Those who want to be serious photographers, you’re really going to have to edit your work. You’re going to have to understand what you’re doing. You’re going to have to not just shoot, shoot, shoot. To stop and look at your work is the most important thing you can do. —Annie Leibovitz
Back when photography was a more analog process involving darkrooms and chemicals, how much editing could be done to a photo was a nightmare. Even things we now consider fairly simple, such as blemish removal, involved actual airbrushing which held the risk of ruining the photograph. Editing could also cost a lot more. When one went to a portrait studio for family photos and the like, one would first be shown unedited proofs and the photographer would then attempt to upsell the editing, such as fixing Jr’s acne problem or little Joey’s fly away hair. Photographers didn’t worry that a customer or client might edit photos for themselves because they didn’t have the tools.
With the advent of digital photography, however, all that changed. Everyone, or so it seems, has access to some form of low-end image editing software. While not everyone knows how to use that software, that hasn’t stopped them from going ahead and adding filters and effects to digital photos. When one decides to edit their own photos, that’s fine. I’ve no objections. Editing your own photos is a great way to learn. When one decides to edit someone else’s photo, though, that’s a whole different issue. In short: don’t do it. Ever. For any reason.
Instagram was not the first but certainly has been the most popular consumer-level program to provide for easy, and horrible, editing directly within the app. For all the advantages that Instagram delivers from an advertising perspective, it has also been responsible for the display of millions of wretched images that should have been deleted. Professional photographers have had to scold more than a few “models” who, when posting their professional pictures, decided to edit them with one of Instagram’s filters. If you are guilty of doing this, you should apologize to your photographer immediately.
The situation is getting worse, however, as technology is making it possible to add digital stickers to photographs. We’ve already seen a rudimentary version pop up on Facebook, but now, it appears Twitter may be about to unleash a whole new can of worms. An article surfaced this week claiming that the social media messaging system is testing a “stickers” feature that not only allows users to add stickers to photos, but allows them to see how other people have edited the same photo. Even worse? Twitter would “suggest photos that you can edit and post to participate in trending conversations and breaking news.”
For professional photographers, this is a potential nightmare. There is no word as to whether there are any copyright protections (probably not) or any recourse for a photographer whose photo is edited without permission. Once again, we are faced with the challenging misconception that once something is posted to social media or published on the Internet that it must be public domain. Nothing could be further from the truth. Copyrights still remain with the photographer, no matter where they are published or how they are used, unless the photographer specifically indicates otherwise. Going around slapping stickers on photographs is a form of editing and therefore, in most cases, illegal!
Photographers have been fighting people who want to edit their photos for years. We don’t like it. When you edit one of our photos, you are not only defacing our creative property, you are insulting our artistic vision. When you edit on of my pictures, you are telling me that I wasted my time, that your opinion is more important than mine, and that you have no regard for my work. Don’t expect me or any other photographer to respond positively to such situations.
Hopefully, to avoid the legal entanglement that would be inevitable, Twitter will limit this feature to public domain photos that pass at least some superficial form of scrutiny before being slapped with stupid stickers. I don’t understand the appeal of such a feature in the first place, but I’m chalking that up to the fact I’m a grumpy old man. I’ll just assume that people who use such a feature also still buy sticker books and hide them from their children. Photographs are not sticker books, though. Putting stickers on photos isn’t editing, it’s defacing and demonstrates a lack of respect for the image.
The fact that Twitter put this information out into the press indicates that, barring some severe backlash, the feature is almost certainly headed for public release within the next few months. If that should happen, when that happens, I hope you will be thoughtful. If you want to deface your own pictures, go right ahead. Deface one of mine, though, and my response will not be friendly.
Do not edit my photos without my express permission. Ever.