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Thread: Ethics & Morality in Photography

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    Ethics & Morality in Photography

    I'm intetested in a general discussion on morality & ethics in photography

    You can start with any genre really

    For example (as discussed in another thread) - is it ethical to use an iphone bird call application to call in birds in the wild

    It is ethical to bait animals to get a shot ?

    Is it ethical to photograph someone without their consent ?

    Should you jump someone's farm fence to get a nice landscape shot ?

    Any other "can of worms" ?
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    • Is it ethical to use an iphone bird call application to call in birds in the wild
      - Yes

    • It is ethical to bait animals to get a shot ?
      - Yes, with limits (eg. food pellets at Cleland wildlife park, but not when it would do damage to the animal or its environment)

    • Is it ethical to photograph someone without their consent ?
      - Yes, with limits, i.e. in public is ok; but not through their bathroom/bedroom window

    • Should you jump someone's farm fence to get a nice landscape shot ?
      - No if it becomes tresspass


    If it's legal its ok, just don't break the law. Plus apply some common sense sensitivity.
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    Is it ethical to present your audience with a glossed-up, unrealistic view of the world so that you can sell your pictures, and ignore the fact that you are distorting their view of reality and making them frustrated, unappreciative, and unhappy?

    To see this graphically, watch any random TV series (yes, moving pictures, but the point still holds). The people in that series are, on average, a lot younger, slimmer, better-dressed and better looking than real people, their homes are better furnished, their cars are cars that most people can't afford. Result: most ordinary people think that they are too fat, too poor, too ugly, and well behind the eight-ball of the average. This is why people burn themselves out working two jobs and going on stupid diets and having pointless cosmetic surgery and all the rest of it. Simply, because our communicators (photographers and others) lie to us all the time.

    Similarly, we photographers constantly strive to add more "pop" to our landscapes with too much saturation, clever multi-exposures, and a whole host of Photoshop tricks. We lie about what stuff looks like because it's an easy way to get our pictures noticed, and, over time, the cumulative effect of all our little lies is that the people who see our work (if they pay attention to it at all) wind up with an untrue picture of some fantasy world and, when they see the real world with their own eyes, it is pale and unattractive. Worse, they then feel impelled to "improve" it, and nearly everything you can do to a block of good, natural land to make it look more "photogenic" destroys a part of it. Nature is messy! But photographers like us pretend it isn't, and in consequence people don't understand it, and so they destroy it in a misguided attempt to "improve" it.

    There is a fine line between presenting an attractive view of your subject, showing it in its best light on the one hand, and telling lies about it on the other hand. The ethical photographer thinks hard about this line quite often, and does his best to stay on the right side of it.

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    Way Down Yonder in the Paw Paw Patch jim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kym View Post
    If it's legal its ok...
    A hideously defective philosophy.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tannin View Post
    Is it ethical to present your audience with a glossed-up, unrealistic view of the world so that you can sell your pictures, and ignore the fact that you are distorting their view of reality and making them frustrated, unappreciative, and unhappy?
    http://www.withoutfx.com/wow-madonna...-photoshop.htm

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    Quote Originally Posted by jim View Post
    A hideously defective philosophy.
    try not quoting out of context...

    I said... "If it's legal its ok, just don't break the law. Plus apply some common sense sensitivity. "

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    Quote Originally Posted by Tannin View Post
    Is it ethical to present your audience with a glossed-up, unrealistic view of the world so that you can sell your pictures, and ignore the fact that you are distorting their view of reality and making them frustrated, unappreciative, and unhappy?

    To see this graphically, watch any random TV series (yes, moving pictures, but the point still holds). The people in that series are, on average, a lot younger, slimmer, better-dressed and better looking than real people, their homes are better furnished, their cars are cars that most people can't afford. Result: most ordinary people think that they are too fat, too poor, too ugly, and well behind the eight-ball of the average. This is why people burn themselves out working two jobs and going on stupid diets and having pointless cosmetic surgery and all the rest of it. Simply, because our communicators (photographers and others) lie to us all the time.

    Similarly, we photographers constantly strive to add more "pop" to our landscapes with too much saturation, clever multi-exposures, and a whole host of Photoshop tricks. We lie about what stuff looks like because it's an easy way to get our pictures noticed, and, over time, the cumulative effect of all our little lies is that the people who see our work (if they pay attention to it at all) wind up with an untrue picture of some fantasy world and, when they see the real world with their own eyes, it is pale and unattractive. Worse, they then feel impelled to "improve" it, and nearly everything you can do to a block of good, natural land to make it look more "photogenic" destroys a part of it. Nature is messy! But photographers like us pretend it isn't, and in consequence people don't understand it, and so they destroy it in a misguided attempt to "improve" it.

    There is a fine line between presenting an attractive view of your subject, showing it in its best light on the one hand, and telling lies about it on the other hand. The ethical photographer thinks hard about this line quite often, and does his best to stay on the right side of it.
    Using this same principle, is it morally right to post process photos of models/celebrities to a point where they look nothing as they would in real life? Which most of such media is directed at adolescents dipicting what the 'normal figure' should look like and creates an expectation out of kids who are going through an important bodily process?
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    Models don't look like real life even in real life do I don't think it's an issue

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    What about taking pictures during nesting ?

    What about pulling some flowers out of the ground because they ruin the shot ?

    What about taking on a wedding when you've got no clue ?

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    Quote Originally Posted by lay-z View Post
    is it morally right to post process photos of models/celebrities to a point where they look nothing as they would in real life? Which most of such media is directed at adolescents dipicting what the 'normal figure' should look like and creates an expectation out of kids who are going through an important bodily process?
    No!

    I don't generally approve of one-word posts, but honestly, for this question I cannot improve on a simple, blank "no".

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    Quote Originally Posted by kiwi View Post

    What about pulling some flowers out of the ground because they ruin the shot ?

    What about taking on a wedding when you've got no clue ?
    There's absolutely no reason why someone should pull flowers (or any other flora in that case) because it ruins THEIR scene. Any person with common sense who frequently shoots such subjects would know to carry a bit of string and tie back said "intruding" flora to the branch, take shot and untie.

    Weddings - IMO It's morally wrong if you don't tell them you're oblivious to weddings. They approached you with expectations so it's only right to clarify what the couple should expect if they go ahead and choose you as their photographer. The better thing to do would be to decline the job altogether - is a few hundred dollars (presuming that's how much you'll charge as you don't have the skills/experience to do weddings) worth the potential reputation/face you lose if the shoot goes belly up?

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    Quote Originally Posted by kiwi View Post
    What about taking pictures during nesting ?
    Same as using a recorded call. Generally not acceptable, but it is OK to make occasional exceptions where you are quite certain that you are not going to do any harm. If you find yourself having to break either rule regularly to get a shot, then you need to develop some basic competence at your craft. Ask for help, there are plenty of people here who are more than willing to assist. Don't expect it to be easy - it isn't. If you want easy, go to a zoo.

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    ah gee all these are taking the fun out of photography

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    Ooh. I've got one. While stormchasing it is inevitable that you come across peoples lives being destroyed by one phenomena or another. Classic case is the tornado damage path.
    Is it moral or ethical just to drive by and continue chasing the storm?
    Is it moral or ethical to take pictures of someones life scattered across a half mile of forest?
    Is it any more moral or ethical if you show up and ask permission to take the same pictures?
    Is it any more moral or ethical if you volunteer to assist these people with rebuilding their lives and then ask permission to take the pictures?

    I will post an answer on my view later and what I have done in the past, but I would be very interested to see peoples reactions. Added information *the house or area has significant damage to it.
    Last edited by Xebadir; 21-07-2011 at 2:07pm.
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    can't remember Tannin's Avatar
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    Interesting questions, John. (Err .... John X.) (Err John X the Nikon user.) (Err ... or do you both shoot Nikon?)

    Did you go there just to see the storm? If so, then you would not have been there anyway otherwise, so it seems to me OK to drive on. Otherwise you could not do your job. But it depends on the circumstances too - if it was a case of life and death, well, of course you are duty-bound to help (if you are even remotely human). What about pictures of people's lives scattered everywhere? I have no opinion on that. I would not do it, but not for any moral reason, simply because I wouldn't feel comfortable. Nothing to do with morals at all, just ... well ... hard to explain. I'd just feel too worried about what they would be thinking of me and how I should explain myself and generally very, very uncomfortable, like going to school and discovering you forgot to put your trousers on. ..... Strange, isn't it! If I am after a particular bird, I don't give a damn what people think; so far as possible I don't even register that they are there; they are as irrelevant to my task as they are to my mindset. I just do it. So call me Mr Inconsistent.

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    i vaguely remember something in the news that said it would become illegal to stand by and watch a crime take place without doing something... i cant find the article but its relevant.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kiwi View Post
    .Should you jump someone's farm fence to get a nice landscape shot ?

    .?
    It would be illegal and trespassing. Does that make it immoral or unethical ?

    How about bringing your camera along uninvited to a funeral to capture those moments of sadness and emotion.

    As for the photo manipulation question : I don't think morality or ethics plays a part in how I choose to present an image. For the same reasons a painter presents images to the viewer in whatever interpretation he or she wishes. I doubt any fine-art landscape photographer has ever claimed that they are attempting to bring 100% pure truth to the eyes of the viewer.

    The answer generically depends on your viewpoint from which you define what is considered moral and ethical.
    How about a new can of worms : Is morality as we have defined it with all of our western wisdom just an invented concept to help justify our particular brand of existence?
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    Way Down Yonder in the Paw Paw Patch jim's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kym View Post
    try not quoting out of context...

    I said... "If it's legal its ok, just don't break the law. Plus apply some common sense sensitivity. "
    What context does that rather generic get-out clause provide to the first, quite despicably amoral part?

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    I'm more then happy to jump a fence... BUT, before I do, I will:
    a) make sure there is no bull in the paddock!
    b) make sure there is no other way to get the composition I'm looking for
    c) look for the owner to ask permission
    d) there are no no tresspassing signs

    If the answer to all of the above is no, then Jump away.
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    and you could still find yourself in trouble greg....

    dont froget to watch out for electric fences

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