The Ethics of Photoshop

     Welcome back to the Tem.Teen Studios blog! Today's post is going to be... a little bit of a rant on... not so much Photoshop (and software similar to it) per say... but on what people think you can do with it.

     Most of us photographers sometimes say, or at least heard someone say, "Just fix it in Photoshop." And in most circles, you can fix some things in Photoshop. If the image is over exposed, you can fix it. If there are a few blemishes on the skin, you can fix it. If there's a person that shouldn't be in the photo, you can fix it. And that's... where I have the issue.

     Lately I've had friends ask me to remove people from their images. Be it from photobombs, or they just don't like them in the photo. If they're photobombs, I generally will fix them. But if they come to me with, "Can you remove this person from the photo? I don't like that he's/she's in it." I respond and respectfully tell them, "Sorry, but no." Not because I can't remove them, which most of the time I can. But because I don't feel that that's right, for a number of reasons.

     The first reason is because: It makes you lazy. Let's say you're taking street photos, and your mentality is to "fix it in Photoshop." You could take a photograph with 10 people, and remove them until there's just one or two left. You don't have to wait for the good shot. While it is a lot of work to remove people from an image, to me it's just lazy. You could have waited say, 10 minutes, and waited for eight of those people to have walked away. That leaves just the two people. Now you take the picture, and you don't need to do as much work on it. To me, this is a lot better than "fixing" it. It also saves time. Which is the second issue I have with the "fix it in Photoshop" mentality.

To get this shot, I had to wait. I took at least 30 images, and spent 20 minutes before this one. But, as you can see, it certainly payed off.

To get this shot, I had to wait. I took at least 30 images, and spent 20 minutes before this one. But, as you can see, it certainly payed off.

     The second reason being: It takes time. I don't know if anyone out there reading this has removed a person from an image with Photoshop, but it's not "click & drag." You have to go through layers, copy parts off the image, re-insert them over the person, blend them to mesh together... you get the idea. And usually It takes me about 20 minutes to remove someone (and make it look convincing). Taking our example from earlier and removing 8 people, that's two hours and 40 minutes. Imagine if you waited 10 minutes while taking the photos, you wouldn't have to waste almost three hours "fixing" it.

Nikolai is in the top photograph, but not in the bottom one.

Nikolai is in the top photograph, but not in the bottom one.

     The third reason is: It promotes the ideals of Joseph Stalin and Communist Russia in the 1940s. Just bear with me, it'll make sense. During the 1930s - 40s, Russia was under the rule of Joseph Stalin. Under his rule, a lot of things happened, some good but mostly bad. And anyone who opposed him... met their quick and fatal demise. But that wasn't enough for Stalin. He wanted that person wiped out of existence. And in the case of Nikolai Yezhov, that happened. The top picture was taken in the 1930s, when he and Stalin were on good terms with each other. But he slowly lost that favor, and in 1939, he was arrested. And in 1940, executed. Later in the same decade, the bottom photo was published. With Nikolai Yezhov removed completely.

     How does this pertain to the "fix it in Photoshop" mentality? Because Joseph Stalin removed people he didn't want in the photographs. That to me is like saying, "These people shouldn't be there, and they don't matter." I can't come to terms with that mentality. Every person matters, be it in a photobomb, or if they're just there to enjoy the shade of the tree at the park.

     And finally, the last reason I don't agree with this mentality is because: I pride myself as an archivist. To me, if a photo isn't how I saw it, it's altered. And sometimes that isn't bad. I do use Photoshop (and similar software) constantly. But my philosophy with editing stems from the ideals of Robert Rodriguez Jr. He says he tries to edit in such a way where no one sees the changes. Similarly, I try to keep my edits as minimalistic and as simple as possible. To me, if you don't notice my edits, it means I did an excellent job at them, and I can pat myself on the back.

     Just to clarify things... I DO remove things from backgrounds. Be it trash, belongings, and yes, sometimes people. If I'm taking a photo of someone's surfboard for example,  and their foot is photobombing, I remove it. But I take all my rules into account. I ask myself, could I go back and reshoot the photo? Would it take to long to remove it? Would I be erasing that person from existence? And would it make the little archivist in me cringe? If everything checks out, I go and do it. But if it's just a man sitting on the bench minding his own business, I don't dare remove him from the image... unless he asked to be out of it of course. :-)

There were some people on the beach in the original photo, but you could hardly see them. Therefore I decided to remove them without cringing.

There were some people on the beach in the original photo, but you could hardly see them. Therefore I decided to remove them without cringing.

If you want to continue reading about this topic, check out the post done by Jeff Cable: Are we Photographers... or Plastic Surgeons?

That's all for now. If you've read all the way through to the end, I want to say thank you. Until next time...

George is outta here! :-D