Manipulation: Greatest Sin of Visual Storytelling

Everyone at some point in their lives want to capture that “perfect” picture even though that’s impossible since perfect doesn’t exist. How far will someone go to get that perfect picture? Crop other people and objects out or put new people and objects in? Alter and touch up the image to get it to look a certain way? How about staging the scene in a smaller scale and manipulate it to look real? So how do we know what we are looking at is the true picture and how do we know it wasn’t altered in some way? But what exactly is the greatest sin of visual storytelling? In my opinion, the manipulation of visuals is the greatest sin because of its impact and influence it can have over people. 

Manipulation of any visual can include any of the following; cropping, adding, combining, or any other changes done that change the image in any way shape or form. In fact, technology has come so far and with all the advances and new programs, manipulating photos has become easier to do and harder to tell what has been changed from the original image. With easier access to technology and the programs manipulated photos that are very compelling have been appearing faster than ever.

The questions of what’s real and what isn’t can have many consequences that can cause a lot more harm than good for the world. Sophie, Kimberley, and Derrick state in their article that “The rise of photo manipulation has consequences across almost all domains, from law enforcement and national security through to scientific publishing, politics, media, and advertising,” and we’re relying on people to make judgments about image authenticity when the majority of the time we are unsure if what we are looking at is the true original photo without anything being changed. Manipulating photos can send the wrong people to jail, start an unnecessary conflict and war with another country, and who knows what other damage these kinds of photo can cause.

Barry Goldstein states “Thus, we come to a great truth about photography: Every photograph is manipulated…Every photograph represents the photographer’s choices, hence his interpretation of reality.” With choices comes manipulation in order for the photo to reflect their point of view and their version of what’s happening in the world. 

The photos below show just how far some of the photographers went to manipulate them. 

Left: Manipulated image (King George IV was removed) to have the Canadian Prime Minister in a more powerful image; Right: The original image
Left: The famous Abraham Lincoln image we all know that was manipulated (Lincoln’s head and Southern politician John Calhoun’s body);
Right: The original image
Left: The original image; Right: TIME Magazine altered the image making O.J. Simpson have darker skin tone and the edges to look like they are burned



  • Goldstein, Barry M. “Chapter 3: All Photos Lie: Images as Data.” pp. 61–81. 
  • Nightingale, S.J., Wade, K.A. & Watson, D.G. Can people identify original and manipulated photos of real-world scenes?. Cogn. Research 230 (2017).


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