Should Ad Companies ‘Doctor’ Their Images?

Readers of the New York Times are having an interesting debate about whether ad companies should use post-production to alter the appearances of the products they’re promoting. iphone.jpg

The argument was started by a reader of Pogue’s Posts, a technology column written by David Pogue, who noted that Apple’s images of the iPhone looked too good to be true. He believed that the phone and the screen had been shot separately, with the screen added in post-production.

Pogue agreed, explaining that he too struggled to show both hardware and the screen in the same lighting while shooting his Times videos. He concludes:

I once visited Palm’s headquarters in California, and that’s when I learned about this. So yes, I believe that ALL marketing photos of phones, laptops, and handhelds are Photoshopped with the screens layered on later!

That will come as a surprise to few and judging by the comments, as long as the final image isn’t misleading, most people don’t care how the image was produced. In fact, the general impressions seems to be that we should expect advertising images to have been altered and be naïve not to do so.

That does raise the question of when image manipulation drifts from enhancement to deception however. One iPhone user says that the screen really is as bright as it appears in the photos, even if the shot wasn’t taken naturally. Another points out that photographers of breakfast cereal use glue instead of milk to prevent the flakes getting soggy and milk looking watery. A third points out that:

in the cosmetics industry, beauty-shots of bottles of perfume or cologne are stitched together from several different photos. Photographers will usually get the best possible shot of the glass bottle first, then adjust the lighting and reshoot to get a good shot of the shiny metal top. Additional elements, such as ribbons or other packaging in the background, will require additional, separate shoots. Then, when the various pieces of the bottle are brought together in Photoshop, a photo retoucher will map the company logo and labels onto the bottle directly from the original electronic artwork.

You could argue that all those techniques help to recreate a reality distorted by strong lighting and the effect of the camera. But the last contributor raised an important question: “When has your Big Mac ever looked as good as it does in McDonald’s advertising?” he asked.

Maybe making Big Macs appear as food is the line between enhancement and deception.

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