Would You Support a System of Symbols That Disclosed Image Edits?

As post-processing applications become more and more powerful, it is becoming increasingly difficult to trust an image as a relatively honest representation of a scene. Would a set of universal icons that indicated the sort of post-processing that had been done to an image be something you would support? This interesting video takes a look at that possibility. 

Coming to you from Michael the Maven, this thought-provoking video tackles the question of how we might deal with the increasing difficulty of discerning the amount of realism in an image versus that which has been added or modified via advanced post-processing. Of course, this is an issue is many different areas of photography and society at large for different reasons. In photojournalism, it is widely accepted that only the most basic corrections should be allowed for the purpose of maintaining the truthfulness of reporting. On the other hand, for something like social media, the implications could come down to things like the representation of products and places that people are spending money on. A universal set of icons could help consumers make more informed decisions and also allow the public better insight into news coverage. Check out the video above for more on the topic. 

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Photojournalist can produce photos that are manipulated. They already have a system. It's called an illustration. If an image is not considered "real" for whatever reason it should be notated as an illustration. Typically this is in the by line.

I believe symbols could be and maybe should be implemented in certain circumstances. But I'm not sure it needs to be noted on every photo. Maybe it should only be represented in areas that need specificity such as newsprint, magazines, ads, and anything that requires open honesty in how the image is being portrayed.

Mark Alameel's picture

Reality is already manipulated by the camera settings.

Eugene Pardee's picture

Ansel Adams images were all manipulated. Should he have been required to indicate what he did? Part of the art is what happens after the image is captured whether in a darkroom or with software. Unless it's for a court case or photojournalism the end result is what should count.

Ryan Stone's picture

How about having to disclose sponsorships and affiliations on your biased clickbait YouTube camera review channel?

Tony Northrup's picture

That's already the law and I assure you Michael goes above-and-beyond with legal compliance. If you're aware of a YouTuber who is breaking the law, please report them directly to the FTC.

Alex Herbert's picture

Here's a question. Are Apurture/Deity one of the greatest electronics companies of the past decade, or are they just paying YouTubers to promote their gear? It's strange that all the popular 'Toobers' seemed to switch and start gushing about them at the same time.

Context is everything.

Is the photo meant to be art? Or similarly, an image where the purpose is to be graphically / visually interesting or entertaining?

Is it a news photograph but it has only had things like the contrast / brightness adjusted? How about a news photo or other supposedly accurate "capture of an image" that has had the content edited in a much more fundamental way?

So I'd repeat again that context is everything...

Michael L. McCray's picture

The manipulation is everywhere in the process. This idea of the purity of photojournalism is hogwash. The story is chosen by some editor who may know nothing about the subject and written about by someone who sees it quite differently than the photographer. When I used film I chose the angle, the cropping in-camera to add the drama to make a shot interesting enough. Some times you are successful sometimes you are not people will see it through their own lens of perception. You are simply trying to tell a story. People who make words and images some beacon of absolute truth should find another God.

What a whole lot of nonsense. The only place it matters is in journalism and here the RAW file is what matters to identify edits. Far more pertinent would be to identify the author as the responsible person and owner of copyright. This could be done with a Crypto code that gets injected into the RAW and all subsequent JPGs. It would require new formats or versions that would enable this process though. Not easy.

As for over edits - who cares they grow put of fashion and so what if they are in fashion. There’s bad taste all the time. See Music. If you know about photography you can more or less see what images a « truthful » and which ones aren’t. Up to the publishers and editors.

Does anyone still think artificial / automated HDR is a good idea? No? Exactly.

PS: and to what purpose should edits be identified exactly? As a photographer I may shoot an « unpleasant » image in RAW (such as under or overexposing) because I know that by doing so I can achieve a certain objective. These symbols are just there to say what? This person edited her/his images, and? What is the conclusion? Does it mean she / he is a bad photographer? Absolutely not - it’s the intention that matters - or accident - and no symbol could ever demonstrate this

Kirk Darling's picture

The image should say what the photographer intended it to say. If the photographer intends the photograph to be an accurate record of an event and is an honest person, then the photograph will be honest, even if edited. If the photographer is dishonest and intends to mislead, then he will find a way to make the photograph misleading, even if it hasn't been "edited" (selection of the moment, selection of framing, selection of viewpoint, et cetera).

That's why photographs entered as court evidence must be accompanied by the sworn depositions of the photographer. It's not the photograph that is judged for honesty, it's the photographer. The photograph is just a medium of testimony.

Deleted Account's picture

Photo of reported fact. Sure, important its not manipulated. I guess. Although that report can be made to look completely different by a multitude factors. Without one single edit.

For me, I'm selling a final image in advertising. If it can't be shot in one take, it's made to look like one take.I do like to do as much as possible I camera but that's the strength of using digital, the way things an be manipulated. No bragging rights or rewards in this industry for Out of camera with no edit shots.

William Faucher's picture

I fail to see the purpose. The only thing that really matters is the end result. How you got there is irrelevant. If you are a photojournalist who needs to follow a code of ethics, that is a different matter. But if you are doing personal work, or even client work, all that matters is what you see at the end.

The only people who really seem to care are photography purists.

Deleted Account's picture


Richard Downs's picture

It should be pretty obvious the second your eyes alight on an image that just about everything these days is massively edited. Just browse the landscapes on this website. When did you ever happen upon a scene that resembled anything like the heavily saturated images that most 'landscapes' display? Portraits and even wildlife shots are similarly manipulated. If anyone dared post a straight-out-of-camera image online today it would be skipped over in a heartbeat. It's like steroids in sport - everyone does it to keep up with everyone else who does it!

Kirk Darling's picture

I remember back in the 70s when some 35mm photographers filed out the negative carriers on their enlargers to show the edges of the sprocket holes in their prints--to prove that they had not cropped the image.

This is the same silliness.

olivier borgognon's picture

As much as i am not interested nor does it bring value to me to know what paint brand, precise solid colour value, what percentage of each colour was used in a mix, what canvas and wooden frame goes behind a Picasso, or any painters or artist, I for my part, don't see the need for those elements coming into photography.

I even think that this would bring more people to feel bad about their work, or lead to a more negative impact on photography on the long run.

Mark Doiron's picture

What we need is a better word than computer art. Something these creators would be proud to call their art that is closer to painting than photography (which I remind is painting with light--and that includes darkroom light). Then we can restore integrity to photographs, and stop apologizing when we share an image, "And that's what it really looked like!"

Benoit Pigeon's picture

Framing photography into standards to judge by. Are we really going that low?

David Pavlich's picture

No. Well, as long as it's your photo, it's nobody's business how you ended up with the subject unless you are being paid for said photo and you're misrepresenting it to a paying client. But for the vast majority of us, no.

Ricardo Consonni's picture

Why would you need to 'trust an image as a relatively honest representation of a scene'? Unless, of course, you are a forensic photographer, or need to document something truthfully.
In all other cases (fashion, architecture, travel, product photography, weddings, Playboy/Penthouse, etc), you are selling a dream to your customers.
Every bride wants to have perfect pearly-whites in her album, and every hotel wants their customers to think they have perfect sunsets at their pool, every single day.