The Ethics of Professional Photo Retouching

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This may be a touchy subject, but let’s talk about the ethics of professional photo retouching. Photographer’s edit photos for any number of reasons, from color correction services to making that skin blemish magically disappear. But there are those who are against photo retouching, arguing that a touched up photo isn’t telling the truth. Those who support the practice of photo editing might ask whose truth should be told?

On the internet alone, there are almost 2 billion photographs shared per day, and studies show that professional photographs are two times as likely to be shared. Professionally photographs are far more likely to have significant retouching, which means that most of the photos viewed and shared online have likely been touched up. It’s difficult to escape professional photo retouching, or to even recognize it.

Removing a chin pimple from a wedding photo is one thing, but completely re-doing a photo that’s used in an ad or news story is a whole different ballgame. Real Estate photo editing is a booming business in a seller’s housing market. Studies show that more than 90% of home buyers are using the internet to shop for real estate, making the photos used in home listings among the most important tools for home sellers. But at what cost to buyers? Improving a photo can mean making a room look larger, erasing blemishes, or even changing colors on walls and floors. Many would argue that this is a dishonest practice.

There are those on the other end of the spectrum who believe that there is nothing wrong with professional photo retouching. Their argument is that, in an age where photography editing services rake in billions of dollars per year, the onus is on the viewer to assume that any and all photos have been retouched. Indeed, viewing magazine ads with a critical eye is something we should all learn to do, but when viewing a product we intend to actually purchase, truth in advertising seems like a better bet.

In the end, it’s up to the consumer to be aware of the prevalence of photo editing in the marketplace. While arguments against photo retouching may make some sense, the fact is that there is no stopping it. When it comes to believing what we see, buyer beware.

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