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Photoshop. Unethical?


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#1 MatthewAddison

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Posted 11 May 2008 - 08:14 PM

I have been hearing from many "professional" underwater photographers and others in this community that working with your images in photoshop in any way, other than the most basic of adjustments has "ethical" implications. Most recently, I read an extremely good article by WP's own Dr. Mustard (UWP issue 42) where he stated "... I believe that it is important to strive to get the best possible results from the camera for several reasons. First, there is the ethical consideration of presenting images as shot as well as personal satisfaction."
I have also run into this issue in rules I see posted for contests, and frankly, I do not understand it.
If I were taking photos for scientific purposes such as fish ID books, or forensic disciplines, I would understand exactly why these reasons apply. But if your aim is artistic expression, why should one be forbidden from playing in the "(now digital) darkroom" as all the greatest artistic photographers have done for generations. Where we have sliders, they had time, temperature and mixture, and the greatest, the "Print Masters" such as Ansel Adams spent weeks in the darkroom working on one image! Should we exclude Adams, Scavullo, Versace, Moose Peterson (the list goes on and on) because they tinkered like mad with standard processes, dodged and burned, concocted chemical mixtures never before contemplated?
So, what are these "ethics" and where is the spring head from which they flow? Are we to conform to the unspoken standards, or as a great photographic teacher once said, "learn the rules and break them ruthlessly".
One of the greatest advances of digital is that it has leveled the playing field between the pro and amateur in that both groups can now go out and shoot a thousand images in a day should they wish, without the non-professional footing a huge bill. We have seen talent bloom in the Doctor, Lawyer and house painter which would not have been possible in the days of film. And that, in turn, has pushed the professional to new levels as well. At last years Photoshop World convention I attended a slide show from some of the top photographers in the world, from nature to high fashion. What they were showing blew my mind! And they were there because they view the digital tools of today to be as relevant as the darkroom tools of their film days.
I asked Vincent Versace about this "ethical" issue and he looked at me like I had two heads. He said something to the effect that he couldn't help me as he wasn't a photo journalist. 'nuff said.
So why am I "unethical" if my idea of underwater photography extends way, way beyond presenting my images as shot? Do I really need to take the "diver holding the light in mid-day in the top third background with the sea fan in the foreground" shot? Hey, it was great he first 30,000 times I saw it! Or can I do unspeakable things to my images in my "lightroom" and try to create something wonderful, (creating many train wrecks in the process), and still be one of the ethical crowd?
I would love to hear opinions on this issue. I did a search on WP to see if a thread had existed but couldn't find anything. If there is such a thread and you can point me in the right direction, that would be great as well.
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#2 Steve Williams

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Posted 11 May 2008 - 09:14 PM

Hi Matthew,

There was an interesting discussion that started last Dec. Called This must be Photoshopped that covered some of the points you are making. Highly recommend you take a look. I know my own understanding of what is ethical continues to evolve. The more I understand the differences between the film and digital technologies the less sure of myself I'm becoming when it comes to what is "ethical". My current definition goes something like this. If I can do it in ACR I'm fine with it. I equate this to what phtographers have always done in their darkrooms. When I start putting things in the image that weren't there using Photoshop or other tools I can still love it, I can still claim it's an image I made. I wouldn't sell it to represent a dive resort, for example, for use in a brochure. So much depends on the intent and the use.

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Edited by williamshs, 11 May 2008 - 09:15 PM.

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#3 drsteve

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Posted 11 May 2008 - 10:45 PM

When I start putting things in the image that weren't there using Photoshop or other tools I can still love it, I can still claim it's an image I made. I wouldn't sell it to represent a dive resort, for example, for use in a brochure. So much depends on the intent and the use.

I agree, but it is interesting to note that "advertising" uses of imagery tend to push the ethical boundaries. For example, how many images of models for face creams or shampoos do you think were not "helped" with a little Photoshopping?

My general philosophy is to practice subtractive editing. I don't have qualms about removing a wayward fin tip or backscatter. I also don't have a problem with tone adjustments on layers, dodging, burning, or cropping. Where I draw the line is composing multiple images, or replicating elements within one image. This isn't to say that I don't play with images this way, but I feel that I have to "explain" what I am doing to the viewer. That being said, I am all for using these techniques to extend creativity.

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#4 ce4jesus

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Posted 11 May 2008 - 11:52 PM

I think as long as the photo isn't represented as, or close to, an "as-shot" image when it has been manipulated digitally, then I have no problem with it. However I do agree that the professionals in the industry should publish a set of standards for hacks like me. I try and represent a photo the way I would if it were going into most competitions but even those vary.
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#5 Alex_Mustard

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 12:54 AM

A juicy and frequently visited topic, this one. I'd like to say for clarity that my article was not about photoshop ethics. although I have written many articles offering views from both sides of this fence.

For example, in my Talking Megapixels column in the next issue of FiNS Magazine (you can actually download and read it pages 38-39 here) I presented an argument from Peter Scoones along similar lines to Matthew's opening point of view. To paraphrase: Peter has no time for those who argue for the sanctity of the image as created on slide underwater - as if this was how underwater photography started. It wasn't.
Peter's underwater photography pre-dates the popularity of slide film, so to take the slide example as the basis for the acceptable dogma is incorrect. "Back in the 1960s we mostly shot black and white and we compared our results as prints. The skill of the photographer was controlling the whole process, both in the water and out. You were judged by the final image.”
“Slides did become popular later,” adds Peter. “Just like digital is now. Transparencies were originally embraced by underwater photographers because they provided higher contrast than print film. First Kodachrome, then Fujichrome. It is all a progression. Now digital is preferred for its inherent advantages.”

Personally I think that viewers like to know what they are seeing represents a reality. I tend to use as a guide the rules of the Wildlife Photographer or for submissions to mags like Nat Geo - again to paraphrase - RAW converter OK, adding or removing from the frame not. For my book "Reefs Revealed" I chose to designate MODIFIED in the photo captions any image that was manipulated for content. There are about 10 in the book. I think that this benefits the reader and also other photographers studying the shots. I think that it was a pro-active step for the book and it would be nice to see other photo collections marked in a similar way.

I am currently in the Canary Islands. Here the pinnacle of underwater photography are the "on-the-day" or fotosub competitions. Unsurprising considering that they offer massive prize money (10,000 Euros). These competitions require images as shot - so everyone here spends a lot of time optimising their camera's JPG settings to get the best 'straight from camera" look.

Also, as a result of these rules there are so many excellent photographers here in the Canaries. Perhaps the biggest problem with the "gotta be photoshop" attitude is that when we adopt it (and I know I do) when we see a photo that is better than one we could have taken - it holds our own photography back. It stops us pushing to refine our in water technique and trying harder for the shot.

So to try and summarise this woffle: if images are presented in a way relating to wildlife or purposing to some reality from a diving perspective then RAW conversion adjustments are OK, but manipulation of content should be minimal or commented. If images are presented as art then anything goes.

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#6 tdpriest

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 01:52 AM

if images are presented in a way relating to wildlife or purposing to some reality from a diving perspective then RAW conversion adjustments are OK, but manipulation of content should be minimal or commented. If images are presented as art then anything goes.
Alex


Having just read the enormous thread on FF v. DX I am now confused: technology "in camera" is OK, but manual (skilful?) control of the technology in "Photoshop-space" isn't?

I'm not a very good competition photographer, but I have a few printed images that aren't bad. I use a D200, with no realistic prospect of upgrading for a couple of years. I use non-destructive editing in Photoshop to improve dynamic range and noise, making up for the deficiencies in the camera's performance. It has taken me several years to become skilful in the "digital darkroom"; I see it as matching the effort that is put into being skilful in the water.

In an ideal world I would like to see competition acknowledging this effort: if the "audit trail" of non-destructive editing is included I think an image is just as valid as one taken in jpeg - if there has been major editing it will be obvious, and the judges can take account of it. As it stands, we have "no editing" competitions and a free-for-all in print competitions. I'd very much like to see something in the middle.

Banishing divers, or gluing them in, is clearly not in the spirit of seizing the moment and capturing reality, but when we look at scientific photography we see that it's very different from what Alex does: it is art in his hands. It isn't a black-and-white issue, but grey (have you ever seen a true black and white underwater image? I made one, once, of a sun-star: it was really difficult). Since the camera does alter the image, and we adjust strobes to change the illumination, and we distort the image with choice of lens, f-stop and shutter-speed, then this discussion is really about the boundary where reality becomes unacceptably distorted by the process of making an image.

Because the process of making an image distorts reality, the act of developing and printing used to, and the act of post-processing can now restore the image to the subjective reality experienced by the photographer at the moment the image was captured.

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#7 loftus

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 02:59 AM

Always an interesting discussion, and with the exception of photojournalism and natural history photography, manipulation of the image is considered the norm, even essential. Photographers like Vincent Versace live by the Ansel Adams credo ' The negative is the score, the print is the performance'
I personally get as much pleasure out of my digital darkroom, as I do taking the photograph. I continue to aspire to be like Alex, and to get everything right in camera, but when I see an image on my monitor ready to print, if I think there's anything I can do to improve the image, I will do that as well. For me the whole is the sum of the parts, the best I can do in camera, followed by the best I can do in post. Obviously the better I do in camera, the less I have to do in post. It's ethical as long as we are honest about what we have done.
I think the variety of competitions and competition categories out there allows both the manipulators and non-manipulators to show their stuff.

Edited by loftus, 12 May 2008 - 05:10 AM.

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#8 cor

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 06:15 AM

Maybe this should go into a separate topic, but ive been wondering something for a while.

Ive heard the argument that people that rely on post production editing too much stifle their own learning curve in photography. To a degree I can see this. Being technically and artistically the best you can be is definitely going to help.

But there is another side to this. I'd like to argue that people that rely too much on in-camera perfection stifle their learning curve in what is now considered a whole digital workflow. You can not see these things as standalone subjects. Cameras can never achieve the post-production capabilities of modern software like photoshop, lightroom or aperture. So by not bettering themselves in these programs, are they not limiting their own growth into a field where photography and digital post production are becoming more and more intertwined?

You better yourself by practice. So if all one does is twiddle a few RAW converter sliders, are you truly mastering digital post production? Are you not limiting yourself in what is a multifaceted work field?

I think that in the years to come, people that combine photographic and post production fluency are going to have a big advantage. One should not limit themselves to any side.

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#9 loftus

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 06:26 AM

I totally agree with Cor. Furthermore the whole process is becoming more and more seamless, with more and more being possible with in camera adjustments, and post production adjustments being more and more done in a non-destructive fashion in RAW. When one looks at the way a program like NX and Nik programs using u-point technology for example, one sees that the 'masks' that are now possible, are in fact seamless in terms of detection.
Right or wrong, the photographers who are getting the most attention, at least here in the US, like Versace, Caponigro etc are also the whizzkids at postprocessing and they are creating images that are new and different. Guys like Alex, who are able to continuously create new and different images underwater, in camera, are exceptional - and I mean no offense when I say - Imagine what Alex could do in post if he wanted to.

Edited by loftus, 12 May 2008 - 06:33 AM.

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#10 Poliwog

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 07:01 AM

Just to add a few comments:

1.I think a lot of the controversy surrounding the manipulation of images may be coming from an unclear decision about the genre in which the image will be used ie: journalism, wildlife, portraiture, fine art, etc., consequently, I think a lot of people will “dumb down” the creative process and say no image manipulation is to be considered just to be on the safe side.

2.While “getting it right in the camera first” is a worthy ideal to pursue, it seems like the antithesis of another axiom in photography espoused by Ansel Adams about visualizing the final print and working back from that starting point. “Getting it right in the camera” seems to be a forward loaded process which truncates the creative process at the camera. No consideration of creative processes such as burning or dodging or even picture framing after the the point of exposure is considered.

3.Truth and photography do not always go hand and hand. The photographer has to make decisions about the resulting image before the point of exposure that can speak volumes about the methods and reasons for taking a photograph. Using background elements to grow horns or place halos over the heads of leading politicians is a typical scenario seen all too often, and that's from a photographic genre that considers “truthfulness” to be sacred. We have to make decisions as to what to include and what to exclude before the point of exposure, so why is it unfair to make the same decision in the post exposure process via image editing software?

4.Money can have a hugely distorting influence on the creative process. While competitions are great in certain circumstances, they are not the end all and be all of the creative photographic process. How often have we heard “O.K., “so and so” is judging this competition, so I will shoot my photographs this way instead of that way because that is the way he/she prefers them”. Not much truth here for your inner soul, unless your like having a lot of trophies laying around the house.

5.I find it interesting to note that not many of the other artistic disciplines have to contend with the idea of truthfulness, such as in painting or sculpture. I don't think I ever heard someone say “Hey, that can't be right, you forgot to put that large wart on the statue of that guy”, indeed most other artistic disciplines realize the need to massage the process for the best possible outcome. In photography, we seem to put more emphasis on the literal as opposed the the figurative translation of the image.


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#11 MatthewAddison

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 07:06 AM

I'm glad I asked this question, and thank you all for the eloquent responses.
My personal feeling, and one Cor has touched on is that there seems to be a prejudice (for lack of a better word) in the UWP community against post production. An attitude that if you use photoshop, you are obviously doing something wrong at the time of image capture. It is a boast I have heard from too many well-known and quite talented photographers: "I don't use photoshop". My question was always, "Why not?"
I wish I had the problem of shooting for National Geographic, but even those guys "photoshop" the bejesus out of their images. I'm not talking about placing a moose in a picture where there was none.
The argument that capturing the image well "in-camera" is the most obvious first step as photoshop is not a panacea for a badly taken picture. But there are so many things that can be done to expand the artistic side of underwater photography, and I believe that having so many of the "Pro's" coming down on the side of limiting post production experimentation, stifles the field and leaves us creatively stagnant.
Loftus has touched on the point that there are a variety of competitions which allow manipulators and non-manipulators. My impression is that the "manipulated" categories seem to be treated as the "bastard child" in these competitions. Unfortunately here I am speaking freely on a subject unhindered by the facts, as I have not fully perused the categories (and associated prizes) of the many comps out there. It is just my overall impression. Please feel free to correct me if this is inaccurate.
Lastly, I wonder how many of us are taking pictures for artistic reasons vs. capturing and presenting only reality? My impression is that the majority come down on the side of the art of digital photography.
Steve, Thanks for the link to the previous discussion. I'll take a wander over there now.
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#12 jeremypayne

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 08:25 AM

The "line" is very hard to draw ... Here's a question:

If your camera/lens combination produces mild barrel distortion at the widest end of its zoom range, and you use the "Lens Distortion" correction feature in Photoshop, is that "manipulation" or "acceptable lightroom processing"?
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#13 DavidScubadiver

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 01:04 PM

It is wrong to cut and paste things into your image that you did not photograph. It is also "wrong" to mislead someone into believing that everything in your picture was actually present as shown, if you are simply pasting many items into a single picture to make the picture look prolific.

It is not wrong to correct pin cushioning or barrel distortion. Nor is it wrong to adjust levels, brightness, or colors. Nor is sharpening ethically suspect.

Obviously, if there are specific rules in any contest, such as "thou shalt not edit the photograph" then editing the photograph is ethically improper.

I am happy to arbitrate any disputes on the issue. I am well qualified as I am bullsh** for a living.
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#14 Nakedwithoutcamera

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 03:44 PM

:) :D
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#15 MatthewAddison

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 04:54 PM

It is wrong to cut and paste things into your image that you did not photograph. It is also "wrong" to mislead someone into believing that everything in your picture was actually present as shown, if you are simply pasting many items into a single picture to make the picture look prolific.

Agreed, if you are supposed to be working within certain, stated confines. But photoshop in the right hands is so much more than cloning and sharpening. When one mentions "photoshoping" an image, "devious alteration with intent to mislead" is where so many minds go. But it belies an absolute ignorance of the tools within the program and their artistic potential.
There continues to be a great deal one can do in a chemical darkroom to manipulate images way beyond what was on the negative, yet I have never heard the expression "that looks darkroomed!". Rather, that was called creativity as long as you were not supposed to be working within certain, stated confines.
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#16 Drew

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Posted 12 May 2008 - 07:23 PM

'Realism' is just another aspect of photography. Many proponents of post work often claim its art or depicting what would've been if the situation was optimized.
I had to chance to peruse John Hyde's work on overunders with salmon and bears. In his mind, a composite shot showed what it would be like if we had 160° vision. His picture of a bear in the background and salmon underwater is impressive. However, the technical and practical means to shoot that shot is virtually zero. So he composited the shots of "what could've been".
Obviously every publication has used Photoshop(or its equivalent) to modify pictures to sell a story. Newsweek became a trash mag over Martha Stewart's head on a model's body. Time did the same with OJ's mug. What about Nat Geo and the pyramids relocation for a cover? Or Andy Roddick's biceps on Men's Health? The NPPA calls it breach of ethics and the editors call it an illustration of the story. While we're at it, NONE of the models look like they do in the magazine layouts.
The fact is a lot of the imagery we see in print etc are not a direct representation of what was there and programs like Quantel and Photoshop makes it easier and easier.
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#17 Paul Kay

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Posted 13 May 2008 - 02:52 AM

[in relation to Natural History photography] I know of instances where subject matter has been 'manipulated' to create a shot which might or might not otherwise exist in nature. Ethics must either apply to the WHOLE image making process or none of it!

And for what its worth, IMHO even prestigious contsets and publications have got it wrong and often have fundamentally limiting rules based on an inadequate understanding of the digital process. I see no problem in portraying what we preceive to be reality and using whatever techniques are available to do so - providing they do not involve interfering with the subject and that they are not used to detrimentally reinterpret reality (ie show something which cannot exist in nature) although this is another area which could be discussed ad infinitum. But as an example I cannot see a problem with lighting a subject better at the expense of backscatter which has then to be removed afterwards (admittedly always somewhat risky as it might not be entirely possible).

As for scientific imagery which was mentioned, well manipulation is often used extremely in order to extract data - the main reason for scientific image creation.

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#18 Stewart L. Sy

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Posted 13 May 2008 - 07:37 AM

As for scientific imagery which was mentioned, well manipulation is often used extremely in order to extract data - the main reason for scientific image creation.


Hear hear! If anyone has marveled at the amazing images from the Hubble Telescope or the Mars Rovers should know...those do not come from single images but rather composited and heavily processed "RAW" files.

While I do not enter competitions so have no say in the matter, but to take it to the extreme, if one were to ban ... "Photoshopping", well image adjustments, not significant manipulation anyway...(Vincent Versace would argue and say that Photoshop is a noun, not a verb! :) ) then we should then ban strobe lighting as well. In the natural world, a 4800-5200 kelvin light source is simply not present at depth.

Scott Kelby (for those who don't know, is a rather prolific Photoshop Author & Photographer) had a good comment in his tutorial on Portrait retouching, just to paraphrase, "Our job in Photoshop is to make the subject look as good on screen (and print) as they did in person". Underwater/Nature photography is my creative outlet, the commercial stuff, while it pays for the gear, is not all that fun. I like to bring back what I saw in my mind's eye, and if I have to heal the backscatter or punch the levels a bit to bring some more contrast, so be it. Interestingly, one of my underwater landscapes was on the cover of Naturescapes.net. It was very well received as many of the shooters there do not do underwater imagery. I was then asked how I shot it, well, before I got the chance to respond, someone else chimed in and said that it was probably done with a lot of work in Photoshop. Funny thing was, the image was an CFWA image, top lit from the surface and enhanced with 2 strobes...was shot in JPG, all I did was touch the levels & curves controls to adjust contrast and that was pretty much it.

Just my 2 cents.

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#19 craig

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Posted 13 May 2008 - 08:11 AM

I think with respect to backscatter and lighting technique, film shooters learned to control their lighting with slide film being the end result. Controlling backscatter and optimizing lighting are conflicting goals, though. With digital, I much prefer to consider lighting the subject well and deal with backscatter in post just as Paul and Stu have mentioned. There are ways to reduce backscatter with lighting technique, but the only way to minimize it is to turn off the strobes!

I believe that people are prone to dictate rules for what we can and cannot do for a variety of reasons. Sometimes rules are good and we can learn from them. Other times they just restrict us. At times they are simply irrational.

Contests are a good example. Competition is good for some things. It encourages us to improve and challenge ourselves. It exposes us to other shooters who are of high caliber. It encourages us to travel to new locations and experience new things and it helps aspiring photo pros and advanced am's gain valuable exposure. Friendly competition gives us pictures of the week and that's a good thing. :)

On the downside, competition necessitates restrictive and counterproductive rules which we should not categorically adopt as though they were gospel. Sometimes people get in a rut and if all you do is compete then you begin to think that anything not allowed in competition is cheating. To me, this is where a lot of the "no touch, no 'shop" attitudes come from. I feel that photography is naturally uncompetitive and too much emphasis on competing damages it. Photography is art; competition needs to enhance the art, not reduce it.

Using Photoshop on images is never a bad thing. Using it as a crutch rather than improving technique is, though, and misrepresenting your work as unmodified is another issue entirely. While both those problems involve photoshopping images, neither is the fault of the tool but rather a failure of the photographer to do right.
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#20 DavidScubadiver

DavidScubadiver

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Posted 13 May 2008 - 11:11 AM

As self-appointed arbiter, I can assure you that there is no need to ban flash photography on the grounds that it introduces light to subjects that are otherwise dark. This is because light helps "expose" the truth and we are, after all discussing ethics. Lies bad. Truth good. Too much truth, however, is bad for seahorses so be considerate when flashing them.
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