Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The future of photography: Photographers not necessary ...

Adobe further undermining professionalism and journalistic ethics?

I am again piggybacking on Mark Johnson's content over at Visual Journalism, but this is worth sharing.

Software giant Adobe® is yet again updating their ubiquitous Photoshop® image editing software. One of the most significant new features is what they call "content-aware fill," which essentially allows you to select all kinds of objects within your image and almost imperceptibly delete them as if they were never there – easy as pie. Check out the YouTube video demonstrating some of the capabilities of this feature, which may have serious implications.

Pretty slick, eh? There are plenty of photographers, artists, and graphics professionals drooling over this capability. It's a real time-saver, they are saying. Maybe they shouldn't be so hasty. Content-aware fill doesn't do anything new. This kind of editing has been possible for a long time. What it now does is make this kind of editing easy for anyone to do very quickly. All that money and time spent on Photoshop® training could be down the drain for thousands of graphics and photography professionals who charge upwards of $150 an hour for retouching services.

Anyone notice the image used for the first example in the video? Poorly composed. Ugly light. Just an incredibly amateurish image, yet we were told this picture was for a real life client.  Amazing. Just what is Adobe really trying to sell? Don't want to pay for a professional photographer? That's okay, Photoshop will fix everything. Don't know anything about composition. Fix it in Photoshop. Don't know anything about lighting? Fix it in Photoshop. Don't have the right equipment for the job? Well, you know ...

Is this the future of photography? No photographer necessary? Funny thing is, this has been brewing for a while. The talent many clients seek out these days are those who know all the Photoshop tricks, rather than professional image makers. Now, Adobe is making it so easy, you don't need to know any tricks. No talent or knowledge necessary, either.
"Pictures have power when they are real, and real photographs have the power to change society."
John Long, Ethics Chair for the National Press Photographers Association
What does this mean for my profession? It further undermines the credibility of any image produced by working photojournalists. The public needs to believe that the images made by photojournalists are honest and accurate representations of the subjects and scenes they photograph. News photographers who change and alter their images to suit their personal aesthetic tastes or to further their careers are lying to the public. Every year we hear about these photographers and their ethical lapses. It may cost these photographers their jobs, but it costs the rest of us credibility – our work has little value if our audience doesn't not see our images as believable. With the new Photoshop CS5, it's now easier than ever to deceive the public with photographs.

Do you believe the images you see in the news are real? Technology is creating a new paradigm about information and about images. Only a fool would try and bottle up the techno-genie. So I ask you, what are the benchmarks of reliable information in this new, emerging digital world? Is my commitment to ethical newsgathering and presentation enough? What do you need from me, people, so you believe my visual testimonies are accurate?

If you are interested, please follow this link for a detailed, technical explanation about how I use Photoshop in my work and about the ethical standards which I abide by.


  1. i tend to agree...but you write as if everyone can afford a prefessional photographer. Want a simple image for a website, instead of having one of the employees go out and snap a snot with their PNP you will instead pay tons of money for a professional to do it. Not to mention a professional that will most likely produce similar quality products.

    Lets face it, if a professional is really good then they will be able to produce something photoshop could never reproduce..that is why they are professionals right? Not to mention, the economy is tight especially for startup businesses.

    I do agree with you, but I still find it funny that even professional still use photoshop and yet we decide to point fingers at people who use photoshop too much. Lets face it, the content aware fill is not going to create a master piece. If anything it will turn a good photo into a great photo. Not to mention, the reason in the photo for the content aware is to clear out things not needed in order to allow more space for advertisement. Yes, they could have moved about three feet to the left and the tree would never be there.

    ALSO, it is important to point out that a company that brings in a professional expects them to do the unexpected....which might not be possible with resources and thus photoshop saves them money. That is important.

    I hear the warning bells that any joe smo can go out and take a photo and then alter it to look great using photoshop. But I foresee even professionals using the features found in photoshop....and I feel for the pros that might lose profit because businesses might resort to artificial means of producing what they want.

    Your main argument seems to center around, "News photographers who change and alter their images to suit their personal aesthetic tastes or to further their careers are lying to the public." And this is a good concern but the way I see it, if they are going to cheat and lie, they are going to do it whether it is easy or not. It will happen....the byproduct of this new feature is that now it is easier.

  2. Thanks for contributing, Andrew. I hope you and others will comment on my response.

    I think there are two main issues I'd like to hear some thoughts on.

    The first is professionalism. You make a very good point about how a true professional photographer should produce work that is unique – something of value to a client. But technology has produced a dilemma. On one hand, technology has made photography much more "democratic." Photography has never been easier. And interest in photography has never been greater. Just look at all of the photo sharing sites on the web. The public has a ferocious appetite for images.

    On the other hand, technology has produced a climate where millions of hobbyists have made their photographs available to the commercial world at extremely low usage rates – or for free. The range of quality is quite wide: from very good, sometimes spectacular, to really bad. Many, perhaps most, are simply thrilled with the exposure with no further considerations. It's had an extremely detrimental effect on those who have been making their living with photography. It's produced an environment where potential clients would rather pay just a few bucks or troll for freebies instead of paying the traditional going-rates for professional work, either assigned or stock. It's not just the small, start-up, low-budget businesses, either. The big firms, multi-million dollar advertising agencies, are doing the same thing – cherry-picking from the "micro-stock" web sites and then charging their clients nearly the same amount and pocketing the additional profits.

    It takes more than a good eye to make a living at photography. It take a serious commitment of time and money. Overhead in the photography biz is extremely high. The really good professionals are not doing volume work, either. Sometimes jaws drop when they get a quote from a pro, but they don't realize that at least 70% of that quote is going to business expenses. I'm really oversimplifying here, but that means you have to bill over $100K just to make a teacher's starting salary in a small school district.

    Right now, there's lots of photographers still making a good living, but you are universally hearing stories about the loss of assignments and stock sales. It's not just the economy at work here. Perhaps it's simply the reality of the Digital Age.

    So I guess what I'm asking is how long can photography remain a viable profession, even if you're really good, in a climate where professionalism and high quality is no longer widely valued?

    (continued below ...)

  3. (...continued from above)

    The second issue is related to the first – the "democratization" of photography will impact ethical concerns and could ultimately undermine the credibility of photographs in the context of news. Like you said, Andrew, cheats and liars will always find a way to deceive people for their own personal gain. Just like a few dirty cops, crooked lawyers, and unscrupulous doctors give the rest of their kin headaches, dishonest journalists make credibility difficult for the entire profession. But that's not the extent of the issue.

    In addition, we now have to question the effect "citizen journalists" and amateur contributors have on the reliability of information being presented to the public at large. These days, anyone can take a picture of a news event with their smart phone and immediately share it on the internet. While there is certainly an upside to such timeliness, the downside is that such information doesn't go through the typical editorial process which verifies authenticity, establishes reliability, and makes sure it complies with journalistic ethical standards.

    I personally believe one of the biggest problems in our society is ambivalence towards information and media, in general. We are ravenous consumers of information, but essentially ignorant about the processes and motivations behind the information we ingest. I honestly believe that our education, starting in high school, ought to incorporate instruction in media literacy. Classes that not only include an understanding of different kinds of media, but that also include an introduction to the editorial process and journalistic ethics. The public needs to understand what makes information reliable and believable so they can make informed choices in life.

    Can we generate some discussion about that?


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.