A digital image can be modified, enhanced or even made to lie. This was not so in the case of negative or transparency. They could not be made to lie because the alteration was easily noticeable. But digital image and manipulation go hand in hand.
Maybe, manipulation is a strong word to use. A more appropriate word would be digital enhancement. This is what every photographer tries to achieve – to improve the quality of the picture. He does this by using photo-editing software like Adobe Photoshop or Photopaint.
Some of the characteristics that the photographers play around with on the computer screens are: color, angle, size, pixellation or removal of distracting elements like tables, chairs etc. If need be, the photographers also use a digital brush to change the color of eyes or remove identifying marks. All this, and more can be done with the tools available in any good photo-editing software. The picture invariably comes out looking better.
No one will complain if the changes improve the quality of the picture. But there are times when photographers go further and alter parts of the picture. They import another face or person into the picture or change the surroundings. When they do this they are clearly guilty of manipulation. The photograph then is not a document but a lie. It can prove to be dangerous if it was submitted to a court of law. It could very easily upturn a verdict if the manipulation was of a quality that could fool digital forensic experts.
The danger is that the manipulation tools are so easily available. Anyone can buy photo-editing software, and edit or morph pictures of celebrities. There have been scores of cases when pictures of celebrities have been morphed and hosted in compromising positions on the net. This is indefensible; all acts of manipulation need to be punished.
Some photographers put forward the argument that it is impossible to capture reality. They are right. Even the best digital cameras cannot capture colors in the same way that the eyes do. But this is not manipulation. This is acceptance of reality. Actually, we should feel happy that we can capture nature so closely now.
What is more important is that we don’t manipulate digital images. We should limit ourselves to enhancing their quality.