Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Moral Dilemma

I'm having a moral dilemma.

I love photography.  I'm learning and growing by leaps and bounds, and loving (most) every second of it.  I'm committed to understanding my equipment, my subject, my light.  I love the rush I get when I know got my "money" shot.

I also hate the ache of knowing a shot could have been fantastic, but it turned out shaky or blurry because of too little light.  I get frustrated with myself for under- or over-exposing.  I don't like it when my colors aren't true to what I saw in real life.

Enter Photoshop.

As I've said before, computers can fix all of those problems, and more.  Way more.  I mean, we've all seen Dove's "Evolution" commercial, right?

Everyone wants to be beautiful, and anyone who drove past that billboard shown at the end of commercial would think, though they probably wouldn't even have consciencely noticed, that the woman is beautiful.  Would they have thought she was beautiful at the start, though?  The idea is that she's supposed to be very girl-next-door.

Since everyone wants to be beautiful, they want their photos to be beautiful, as well.  I remember the agony I felt when I realized, at about 17, that someday I would have wedding photos and my face would be marked with scars from a horse's hoof.  I had to re-train part of my face to crinkle up with smile lines after that accident damaged too many nerves.  I had that wedding, and those photos were taken by a friend who is a wonderful photographer, and the scars are there.  My eyes are uneven and so are my cheekbones.  Perfect photography doesn't change that, but I'm not sure I want it to.

As I've said before, Photoshop is an amazing tool, one that can take a so-so photo and make it literally stunning.  It can also take a "so-so" face and make it "stunning."  But should it?

As a woman who is a photographer, and as a mother who is a photographer and has a daughter, I worry about Photoshop.  I worry over my editing.

Am I feeding to our society's misrepresentation of beauty when I edit my photos?

Take, for example, a photo of a newborn baby.  Current style would have me brighten those photos and apply an action or two or five that would completely smooth the baby's skin, whiten until the little one had an ethereal glow.  And it would be utterly gorgeous.

At least, I think it would be utterly gorgeous.

Babies don't have completely perfect skin.  It's pretty red and blotchy.  They are constantly scratching themselves and getting little rashes.  Sweet Pea was almost never rashy, but if she had been, I would have edited it out before printing a photo.  So far, my rule of thumb has been that if an "imperfection" is temporary, like a runny nose or a scratch or a little bump, I edit it out, but I leave anything that is permanent, like my own scars.  My friend, who is not a fan of tattoos, squeezed her fiance's hand during our shoot, looked up into his eyes and told him that she loves his tattoo, because it is part of him

So I'm struggling.  I hung about a photography site for the better part of an hour tonight, mulling over whether or not to purchase an action set for portraiture called "Picture Perfect."  I love this photographer's work, and her actions for editing and her final products are completely gorgeous.  I'm just not sure.

You see, I edit.  All the time.  Well, except when I'm feeling lazy.  I brighten, I pop the color, I deepen the contrast, sometimes I increase the detail.  I will never lengthen a neck or increase the size of an eye,  yet I love the look of completely smooth, glowing skin, bright red lips and sparkling eyes.  But if I don't get those in the original shot, what message am I sending by "fixing" them?

Should I only "fix" when I miss the mark photographically?  Is it ok to whiten teeth and redden lips because it's just that much prettier?  Am I simply bettering my art, the way a painter would add a touch of gold here or a smudge of blue there, or am I sending the message that my subject just wasn't quite right on her own?  Does getting an edited image of oneself increase confidence ("Wow!  I didn't know I could be so beautiful!) or lower it ("Wow.  I'm pretty only when I'm edited")?  Doesn't adding a layer of texture or color just add to the art of the photo and to the beauty of an already lovely subject?  Or do I play "god" by thinking that I make someone more beautiful with a digital enhancement?

Or am I just way, way over-thinking it?

I'm really, really not sure.  I think I know how I feel about some areas, but others remain gray.  What do you think?


  1. Interesting thoughts... And I like your rule of thumb on only correcting temporary stuff. I don't have any answers, but you're giving me great stuff to think about. (And I'm JUST learning photoshop again, so good stuff to think about before I start sending Ellie the wrong message!)

  2. Great thoughts, Taylor! I have some thoughts of my own to share:). I agree that deciding whether or not to use Photoshop can be a dilemma, although it's not a moral one for me. I think our view on this stems from our understanding and interpretation of art and art theory. If, like Plato, I believed art is merely mundane imitation, then I would struggle with Photoshop. If, on the other hand, art is the defining, highlighting, examining, and evoking the beauty in Creation, I'm not sure there is any moral or ethical problem with Photoshop.

    For example, does a watercolor artist struggle with whether? Does the oil painter struggle with whether or not to omit the distracting tree in his scene? Not usually. More than that, I think the artist struggles with reconciling his personal aesthetic and remaining true to that. Having said all that, while I don't battle a moral struggle with Photoshop, my personal aesthetic does battle with Photoshop--namely because, more and more, I dislike the look of edited photographs and am drawn to a more airy, natural look. Moreover, I want to spend my time growing as a photographer, not as a graphic artist. I'll still use Photoshop to remove the occasional blemish and to pop some colors here and there, but my aim is to develop photographically, not just graphically.

    Have a great day! And, if you like the Picture Perfect actions, go on and get them! :)

  3. Anonymous8:19 PM

    Love this post ... gave me a lot to think about as I learn how to edit my own photos.


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