws? Flaws seen in which person's perspective?

Also, "better" has nothing to do with "more morally acceptable" - e.g. I would probably be a better human if someone put Einstein's brain in place of mine, yet this would not be very moral to me.


First, we would have to define what we consider as being 'moral' or 'immoral'. I guess this can be considered a broad definition that we could agree upon:

Those who use “morality” normatively hold that morality is (or would be) the code that meets the following condition: all rational persons, under certain specified conditions, would endorse it. [...] Definitions of morality in the normative sense—and, consequently, moral theories—differ in their accounts of rationality, and in their specifications of the conditions under which all rational persons would necessarily endorse the code of conduct that therefore would count as morality.

Definition of morality from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

So in terms of photography...what is and what is not something that we all can agree upon? I guess most of us think that we should honor contracts - but are all contracts morally acceptable? The morality of an action has to be judged for every specific action.


The first thing that comes to my mind is the issue of composition - where is the difference between cropping the frame digitally vs. zooming in at the time of image capturing? Both have the same result. To add to xenoid's point: would it be less immoral just to push Mrs. Merkel out of the frame before taking the picture? How so?


But let us go through some cases in which I believe that editing is not immoral at all:

If in one of my model shots, you can accidentally see the underwear and/or some "naughty bits" and I only came to recognize that in post production - is it immoral to:

  • break the contract with the model and publish the photos as-is?
  • edit it slightly so that it is no issue?
  • delete all the photos immediately and act as if they never existed?

There are of course more options and combinations of options to this, including "talking to the model about the issue" - I wanted to keep it short ;-)

A somewhat similar example be made with journalistic photos: Is it immoral to blur faces in shots of dissidents? Is it immoral to not blur them although it was an agreed upon term before taking the shots?


As you see, it is impossible to answer your question for each and every case, as every case needs its own evaluation of what would be morally right.

That does not mean that I think that the answers given here are bad in any way (some of them got +1s from me). I just want to say that defining what is and is not moral is incredibly difficult - and even more so with something as photo editing, which to my mind begins even before taking the actual shot.

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    "I would probably be a better human if someone put Einstein's brain in place of mine" - Altered Carbon by Richard K Morgan might be of interest. – xiota Aug 3 at 19:02
  • @xiota Was just a random thing that came up in my brain - I could have used something else as well, but Einstein's brain was somewhat specifically "preserved" for something like that. Anyways, nice suggestion, I will look into it :-) – flolilo Aug 7 at 0:42
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    Suppose it could be done. Would you consider it a brain transplant or a body transplant? // Altered Carbon is also a tv series available on Netflix – xiota Aug 7 at 0:44
  • @xiota That is, in fact, the most pressing question in this whole answer :D It depends on whose conscience you consider to be dominant - which also depends on whether my brain would get discarded or transplanted, as well. Oh, and in this case, where my conscience makes the proposal and the other conscience is in no position to agree/disagree, I'd consider it a brain transplant - in case Einstein's brain wanted my body specifically, it would be a body transplant. Anyways, I will see if I can find any Thesis on this topic ;-) – flolilo Aug 7 at 0:51
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How does moral play into it? Is it immoral to do studio recordings of songs rather than live recordings? It's not immoral as much as different unless you hand in a recording as proof of your skills when applying to a band without mentioning the editing. Or in your case, when applying for a job as field photographer.

At any rate, the less you depend on manipulations, the more reserves you have for doing the manipulations where it counts. And elements of a photograph that are actual parts of the photograph tend to have a lot more detail and depth than you can achieve with a reasonable amount of effort in post-editing. Fix the exposure after the fact, and you get quite more noise than if you worked from proper exposure (or overdone but not blown-out exposure) to start with. Proper background blur involves elements that would actually be invisible if you tried creating them from a sharp photograph. Cf for example, the highlights on the whisker behind the fork in the following photograph: on some highlights the center where it originates is not even visible, so you cannot expect to recreate those bokeh circles from a photograph with large depth of field.sharp fork before blurred whisker

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An example if it is moral to change photos is the very much discussed photographing of models which are photoshopped to look slimmer, have small (or big) body properties removed or masked. What can be done in photoshop can be done too with filters for example, like using a soft filter for a face.

Is it moral to make (photograph) or adapt (photoshop) pictures of beautiful models who are in real life not so perfect, but send a signal that girls who do not look like a model get psychological problems?

Or what about photography tricks to photograph food? I once read that food looks better photographed when it is frozen (even when that type of food should never be frozen). So it gives some kind of 'fake' reality. Edited after remark: I searched if I could find anything about frozen food, but I cannot find out. What I did found however was to use motor oil and using other non eatable stuff for making pictures nicer: the dirty tricks of food photography .

For the photographer, the intention is to make pictures more beautiful, or in other cases, more intense. What the users (or companies) of the pictures do with it or how it affects the audience is a neverending story.

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    There are a lot of food photography tricks, where food is only partially cooked, but I doubt photographing it frozen is one of them. Keeping stuff frozen is difficult, which is why fake ice cubes are needed. – xiota Aug 3 at 6:44
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    For an example of immoral, order anything at a fast food restaurant and then compare it to the image on the menu board. – WGroleau Aug 3 at 16:59
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    @WGroleau Trying to photograph fast food to look like the ads is good practice. – xiota Aug 7 at 22:52
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    Trying to photograph fast food to look like the ads is impossible. – WGroleau Aug 7 at 23:47
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    Many of the food photography tricks aren't even immoral, they're necessary so the product looks as fresh and delicious during a long shooting session as when it would actually be served. (not talking fast food here, obviously). It's a case of manipulation to better reflect reality instead of deception. Just like people on tv need makeup so you don't see all the blemishes you wouldn't even notice when you see them in person. – ths Aug 8 at 12:47
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The questions of morality doesn't depend on whether the photo is edited, but rather on the context in which it is used. E.g. the guys below could have taken their photo without any editing, but it's still deceptive and thus morally wrong (assuming the photo was supposed to objectively represent the situation):

enter image description here

There are cases where a photo is required not to be altered in any way (e.g. when it is used as a proof), and this requirement is typically stated explicitly. Barring such cases, editing a photo has by itself no play in determining its moral status.

Bear in mind that every time you take a photo with your cellphone, the end result is automatically "edited" by the camera software.

  • "questions of morality doesn't depend on whether the photo is edited" – Good example. Agree that context of use is important to consider, but the context of editing can make the edit itself ethically problematic. – xiota Aug 7 at 4:50

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