Years ago, photo editing was a laborious and tedious process. If you wanted to change more than the bare basics, such as lighting or darkening a photo, you could figure on many hours of work ahead of you.
If you had to paint away a feature you would have to make an entirely new picture and cut the object bit by bit into the new image. For instance, if you had a group picture and you wanted to ‘remove’ one of the group members, this could take days.
Nowadays that is no longer the case. With Paint, and Photoshop, and similar programs, you can change elements of your photos quickly and easily.
Sadly, this means that it is also much easier to change the content of the photo itself. You can easily now present an image that is not accurate.
This brings up a sticky point, where photojournalism is concerned. Journalists, including photojournalists, are supposed to accurately present what happened. There is a difference between correcting the color cast of a picture, and changing a dull sky to a dark and stunning sunset.
Other small changes are tantamount to telling lies to the viewer. For instance, if you add smoke to a scene, or add more people to make a crowd seem larger, this isn’t making it more dramatic or enhancing its representativeness. You are fictionalizing the image and it is inappropriate.
Some would argue that there is a fine line between changing for editorial reasons and going too far. The two may be close at times but the bottom line is, the picture’s content must not have been changed. If there has been anything added to or taken from the photo in a way that changes the meaning of the image, the photographer has gone too far.
When you are editing photos, ask yourself if you are in the role of photojournalist or artist. If you are going for art, you have artistic license and can change the image as you like. It’s not supposed to be representative of reality necessarily. On the other hand, if the picture is supposed to represent a reality, then you need to take the rules governing photojournalism to heart.