Photographs are timeless objects meant to capture a moment exactly as it happened and serve as a memento for decades to come.
They provide what words cannot—a visual representation of life as it unfolds. Something so scared, that most of us take for granted what lies beyond the surface of a photograph.
A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but that picture may not even be real.
This weekend, I came across a photo posted on the Twitter account of the LA Dodgers featuring starting pitcher Clayton Kershaw in a “green screen session.”
The photo shows Kershaw in his wind-up staring at the camera, but not in front of a crowd of fans. Instead, Kershaw is standing in front of a green screen.
As a sports photographer, I found this appalling! I have always wondered how the pros get such flawless shots, but I never thought photographers would actually stage a sports photo.
And where was the outrage from the fans in all of this? Nobody that commented on the photo even seemed to care, which is the root of the problem.
Every day, photographers spend countless hours editing their photos, putting the finishing touches to make a photo “look good.” There are a number of reasons for photo editing, but the better a photo looks, the more likely someone will buy it.
I don’t believe the issue at stake is entirely profit-driven, though. Call me a purist, but I prefer to capture the action as it happens and not stage the game-winning shot after it occurred. Capturing the moment at the right time is the challenge any good photographer faces, and the quicker you learn to frame action, the better your career will be. Photographers shouldn’t consume themselves with wanting to “create” the perfect image because the point of photojournalism is not to stage what happens.
The problem is the influence of public relations on the journalism industry. PR (which is not to be confused with journalism) is all about controlling and exporting a certain kind of image. Public relations officials constantly spin a message for the public to have a specific interpretation, and for the most part, the public is naïve enough to take the message for face value.
What you see with the Kershaw photo shoot scenario is no different. It’s what the LA Dodgers wants people to see, not necessarily a representation of reality.
As someone who has taken thousands of baseball photos, I know how hard it is to get a perfect shot of the pitcher. Sometimes the ball doesn’t make it in the shot; sometimes the pitcher’s leg/arm gets cut off during the follow-through, and sometimes an umpire/player moves in front of the camera, ruining the shot. I’ve never tried taking a baseball photo in front of a green screen, but my photos must be pretty good the way they are since I have won awards for my work.
I understand everyone wants a perfect image, but staging news photos is a serious ethical problem because the photographer is creating a sense of reality that does not exist. I suppose fans were not upset with the Kershaw shoot because for the most part, people expect photos to be staged, meaning they pose for photos all the time with their friends/family and expect photographers to take a staged photo during a special event so it looks “just right.”
For decades, the role of photographers has been solely to capture the moment in a journalistic sense. A photographer was like a journalist in the sense that their photos were meant to be an accurate depiction of a news event.
With the introduction of photo editing software and the emphasis on PR, the photographer’s role has morphed. Instead of being the eyes of the journalist, photographers have been sought for their talents to promote corporations (much like you see in the Kershaw photo shoot case).
Many people assume that the sports photo they see of a particular team comes from the game and never even think it could be digitally enhanced to make viewers think that. So the issue becomes whether photography is supposed to be an extension of journalism or whether it is another branch of public relations. For the consumer, it’s hard to tell when reality becomes blurred. After all, the age-old question that haunted philosophers for centuries is ever present: What is reality? Does an image actually capture reality, or is it enhanced to give us an interpretation of it? We may never really know.