The Truth Behind Photography 

  • Updated July 25, 2023
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The worldwide phenomenon confusing everyone is the dress that seems to have people seeing different colors. If you haven’t seen this yet, it is a picture of a striped dress with low exposure lighting which gives off the impression of different colors due to the shadows, or lack of shadows it creates. The original dress is black and blue, however, the exposure is causing most to look at the dress and only see white and gold. It is the same picture shared across the world, yet people are seeing it in completely different ways.

This is due to color constancy, which is when our brains take the context of the photo, such as the shadows, and make assumptions and interpret the picture different than it appears. Our brains base what it sees on its own interpretation of the image. Everything we see depends on the quality of light and what meets the eye. Therefore, photography no longer shows true reality. Photographers can now manipulate a photograph into being what they want us to see or believe, and what we want to believe based on our own interpretation of the image based on society’s standards. For the majority of people, photographic seeing is still believing.

In “Understanding Photographic Representation: Method and Meaning in the Interpretation of Photographs”, John Davey states that “the photograph is not typically perceived as part of a learned process.” (2-3). The majority of the world is born being born able to see; sight is not something that we have to learn. Sight is what most people depend on to be able to depict what is in front of them; therefore, it is not something people tend to doubt. There are very few who don’t trust their vision, even when looking at a photograph. However, believing that a photograph shows true reality not only takes trust in your vision but the trust in the technology that created it.

Davey explains that “Our perception of the photograph as intrinsically realistic is also inextricably bound to our faith in technology and the objective knowledge it produces” (3). There are many different aspects that go into creating a photograph, however, when one trusts in their vision they most likely trust that a photograph is depicting the truth. Often, people look back on photos in order to see past truths and Marc Green states that when “left unchallenged, pictures are likely to override even the most compelling and conclusive scientific evidence” in his article “Photographs vs. Reality: Seeing is Deceiving”.

Photographs are the closest depiction this world has to a savable form of reality in a specific moment. Therefore, photographs are shown in court to show the truth of a certain moment being prosecuted against. No matter how much evidence the defendant has, if the picture says differently, the judge will most likely agree with what the picture shows. This is because people trust what they see. Yet, it is still possible to manipulate and change a photograph, therefore many photographers do so in order to make the image appear more “beautiful”. “Often the photographer can digitally change the lighting, the color intensity or the contrast in a photograph” (Mira). Altering these aspects, do not change the overall purpose of the image itself.

Therefore, it still depicts the image in the reality it’s intended to have. Although photographs can depict a vision of the world, it will never be the world itself. According to Davey, a photograph is essentially a two-dimensional image that came from a three-dimensional reality. Therefore we are unable to see the surroundings of what the image depicts. The photographer focuses their photo on a specific person, object, or place that they want the viewer to see. However, that photographer has the power to influence you based on the photograph itself and what they want to represent.

Photographs “in political life, in the news media, in channeling our desires and actions through advertising, and in structuring our inter-personal world through televised, model relationships and values, has given a primary role to the disemination of our world” (Davey 2). In every aspect of your life, you are exposed to visual images. These images are carefully taken to inform, persuade, or entertain the viewer. Therefore, photographers can manipulate and change an image to more effectively do so. Fred Ritchen writes “Photography, even of the most realistic type, can articulate truths even though facts may be wrong and conversely, can also be quite wrong as to the essence of a situation despite getting the facts right” (422).

Photographs are not always effective in depicting the truth of a situation, even if the photographer attempts to explain it. Therefore the photographer may attempt to alter the original photograph to more effectively make the photo fit the concept they were trying to portray. Even the slightest alterations of a picture, take away from the aspect of the photographer being truthful to the original image. In “The Truth in Photography”, Guest Poster says, “Whether the photographer manipulated the scene (i.e. asked the subjects to pose, rearrange things, used flash, took angles designed to stress fear and threat) matters to the extent of the point he or she wishes to show”.

Many photographers stray away from being honest in telling people of their action of altering the images they captured. They do so to avoid controversy, however, they are causing the image to be an altered truth of what was originally taken. Even when doing so unintentionally, photographs will always be an altered perception of reality no matter how the photographer portrays it. The most famous form of altering a photograph is digitally photoshopping an image to become more aesthetically pleasing to the eye or to better fit societies standards. According to Leslie Mullen in her essay “Truth in Photography: Perception, Myth and Reality in the Postmodern World”, she states “as computer programs become cheaper and more widespread, manipulation of images will become more common” (12).

Digitally enhancing a photograph is a worldwide practice that has become so common, that it is rare to find an unedited photograph in the media. You can now edit images from your own smartphone, giving you the ability to alter someone else’s perception of your own photograph. There are thousands of apps available worldwide giving everybody the opportunity to be the person behind changing a visual image. However, in recent years there has been a major increase in photoshopping celebrity photos in order for them to look more “perfect”. Lady Gaga is one example of this, when she was featured on the cover of the 2013 December edition of Glamour Magazine.

Isabel Calkins covered this story in a Cosmopolitan article: “13 Times Celebrities Called Out Magazines Over Retouching”, quoting Lady Gaga’s reaction to her photoshoot. Gaga said, “I felt my skin looked too perfect, I felt my hair looked too soft, I do not look like this when I wake up in the morning… What I want to see is the change on your covers. When the covers change, that’s when culture changes.” The editor altered the image in a way that made Lady Gaga no longer look like herself, making her even feel uncomfortable. These drastic alterations cause a disruption in the belief of what one thinks others look like, then altering what many aspire to look like themselves. It is an unhealthy relationship between visual reception and altered perception of physical reality. Vivian Diller took a stance on this controversial practice of visually distorting body images.

Diller states that “The American Medical Association (AMA) recently announced it was taking a stand against image manipulation in advertising, stating that alterations made through processes like Photoshop can contribute to unrealistic body image expectations, eating disorders and other emotional problems.” The act of manipulating an entire audience of people to believe that a photograph holds one truth, when in fact it holds another, is promoting the idea of false advertising and lying to ones audience. A photograph itself, can never be a truthful depiction of ones reality, however drastically photoshopping an image can create real consequences.

When a company advertises a person showing them with unrealistic features, it gives a false perception of the person leading to others to attempt to look the same. People strive to look like those they see in photographs, because society is promoting that one should look like the false image, when in reality that image is not even real. According to “The Case of Steve McCurry: What is ‘Truth’ in Photography”, “Vision itself is not real; it’s not a tangible thing. One cannot point to something and say, ‘this is vision.’ It’s merely a process” (Cooke). Our brains base what it sees on its own interpretation of the image. Everybody’s interpretation of visual reality is different. It is a process that everybody experiences in different ways.

Therefore, a two-dimensional interpretation of reality cannot show the real truth. No matter if the image itself is manipulated or not in drastic ways, it will never be a clear representation of the world. Whether the image itself is manipulated by the photographer at the moment or photoshopped to appear different than it really is, it will never be authentic to the moment. Although a photograph is the closest thing we have to be able to keep memories and past experiences, they will never be a true representation of the event, due to everyone being able to interpret the same image in a variety of ways. Photography no longer shows true reality, yet a distorted version of it.


Cite this paper

The Truth Behind Photography . (2021, Jun 18). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/the-truth-behind-photography/



Can we trust photos?
No, we cannot trust photos because they can be easily edited.
Do photographs reflect the truth?
No, photographs do not reflect the truth. They are a moment captured in time, and often times people are not truthful in photographs.
Is photography a lie?
No, photography is not a lie. It is a form of art that allows people to capture moments in time and share them with others.
Is there truth in photography?
The main message of Slaughterhouse-Five is about the horror of war and the need for peace.
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