The concept of photo editing has evolved. From occasional improvements, it has become a way of eliciting controversy and creating fake news. Let’s see how easy it can be.
Photoshop and other tools of manipulation:
While such a practice dates back decades, the 21st Century has seen the emergence of software that can be purchased or simply given away online to perform photo editing. The most prominent usage tends to be with Photoshop, which has led to photos being improved while also allowing countless photos to be altered in a way to promote hoaxes.
In some cases, the attempt is to inject some humor by editing images from one photograph into another or to remove certain backgrounds. One example of this practice occurs when taking into account the absence of someone who can later be digitally photoshopped into the original image.
However, such actions do have the usual negative ramifications connected to them, again focusing on the political spectrum. Individuals who strongly disagree with the political beliefs of an opponent have attempted to distribute material with an altered image of their opponent with some reviled leader, such as Adolf Hitler.
An Ever-Changing Landscape
The technology to handle this editing has also changed from primitive attempts to hi-tech software in which changes can only be detected through careful research. The pace picked up considerably with the emergence of digital photography. This allowed amateur photographers to wield many of the same skills that had previously only been the provenance of talented professionals in the field.
When looking at the reasons for photo editing, one of the most common uses is to either adapt to space constraints within a newspaper, other publication or website. In other cases, cropping out unnecessary portions of a photo helps gear the focus toward the most pertinent areas.
Long before the arrival of the digital era, one of the few tricks available to photographers when it came to improving the quality of their photos was the practice of airbrushing. This usually related to focused shots of individuals who, in the minds of either the photographer or the entity that was paying for the shots, have some sort of physical imperfection.
This is an area of photography in which criticism has usually been directed at fashion-oriented shots or the particular body image of a female. Photographers have been able to remove any flaws on a subject’s skin and also change photos that seek to show much thinner individuals than the actual reality of their situation.
Much of the controversy has been based on the idea of presenting a false image to the general public or setting such a high threshold on what’s considered socially acceptable. For years, publications like Playboy and other men’s magazines were routinely ridiculed for presenting racy photos of women that had undergone extensive airbrushing.
Just like quotes can be taken out of context, photos can also be manipulated to a point where an alternative reality is created through the editing process. Individuals can be removed from pictures in order to adapt changing circumstances to the current reality. For example, it’s not uncommon for individuals who have gone through divorce to adjust a photograph that deletes their former spouse.
Publications that focus on the entertainment industry have been known to edit photos that attempt to enhance the credibility of what amounts to gossip. While traditional journalists roundly criticize this, the popularity of such publications shows that a market definitely exists for such deception.
Even when the motive behind such a change isn’t to spark controversy, such actions accomplish it. For example, in 1989, TV Guide used a photo of Oprah Winfrey posed in a glamorous dress for their weekly cover. It was quickly determined that the publication had used an older photo of actress Ann-Margaret and spliced Winfrey’s head onto the original image. From a more serious standpoint, the use of editing in the realm of politics has led to an acceptance of presenting falsehoods in the hope of gaining a strategic edge. In repressive countries, individuals who have fallen in stature have been removed from photographs and political campaigns have attempted to show incorrect affiliations in the hopes of gaining the support of particular voting blocs.
Keeping Eyes Open
Other such softwares, which can be used on social media outlets like Instagram, are often relatively harmless in nature. Yet some of the examples shown above offer clear evidence that a more attuned awareness is needed to discriminate between fantasy and reality or simply outright false material.