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Five steps for today's ethical photographer

Technology now allows reality to be distorted and manipulated to achieve perfection or other purposes. This raises questions about transparency; how far can you edit a photo?

Photography amounts to billions of images capturing reality every day. As the practice integrates more and more into daily life, caution and ethics must also be given increasing consideration. Technology now allows reality to be distorted and manipulated to achieve perfection or other purposes. This raises questions about transparency; how far can you edit a photo? What is the border between private and public life? Where is the line on these issues? These aren’t always easy questions to answer and together the beg another; how can you remain an ethical photographer?


1.) What are ethics?

First, the basics. The definition of ethics is concise, meaning, "the set of moral conceptions of someone, of a milieu." Ethics is therefore a concept that allows anyone to adopt appropriate behaviors according to existing morality. However, being ethical is relative since it can differ between people, professions and culture. It’s a universal concept, but one that is often left to interpretation.


"There are no ethical proposals, there are only ethical acts"

- Ludwig Wittgenstein


2.) The place of ethics in photography

According to The National Press Photographers Association, the standards for visual journalists and photographers follows these rules:

  • Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.
  • Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
  • Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one's own biases in the work.
  • Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.
  • While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.
  • Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images' content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.
  • Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.
  • Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.
  • Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.
  • Do not engage in harassing behavior of colleagues, subordinates or subjects and maintain the highest standards of behavior in all professional interactions.

Photos can be intrusive and even more so with a changing media landscape and the rise of social networks. A photographer therefore has the responsibility to convey images whose scope will respect ethics and the privacy of each subject.


3.) The right to privacy

People are at the heart of photography and creating a fascinating subject. Diversity and emotion are essential to a photographer's work and provides much of their artistic opportunity. As compelling as a photo may be, the rights of what appears in the image must be respected. It’s essential to ask people permission to appear in the photo. This may seem obvious but far from insignificant.

A real estate photographer attention to these details is even more important than their photojournalist counterparts for instance. Real estate photographers must be careful not to inadvertently or unwittingly photograph the owners of a property. Certain technologies, like what’s found in the Matterport 3D platform, also include a system of blurring people automatically who appear in the frame, easily preserving anonymity.



4.) Consideration in "post production" of an image

Post-production is an important (and time consuming) step in any photographer's work and somewhere ethics can also crop up. "Photoshopping" is had been commonplace for many photographers even well before the arrival of Photoshop software itself. The slightest change can completely alter an image and convey a whole other message than its original. Photographers must therefore be careful, to transcribe reality accurately and preserve professional integrity, especially in the field of real estate photography or photojournalism.

5.) Understand the consequences

These principles are important and, as a result, they aren’t enforced purely on the honor system. Part of maintaining ethics is understanding the laws and repercussions that come with violating their terms. The pressure to differentiate yourself from the competition could, at times, be at odds with remaining within the bounds of ethics. Being aware and knowledgeable on these specifics will help you remain practice professionally and prepared to identify instances where others aren’t. This is particularly true for photos of real estate where professionalism is paramount for attracting clients and for during photo competitions where, in some cases, the use of photoshop is even outlawed.



Conclusion: Keep the story and your ethics straight

This all of course extends to social networks where all kinds of filters and other retouching exists to obtain a result that can be almost surreal or even augment reality entirely. In fact, success on these platforms will seem to hinge on the use of these features.

As with most rules or guidelines, context is often required. These cases are no different and ethics doesn’t prohibit the retouch of photos in this sense where it’s use is understood and expected. It’s part of the art of professional photography: modify the subject while keeping its essence intact. Just keep in mind to always convey the same story, the same emotion as the original image to keep your work honest, transparent, and ethical.

With Matterport 3D, the most accurate digital representation of a given space is available to the world of photography. Interested in learning more about how adding this immersive tool to your portfolio creates differentiation and can build your business? Contact an experttoday to see what options best suit you in the world of reality capture.