21st Century Photography

Photo technology continues to increase in its sophistication at a faster and faster pace, much more so than its growth rate even a decade ago. Not only did the birth of digital photography dramatically affect how people take and use pictures, but the software used to manipulate, store and share digital photos was also able to blossom into something very new as a result.

Digital technology has transformed holiday snaps. Whereas getting pictures of cars, landscapes or people developed in the old days involved time and expense we can now take and store store thousands of pictures on our mobile phones. we are also taking more holiday snaps because our breaks are getting more adventurous; even the older generation are visiting more exotic and far flung destinations (see over 60s holiday site oversixties.co.uk).

Some of photography's latest advances allow us to consider how the legal, moral and social landscapes we have become so familiar with are changing in an advanced digital age. Images once carried a sanctity and believability that may be slipping away. Most of this transformation started with digital photography.

Cameras are now able to reproduce digital representations of what only film exposure to light could once achieve. This has changed much of the equipment needed for both amateur and professional photography. For amateur photographers, the middle man is often no longer necessary, and costs of processing a photo have essentially dropped to zero.

One can load the digital images from his or her camera directly to a computer, then directly to the cloud, where they are shared via social networking sites to friends and families. Where we once filled scrapbooks and albums full of paper prints, we now fill Picasa, Shutterfly, Photobucket, Flickr, Facebook, and a multitude of blog hosting services with our photos. Of course, images can still be printed, and are done so quite often onto high grade photo film, credit cards, t-shirts, mugs or large blankets. Consumer and professional grade scanners allow digital imaging of any type of document one can imagine.

Digital editing software, with Adobe Photoshop in the front-running position, has allowed photographers, graphic designers and hobbyists to manipulate photos to the point that they no longer reflect reality. Sometimes this is the desired effect. Other times, for the consumer of the image, it presents situations of copyright infringement and false news stories. This is such a popular activity that the term "photoshopping" has become recognizable to the public to mean that an image has been manipulated using that software.

In many contexts a "photoshopped" image is intended by its creator to misrepresent reality. Online contests allow people to submit their best photo manipulation work, and new internet hoaxes are born every second as a result of this practice. The act of photoshopping has caused journalism schools and the news media to develop stricter photo manipulation rules to maintain integrity of news sharing. The Society of Professional Journalist's code of ethics states, "Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations." However, the professional would have to determine what this code means in the technical sense, and where the boundary line that starts at cropping and brightening becomes intentional dishonesty.

One internet trend made popular that showcases the abilities of Photoshop is called "detooning." This is the practice of taking an image of a cartoon character and overlaying it with layers of real people. The artist often stretches and distorts these features to fit the size and scale of the cartoon. The effect looks like a real person, only somehow unreal, as it's usually a familiar character like Homer Simpson or Super Mario without regard to the physical distribution of a real human face. Such tricks of the eye seem opposed to what the mainstream magazine publication normally does, which is to airbrush, stretch and clean real human models into images of idealized perfection. (Magazines and newspapers often take a different approach to photo manipulation)

With such an outburst of technological change, copyright law and social norms regarding photographs don't always stay caught up. Sometimes photos are posted of us against our will, and a smattering of lawsuits represents this, especially regarding underage people. The Electronic Frontier Foundation documents many of these developments and is worth a look.


Copy zendagraphics, www.zendagraphics.co.uk