I’m going to make a confession that may seem trivial to some. I had altered the content on a couple of photos in my blog during 2019. One was a scenic shot at Lake Manawa where a pair of smoke towers were small but visible in the background and I removed them. The other was of a bike rider and I removed a sign that was distracting. (I’ve also had a couple in-camera double exposures, but I don’t count those since they were obvious double exposures and not documentary.)
Most people wouldn’t think twice about removing distracting elements from their photos. And for many portrait and commercial photographers it is often expected. Most of my career was in photojournalism. And ethically, most photojournalists will color correct, adjust exposure and crop their photos. But altering the content of a photo is a huge ethical violation, even if it is something small and seemingly innocent.
I am no longer working full time as a photojournalist, and since most of the photos I shoot now are just to please myself, I am not bound by rules of photojournalism ethics. And part of my post-newspaper career goals are to experiment with photography and try new things. So I didn’t give it much thought when I removed a couple of distracting elements.
But when I look at other peoples photos on social media, I often see those silly filters applied to photos along with the jokes about how their great-grandkids will think that’s how looked. And also comparisons of the goofy filtered photos with pictures of veterans from WWI and WWII looking heroic. And I got to thinking about what I enjoy when looking at old, historic photographs. Then I got to thinking what I want people to see if they look at my photos 100 years from now. Do I want them to see a sanitized photo of what I wish I saw? Or do I want them to see what the world is like now?
I am still trying to find my new niche, new style in photography. But I think I want to stick to the ethical rules of photojournalism. I may still experiment with some time exposures, maybe even some in camera multiple exposures, or maybe computer illustrations as long as they are clearly “art” and not meant to look like a “real” scene.
I do admire other peoples work when they spend time on a computer to make the perfect photo, even if it is heavily altered. And I am not judging other peoples work. It would be a boring world if we all had the same style and did things the same way. I’m just thinking about how I want my work to be viewed by others and by future generations.