Photos in Today’s World: A Change in Moral Authority as We Know It

Guest Post by: Katera Berent

We’ve reached a point in time where the phrase “pics or it didn’t happen” no longer rings true. A photo of something isn’t as trustworthy as it was thirty years ago. We edit every imperfection, change the highlights on lighting, change the curves on a woman and airbrush the muscles on a man.

The models within many ads are edited to almost unrecognizable extremes. The photo below was taken from this video, in which viewers can watch the transformation of a model happen. Is something like this considered photo manipulation? Where is the line drawn?


I personally don’t have a problem with slight edits to enhance the features in a photo. It’s been done since the dark room days, when people used techniques such as burning and dodging. Yet sometimes it is taken too far. The video above recreates an already beautiful model with a type of perfection that is seemingly unachievable without photo editing. There are serious ethical implications with this.

The first is that when photos are over-edited, it sets unrealistically high standards of beauty for girls and boys, women and men. Consumers begin to think that they must look like what they see in magazines, on billboards, on television—except the models don’t even look like that. Is it possible to combat these ridiculous ideals without shaming those who are in the ads?

Another ethical implication that comes with editing photos is an inherent skepticism of what is reality and what isn’t. When photos are published in news articles, it is assumed that the photo is an accurate representation of whatever was happening. In 2003 a Los Angeles Times reporter was fired after combining two images from the war in Iraq. Regardless of whether or not the photo was more aesthetically pleasing when combined, it depicted an entirely different story of what was going on.


Credibility relies on trust and truth. When photographers alter photos in such a massive way, it becomes active manipulation with the media is telling the public what to think. Media are supposed to be watchdogs, but if they’re allowing themselves to doctor photos to suit their needs, who is going to be a watchdog of the media?

It’s important to consume media responsibly and holistically. Without it, we lose ourselves and the world surrounding us.


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