Photoshop: why image doctoring isn’t over yet

A change in French law means that, if you doctor a stock image, you have to clearly label it. That’s a good thing in principle, but would a similar law really work here?

The problem isn’t the issue. Thanks to increased public awareness and campaigning by the likes of Lena Dunham and Kate Winslet, complaints against doctored images seem to have peaked. Fewer complaints were registered last year than in 2015, an early indication that brands may (may) have got the message that a natural body image isn’t a size zero.

That has to be a good thing – especially since anecdotal evidence suggests there’s as much doctoring of images of size zero models (making them appear healthier) as there is ‘slimming’ of normal body sizes.

It’s why Getty Images is banning image manipulation for its stock imagery (it’s already banned for news imagery). And it’s why the French have introduced a law requiring doctored images to be clearly labelled as such.

Is a UK ban practical?

Could such a law work here? On the face of it, there’s no reason it couldn’t. The French law doesn’t ban consensual doctoring, so as a commercial photographer you, as the client, could still ask me to reduce the redness in your cheeks. And I could still tweak the lighting to create a shot you’re happy with.

But banning other imagery would be a challenge. First, there’s the issue of what’s doctoring and what isn’t. If you airbrush a person’s complexion or shrink their waistline, that’s clearly doctoring. But what about if you simply make the sky a little bluer?

Then there’s the issue of technology. It’s easy to spot ham-fisted examples of doctoring, but as technology improves – and assuming the person using it has the skill – how do you ban a doctored image that you can’t spot is doctored? And when celebrities can’t correctly identify whether their own images have been doctored ( it’s easy to see how a law may sound great in principal, but be a little trickier to deliver in practice.

Still, as a professional commercial photographer, I’m happy with any move that helps to restore integrity to the industry – so whether it’s easily enforceable or not, I think Getty Images and the French deserve a slap on the back for taking a step in the right direction.

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