We all love beautiful bird photos. I try to choose the best possible photos here on Be Your Own Birder to illustrate our monthly featured birds, as well as to include in each bird photo gallery or be part of different articles. I also share daily beautiful bird photos on Instagram, as well as other daily birds on the BYOB Facebook page. There are some photos that aren’t all they seem, however, and I’m going to start debunking, exposing, and uncovering photoshopped birds.
The History of Photo Manipulation
The term “photoshopped” has come to describe any heavily manipulated photo that is so dramatically altered and edited that it no longer resembles the original or “natural” photo in a realistic way. Such manipulation, however, has a much longer history than many people realize.
Photo retouching, altering, and editing has been around nearly as long as photography itself. Even very early photos on glass or tin were often retouched by hand, smoothing lines, removing blemishes, adjusting lighting, or otherwise crafting a more pleasing image. Civil War photos, images of Abraham Lincoln, photos of Joseph Stalin and Vladimir Lenin, and countless celebrity photos have been retouched, altered, combined, or outright jumbled. There are many ways even today that photos are regularly manipulated, such as:
- Smoothing or altering skin tones, backgrounds, etc.
- Removing red eye, eye glare, skin blemishes, etc.
- Removing undesirable objects, such as distracting elements
- Blending multiple photos into one composite image
- Improving sharpness and blur for desired effects
- Cropping or resizing to highlight specific features
- Correcting defects caused by malfunctioning equipment
- Creating artistic effects for greater impact
There are innumerable ways these different changes can be made on photos. The term “photoshop” is in reference to the popular program Adobe Photoshop where such changes can be made with quick clicks, though today there are many different types of software, apps, and filters that can do similar manipulations quickly and easily.
Truth be told, very few published images – online, in magazines, in video – are completely natural and unretouched. Purists would argue that any manipulation at all, even a simple brightening or resizing of a photo, damages the integrity of the image. In reality, however, many basic adjustments to photos are commonplace and do not harm the accuracy of the photo, the intent of its usage, or the reputation of the photographer or photo editor.
Bird photos, for example, are often retouched – I personally retouch nearly every photo on Be Your Own Birder. Most commonly, I will crop and resize images to fit the formatting requirements of the site layout. I also sharpen images to bring out details, adjust the brightness or color saturation to make a bird stand out a bit more or to highlight its true markings, and I may remove some distractions, such as a bit of branch in the corner or small blemishes in the background.
NOTE: Every photo used on Be Your Own Birder is done with the original
photographer’s copyright permissions that permit such alterations and use.
Where photo manipulation becomes damaging, however, is when the retouched photo no longer closely resembles the original, unaltered image. In some instances, this may be as an obvious joke or deliberate statement, such as for comedic effect or to create fantasy.
When images are grossly manipulated for deception, however, is where the line is crossed and the alterations are no longer acceptable. This is particularly true when the nature of the alteration is not revealed, and instead the photo is passed off as true, natural, and unedited.
We are all familiar with the deliberate deceptions – however the accusations may be denied – of fashion and style editors making models drastically thinner, changing proportions such as lengthening legs, removing not just untoward blemishes but every single skin imperfection, dramatically lightening darker skin tones, and other egregious manipulations. These photos create unrealistic images intended to represent ideal beauty, yet the extent of the alterations is not revealed. That lack of transparency has damaged reputations and eroded public trust.
Visit the Hoax Photo Archive for dramatic photoshopping!
Fortunately, as social media has burgeoned in recent years and more and more celebrities maintain their own online presences, truly outrageous photo manipulations are becoming somewhat less common – at least for people. The same can’t be said about birds.
Heavily Photoshopped Birds
As I do myself, many nature photographers edit their own photos for more pleasing composition, to correct what they feel are distracting elements or errors, or to better evoke the intended emotional response from their work. This type of manipulation is commonplace and relatively expected. When birds are edited to brutally unrealistic colors, positioned in tragically unlikely locales, or otherwise unreasonably altered, however, the results can be devastating.
But what is the harm of a photoshopped bird? The harm isn’t in the photo editing, it’s in the intention. Too many photoshopped birds end up spreading rapidly over the internet, tagged and pinned and liked and shared as truly beautiful birds with outrageous colors or outstanding circumstances, with little or no truth shared with them. When the alteration is revealed, it may be done in a mocking or dismissive way. If the person who shared the photo was truly unaware of its edited nature and was only trying to share what they perceived to be a beautiful or unusual bird, the correction can be painful. Once mocked, ridiculed, or chastised over an honest mistake, that person may never bother looking at or caring about birds again.
Debunking the Myths
In the coming weeks and months, I’m going to be sharing heavily photoshopped birds, as well as exposing how they’ve been altered and what the original bird truly looks like. It is not my intent in any way to tease, castigate, or call out anyone who may have fallen for or unknowingly spread these altered photos, but only to debunk the altered images, share the true beauty of the birds, and help with proper identifications. If you have seen a bird photo you suspect has been subject to heavy editing, please contact me and I’ll be happy to take a look, and don’t forget, I also offer a free bird identification service for all mystery birds – photoshopped or not!