With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

by Barrett

Can nothing save this photo? Don’t be so sure. It's got core digital integrity!

I have a little secret.
Please don’t judge me.

I’m changing reality.  Every single day.
(No, I’m not crazy.)
Technology has given me this power.

I know of no rulebook on how to practice this freakish act.
So I currently self-regulate the best I can.
Others must be doing it.  But no one’s talking about it.

And what is this dastardly voodoo I perform?

I’m touching up my digital photos.

Altering the Image
Since the dawn of photography in advertising, there’s been some controversy regarding the practice of touching up photos of actors and models.  Making them look better….younger….thinner.  You’ve heard it all before…

Recently, I remember a recent story about a cover page photo of Demi Moore for W Magazine.  There was some conjecture about the impossibly small size of her left hip, and that digital shrinkage made it that way.

Sure, it seems wrong to tinker too much.  But how much is too much?  Clearly, it’s regularly done in the advertising industry.  It only becomes a problem when some digital artist does a hack job, and the boundaries of visual reality are crossed.
So it’s okay if nobody notices?

On the home front, I feel this issue is cloaked.
Besides, who really cares what you’re doing to your own photos?

You snap a photo and upload it to your computer.  It seemed like a good picture when you took it, but now the background is too bright, and the shadows are a little too muddy.  The colors are off and could use a little boost as well.
Actually, now that you’re looking closer, the whole thing is a little blurry.
(You really need to hold that camera steady!)

Maybe it’s not such a good picture after all.  Time to throw it in the trash.
Oh well…
Wait a minute!  You remember all of this can be fixed with the power of one finger.

You can perform instant magic in iPhoto or in Aperture, Apple’s more advanced photo management program.  You press the auto enhance button, and voila, your photo looks instantly better!

And while you’re at it, you can easily level the shot’s tilted angle away from its titanic slope.  Then, you might as well crop it closer, because you forgot to use the camera’s zoom.  And that dreaded red-eye? Gone!

Isn’t technology wonderful?
Now this whole operation doesn’t match the mind-bending moment in Harrison Ford’s “zoom in and enhance” photo reconstruction scene from his 1982 movie Blade Runner, but it’s startlingly close.

You’ve taken a pretty bad photo and reorganized a whole bunch of its pixels, making it fit for framing for all to see.
Do you see any problems here?
Not yet.

As you look closer at the other control buttons in your photo management software, you notice there are additional enhancement options.  And then you start realize there are little things you can do to the people in your pictures to make them look just a bit better.

The lure is just too strong. And so you begin down your slippery slope…

Boo-Boo’s
Take my two-year old son. He’s an adventurer and loves to climb anything and everything.  More than occasionally, there is the inevitable boo-boo on his nose or cheek.

I’m a proud dada, and I’ve taken lots of pictures of my son. (lots)

And yes, I’ve seen some little red boo-boos in the shots and then looked at the retouch button.  Two clicks later, the boo-boo is gone. Other times, the boo-boo stays in.  Why?  Sometimes the boo-boo is absolutely a part of the picture’s story.  It needs to be there.  Other times, not so much.

Shaving Nicks
Speaking of boo-boos, I’ve taken some great shots of my father, but…

He always shaves with a straight razor, and occasionally I see some of the classic nicks that come from this life-long practice.

So does my camera.  But with two more mouse clicks, the nicks are nicked.

You’re welcome, Dad.

Skin Smoothing
This is where the power of altering reality really kicks in. And please call it what it is.

Wrinkle Remover!

I don’t have to review with you the aging process on the human face, but this little trick quickly reduces the prominence of certain unnecessary extra lines.  It also reduces overly exposed reflections on your skin that make you look like you forgot to take a shower.

So here’s the question?  Am I vain enough to perform a little virtual surgery on a select number of my photos here and there?
(You’ll notice I’m not denying it.)

And how do I justify all this?

Bad lighting.

Actually, lighting is a significant factor in how good anybody looks in a picture.  A picture taken with good natural light is always going to look better than that nasty flash.  And a little side and back lighting at the same time. Nice!

Since most of us don’t travel with our own personal lighting team, I think it’s fair to replicate the effects of good lighting with a few extra clicks of the mouse.

To be honest, I’m still feeling some guilt. Is this really so wrong?
I’m not working in a professional photo management program like Photoshop and making ‘major’ changes like readjusting entire body parts.  I’m just using consumer-sanctioned software that’s readily available to the masses.  I’m only enhancing or minimizing what’s already there.

Everyone is doing it. Right?

My Digital Moral Code
Plus, I follow Barrett’s Rule of Core Digital Integrity.
(My CDI)

And what is this digital moral code, you ask?
“Don’t mess with the core integrity of someone’s ongoing image.”

Ongoing image?  What does the heck does that mean?
It’s how a person generally photographs across an average time span of a month or so.  If ‘anomalies’ crop up that change that, I say it’s okay to help that photo look more ‘accurate.’

Let’s review:

-Boo-boo will be gone next week anyway – Remove it.
-Shaving nick will heal soon enough – Zap away.
-Sleep deprived darkness under your eyes is not permanent –
Use the brighten section tool.
-Flash induced glow on your forehead looks terrible –
Smooth it out and reduce.
-Little mole on your face is here to stay – Leave it alone.
-Adjust your eye color – Easy, but why would you want to do that?
-Blur anything in the photo that irritates you – It’s time to reread my CDI.

Am I out of control?

Cosmetics Industry to the Rescue
Wait a minute!  Maybe I’m making a big fuss over nothing.

I’ve just realized I’m not really alone.  The beauty industry has got my back.
And for those who may disagree, please excuse this possibly controversial thought as merely an academic exploration.  Even men use facial products! Aramis’ Lab Series, for one, is in that growing business.

Don’t cosmetics handle the exact same issues I’m describing?
They’re just trying to make people look their best.
A bit of concealing here.  A little highlighting there.
I’m not seeing this multi billion-dollar juggernaut struggle with my ethical dilemma.

We all want to look our best, don’t we?
That’s all I’m talking about!

Everyone’s doing it!
I suddenly feel so much better.

Are you worried?  Don’t be.

Feel free to use my CDI, and just don’t get caught!

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