Shooting from the hip(ster)

Ok, I have a question. If I post processed my raw files from my SLR to look like Damon Winter's iphone photos would I breaking the (rather malleable) ethical guidelines for photojournalists on retouching? Does using the automated post processing of the hipstamatic app violate those same guidelines?

I find this very interesting. The front page of the New York Times presents heavily stylised automatically retouched photographs in a news context. The comments on the Lens blog range from applause on the intimacy of the imagery and the way it gives an insight into the daily lives of the soldiers all the way to: 'Great pictures. I need to get that iPhone app.'

I've always said that I have no problem with stylised photography, but there has to be a reason for it. When I was working in post production there was a road safety advert that mimicked the look of video on a camera phone. This was a few years ago so the quality of camera phone video was pretty poor. Prior to shooting, the producers wrangled over the concept trying to work out how they would post process the footage to make it so low res when the director said 'Well, why don't we just shoot it on a phone?' Or at least that was the story I heard. Whatever, the results were pretty effective. Watch it here.

When I teach Photoshop and digital post processing I tell students that if someone looks at their image and notices the style before the content, they have failed. If the first thing someone says is 'wow, look at those photoshop skills' then they have failed.

The style should reflect and lead you to the content of the image, not obscure it. In my opinion, some of Damon Winter's iphone photos fall into one category, while some fall into the other. From what I understand, Damon Winter is photographing with his iphone while also using a 'regular' camera. Of course, it would be a shame to not show great photography simply because it is done using a particular process or effect. Holgas, odd lenses, strange film processing techniques and digital darkroom effects have been used and abused many many times in journalism. I for one am a big fan of high speed, high contrast, grainy black and white film. The high ISO lets me shoot quickly, aesthetically I love the look and no one would argue that it would be unethical of me to load my camera with Fujifilm Neopan 1600...would they?

So here is my question again - ethically, can I hipstamaticise the raw files from my SLR? Or not?


Anonymous said...

We've had this discussion multiple times in different contexts and I still maintain my stance against excessive photo-manipulation. Yet I also remain sympathetic to the rise of technology and it's significance to cultural and social reportage.

If the combined file size of the layers in photoshop applied to any given photo outweigh the photo itself then the photographer is on their way toward some unethical practice. Since the iphone itself has a camera that "processes" the image to jpeg, using hipstamatic to apply an effect to that already processed image is unethical.

In the silver geletin age the only reason to tone images was to preserve them and increase their longevity. Chemists and photographers alike scoffed at photographers when they started using toning for affect.

Tom White said...

More on this here: