Several ethical dilemmas arise when talking about visual images. Visual bias in the media occurs in two forms: manipulation before capturing the image - through camera angles, lighting, and placement of the subject - and manipulation after capturing the image - through digital manipulation, cropping, or changing the speed of the video.
 
The more subtle manipulation occurs before the image is taken when choices such as camera angle and lighting can add a subjective tone. These are often not even thought of as manipulation but they can have an effect on the way the viewer sees the subject. These techniques can make anyone look good or bad. A 1947 Life magazine photo spread illustrates this point. The magazine ran a series of photos challenging readers to distinguish the mystery writers from the criminals as a way of disproving the theory that some people have criminal faces. Although all the photos were shot using the same focal length, the mystery writers who were intended to be mistaken as criminals were photographed in poor lighting from unflattering angles.
 
An established body of literature has documented visual bias from the way television images are constructed as well. See Visual Bias Research. Scholars have used content analysis to show that camera angles and focal lengths used with moving images can have a biasing effect. Kepplinger (1982) asked photojournalists the techniques they used to put a person in a negative light. He then looked for such practices in election coverage to show how the "optical commentary" biased coverage. Grabe (1996) also found visual bias in South African election coverage. Tiemens (1970) used experimental design to show how camera angles affected the credibility of people featured in the news. Other experimental studies have shown that these biased camera angles can create negative impressions of the people featured and that viewers use these impressions to unconsciously judge the people in the news (Mandell & Shaw, 1973).
 
These studies look at the way images are chosen and framed when taking still photos or video. Far more blatant and conscious is manipulation after the image is captured. Generally, digital imaging technology is used to correct mistakes such as poor lighting or to restore old photographs by removing scratches or enhancing faded negatives. Sometimes, however, more dramatic changes are made such as removing an object that is visually unattractive of distracting, such as a soda can or light pole. Other times the image is digitally enhanced to change the appearance of the main subject. Well-publicized examples include whitening and straightening the teeth of septuplets mom Bobbi McCaughey for a Newsweek cover photograph or darkening a photograph of O.J. Simpson on the cover of Time magazine. An example of digital manipulation from television news is placing the CBS symbol over an NBC advertisement in Times Square during New Year's coverage.
 

These are areas for discussion and debate and you'll talk more about them in an ethics course. For now, the idea is to think about ways that you are manipulating the image. Also, think about how your chosen profession and the viewers would respond to such manipulation.

 
For example, surveys of photo editors showed that they were critical of digital alteration of photos beyond standard cropping or lightening (Reaves, 1993). Empirical studies have also documented how viewers perceive manipulation of images (Huang, 2001). One of the subjects in Huang's study (2001) said of the O.J. Simpson manipulated photo, "They wanted him to look dark and like a criminal (before) the court every tried him (Huang, 2001, p. 162). Studies have also documented how slowing videotape speed can create negative impressions about the people shown (Barnett & Grabe, 2000).
 
This potential for bias from visual images must be considered when taking and editing photographs or video. Professional organization standards are also good places consult for guidance on ethics and visual images. What is acceptable in public relations many not be okay at a newspaper.
 
Here are some links to professional organization code of ethics:
 

Radio and television news director's association. Here you will find an evolution of the standards for broadcast news as well as the text of the current code.

http://web.missouri.edu/~jourvs/rtcodes.html

 

Society or professional journalists

http://www.spj.org/ethics_code.asp

 

Public Relations Society of America

http://www.prsa.org/_About/ethics/index.asp?ident=eth1

 
 
 
Entaman, R.M. Blacks in the news: Television, modern racism, and cultural change. Journalism Quarterly, 69(2), 341-161.
 
Penman's work shows that television news images reinforce modern racism and make Blacks seem dangerous, threatening, and angry than Whites. Crime coverage and political coverage reinforce black stereotypes by making Blacks appear more threatening and less individualized. Also the prominence of black anchors and reporters makes it seem as if racism no longer exists. He also looked at at political coverage and found that Whites speak for the whole community where as Blacks speaks for the black community.
 
 
Tiemens, R. (1970). Same relationships of camera angle to communicator credibility. Journal of Broadcasting, 14(4), 483-498.
 
Tiemens showed how camera angles affect credibility of the person featured. He argued that the camera angles influence the audience's psychological reactions. This was used as a device in propaganda films, where some Germans photographers used low camera angles to give superiority to Hitler. He suggests that camera angle will affect expertness and trustworthiness of the communicator. He said that the high angles will make the person appear less communicative and knowledgeable. In this experiment, he only found this effect for one speaker but the other speakers were dealing with controversial topics for which the students had probably already formed opinions.
 
 
Kepplinger, H.M. (1982) Visual bias in television campaign coverage. Communication Research, 9(3), 432-446.
 
This study looked at visual bias in TV campaign coverage in Germany. He based the stimulus on information obtained from cameraman about techniques that they said would make a person appear in a positive or negative light-also asked them what camera angle they would choose to create certain effects.
 
The experiment manipulated how often each candidate was on screen, and the camera angles used and public and journalistic reactions (when journalists commented on the reaction on the public). One candidate was shown with negative shots, negative public reactions and journalists commenting on negative reaction. Again there was no verbal bias because the stations require balanced election reports. Instead journalists used "optical commentary" to get their real point across.
 
 
Grabe, M.E. (1996). The South African Broadcasting Corporation's coverage of the 1987 and 1989 elections: the matter of visual bias. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic media, 40, 153-179.
 
Grabe looks at optical commentary in South African television election coverage and takes a more in-depth approach. Previous literature has shown that the following shots imply different levels of intimacy and therefore add meaning:

Close-up = intimacy
M.S. = personal relationship
Full shot = social relationship
Long shot = context, scope, public distance
High angle shot = "The Godly view" shows weakness and smallness
Low angle shot = power and authority
Tilt up = power and authority
Tilt down = smallness and weakness
Zoom in or dolly in = observation and focus
Zoom out or dolly out = distance, de-emphasize
Cut = simultaneity, excitement

 
Editing of the shots can infer meaning with juxtaposition - whereas positive qualities of an object or person are transferred to another. Also, one can edit two unrelated scenes together for the film equivalent of the word "like". Experimental studies have found support for associational juxtaposition.
 
Investigative camera also has a negative effect - it scrutinizes the person to reveal or emphasis physical characteristics or emotion - like nervousness or tension can be shown by sweat on an upper lip or unconventional framing (plant growing out of someone's head or cutting off the limbs demeans the subject). A negative connotation might also come from distorting the scene - focusing only on the protestors and not the supporters, for example. Or the video can link the subject to a well-known person or meaningful environment; symbolic meaning is transferred from the scene or links with the person imply endorsement.
 
 
Mandell, L.M. and Shaw, D.L. (1973). Judging people in the news unconsciously: effect of camera angle and bodily activity. Journal of Broadcasting, 17(3), 353-362.
 
mandell and Shaw showed how visual portrayals - camera angle and bodily activity - are used to unconsciously judge people in the news. They found that overall non-visual portrayals are evaluated more favorably. People also had the tendency to judge a person more active or potent if that person is photographed even from a slightly low angle and if he engages in at least a slight amount of activity.