Using Adobe Photoshop and Ethics in the Digital Age

Contributor: Stefani Allegretti. Lesson ID: 13093

Living in the information age, we have the ability to access and create information faster than we ever have before. But this amazing ability also comes with more responsibility.


Practical Life Skills, Software and Applications

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!

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In the 21st century, we can use computer applications to create films, artwork, animations, photography, blogs, websites, music, and more! And we can publish our creations for millions to see with a button.

The ability to convey information and express ourselves in so many ways is a privilege that also comes with great responsibility.

In this lesson, learn about ethics in the digital age, specifically when using photo-manipulation tools and creation applications such as Adobe Photoshop.

First, review what ethics are.

Ethics are a system of moral principles. The root word of the word ethics is ethos, which means character.

That makes sense. If someone is ethical, they have good character. They have morals or rules that guide their behavior. Ethical people are likely, to be honest, and fair and treat people how they would like to be treated.

  • So how in the world do ethics apply to manipulating or digitally altering a photograph?

Ethics apply to all aspects of our society, including creating, using, and publishing photographs.

Computer application programs like Adobe Photoshop allow us to create and manipulate photographs to the point that newly imagined worlds, environments, and even mythical creations can be created. That is great for creative, artistic purposes!

Artists like Salvador Dali, a surrealist, probably would have loved using Adobe Photoshop for this reason. Below is a painting similair to one of Dali's surrealist paintings from 1931.

landscape with clocks

However, the issue of ethics comes into play when individuals create photographs of people, environments, and moments in time that are imagined, altered, or did not happen in reality but are presented as truth — as if they happened in real life.

tiger parakeet

For example, imagine a journalist who works for a local newspaper writing a story about a new breed of parakeet that can be purchased at nearby pet shops. The journalist creates the photo above to add next to his article and adds a caption that reads, "New breed of parakeet available at local pet shops."

In this example, the journalist is acting unethically.

  • Why?

Because he used photo-manipulation tools to create an image that suggests this is a new breed of parakeet available at local pet shops when no parakeet in existence is a part tiger and part bird.

Examine another scenario.

A school newspaper wants to highlight the dangers of driving and texting. So the editor takes a photo of a random student driving in the school parking lot and puts a phone in the driver's hand using photo manipulation tools such as cloning, cropping, and layering. Now, it looks like the student is texting and driving.

The newspaper's editor publishes the photo in the school newspaper, and everyone who sees it thinks the student is texting and driving in the school parking lot.

This is an example of using a photo-editing application in a highly unethical way because it misrepresents the truth and reality by portraying another person negatively and misrepresenting the actions of someone who was not texting and driving.

Not to mention taking a photo of someone and publishing it without their permission! Yikes!

Watch What happens when Photoshop goes too far? to learn more about the unethical ways journalists have used photo-editing applications.

Many historical instances show photojournalists forgetting about ethics when creating photographs and using photo-editing applications. That's why it is so important to understand what is ethical and what isn't in the digital age.

Great work in the Get It! section.

  • Ready to move on to the Got It? section?

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