It all started innocently enough; editing out a pimple here, a blemish there, maybe a chipped tooth. It was easy, it made the client feel better, and it was, for the most part, harmless.
Fast forward to today and digital manipulation has gotten totally out of hand. It’s not just blemishes and pimples anymore. Today we shave years off a face and pounds off a body, lengthen necks and make eyes bigger, lips pouty, and change hair color on a whim. Clickity, clickity done.
Color and lighting are now skills that can be mastered in post. With Photoshop plugins like Color Efex Pro 4 you can change the color scheme, lighting and almost anything else you desire.
All that taken together is bad enough, now comes along a product like LayerCake Elements and now the manipulations to the subject are just the beginning. Now you can add trees, grass and flowers. Don’t like the sky? How about nice sunset sky instead? Add a few clouds for dramatic effect. Put the moon over there, add a few stars because we have to pay attention to details. Need a horse? No problem, drag and drop, resize to fit the scene. Done and done.
Time, date, and place are now meaningless. It reminds me of the sunset scene in the John Wayne movie Green Berets (1968), supposedly set in Vietnam but featuring the sun setting behind the ocean. Those with a 5th grade understanding of geography know that Vietnam doesn’t have a westward facing ocean view. But that didn’t stop the filmmakers and it doesn’t stop the photographer with LayerCake. You can have a sunset anywhere.
So where does all this stop? Or does it? It’s easy to smirk and wonder if grandpa is having trouble adjusting to the new digital reality but keep in mind I was digitally manipulating images when most of you still had training wheels on your bike. At some point do we in the photography community have to say enough and start asserting ourselves in favor of reality? How will we know when we’ve gone too far?
In some fields that question has already been answered. Like photojournalism, where retouching, even adding a little smoke is a non-starter. You’ll not only get fired, you’ll be vilified and humiliated as a value added bonus. Your career will be over.
But what about the rest of us? Do we owe reality a nod, or is reality merely a canvas for us to paint our vision? Are master photo manipulators actual photographers, or something less?
Where it all ends is with H&M’s new lingerie catalog where the faces of the models are real, but the bodies are computer generated. What do you think is “too far” in digital manipulation?