Photoshop is Adobe’s perennial market leading image manipulation software and it is effectively universal among photographic professionals as well as amateurs. It is so popular that the name of the software itself has become a verb similar to conducting a search engine query is now “to Google.” “To Photoshop” is to manipulate any given image to change literally any aspect of it, and these modifications can be very slight and intended to highlight aspects or correct flaws, or they can fundamentally transmogrify a photograph. Given enough Photoshopping I can sport a six pack to rival Chris “Thor” Hemsworth, I can be as tall and blue as the most impressive Na’vi, or even give up flesh altogether and sport a shiny diamond steel plate complexion. It would be easier to find an online marketing photograph today taken on a Kodak Brownie camera than one that has not been Photoshopped, but when retouching crosses into reinvention that’s not necessarily desirable or advisable.
Belying Anatomical Feasibility
Photoshopping can be used to create images which could not exist in real life, while fooling the eye into thinking that it’s indeed a rare sample of rarefied reality. The famous Kate Upton Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition cover photograph is an excellent example.
The buxom Ms. Upton’s bikini bottom was Photoshopped into a mere thin line which belied anatomical feasibility, but not so much so that it kept the magazine from selling well over five million copies. Countless individuals all over the planet have ogled the image without the slightest consideration that Ms. Upton would have had to have her pelvic basin surgically reconfigured. However, Photoshopping is not limited to centerfold images but to virtually every facet of online marketing photography, from removing that nasty zit from the CEO’s face to making that cheap scrawny burger look like it contains more meat than an English Pub’s Sunday Baron Of Beef Roast.
Blatant Examples of Image Dishonesty
The prime consideration of Photoshopping is not so much technical as it is ethical. Surely any moderately adept computer user can fire up Adobe CS6 and thoroughly manipulate an image in order to obtain results commensurate with their skill and experience in the software, but does that action result in a blatant example of image dishonesty? The advent of social media in marketing has brought with it the absolute necessity to maintain an atmosphere of trust, responsibility and honesty in all dealings with the customer, so is that policy violated by Photoshopping a bauble to seem sparklier or a model to look skinnier and taller?
Violation of Photographic Ethics
No one would argue with the act of using Photoshop for correction of photographic artifacts or technical flaws, such as removing a reflection of a stray studio light or a lens flare (although Star Trek director JJ Abrams might argue with you on that point). The question of the violation of photographic ethics arises when the fundamental qualities of the image are changed to the point where they no longer adhere to the reality of the original subject itself.
Offending Marketers Apologize… then Repeat
When the Taiwanese newspaper Liberty Times
digitally removed a rival publisher from a photo of a group of dignitaries welcoming Pope Benedict XVI they obviously trashed their journalistic ethics, and online marketers have to comprehend that they are also threatening their own reputation. Clothing chain Ann Taylor has been repeatedly “caught” removing dozens of pounds from the photos of their models’ anatomies and while they apologize each time, that doesn’t stop them from continuing the practice… and Ralph Lauren is equally guilty. L’Oreal has whitened Beyonce to Caucasianism, Oil of Olay has erased thirty years of wrinkles from Twiggy’s face, and Touchstone Pictures turned the boyish Keira Knightley into a D-Cup in the promo images for the movie King Arthur
Read the rest of this Benchmark Blog series on our Marketing in Focus page.