Photoshopping Images

Jan 31 '14 16 Last Comment
Jan 31, 14 11:19 am

Due to recent articles regarding fashion models being photoshopped in images, I would like to hear other people's take on Architectural studios photoshopping the completion images of their buildings. A design studio that I used to work for, (not a good fit for many reasons), spent countless hours having interns or designers photoshop images of completed buildings that they worked on. I'm not talking about a simple brightness/contrast adjustment but full-on changing tones, brightening certain areas, changing textures, and editing the general hierarchy of the images. Is this practice commonplace in other design or architectural studios?

The principal would state that the image did not accurately show the "design intent" of the work and thus would need to be edited. I would laugh behind his back because it was obvious that the design work did not meet the "design intent" for a reason.


Jan 31, 14 11:31 am

I have no problem photoshopping photos so that the fidelity of the image matches the experience of being in the space. I have major problems with cloning out signs, sprinklers, lights, ducts, etc. 


That is how the game is played, however.

Jan 31, 14 11:47 am

i don't think it's a problem.  if you take your picture in varies shades of sunlight with different exposures and iso's and different times of year and such, you'll get a very wide range of tones.  i've photoshopped out a few horn/strobe devices, light switches, exit signs, thermostats, ect. because i don't care for them.  i never really thought it was a big enough deal to consider it dishonest.

i really don't think any little girls are going to destroy their bodies because of a horn-strobe free fantasy i'm creating.

Jan 31, 14 11:53 am

No, but it does create a false representation of the realities of buildings. Hundreds of students are using those false images to base their expectations and educations on, which is part of the reason they come to work the first day having no clue about the realities of lighting, power, HVAC, and life safety.

Jan 31, 14 12:02 pm

lol.  the lack of education could be partially placed on the teachers not giving a shit about teaching their students what architects do.  but if you want to blame the photos, that's fine too.

Jan 31, 14 12:56 pm

I think that SneakyPete is right in saying that it creates a false representation of buildings. Take strobes and light switches for example. Editing them out may seem insignificant, but they represent work that was done by the electrician on the job. Much of the work that the architect designs is useless without the electrician completing their work. By removing one trade's work from the images that the architect displays, is the architect then making a statement that they are more important than the electrician? I know its a small issue and may be insignificant, but to me it represents a larger idea within the profession that architects think too highly of themselves and dismiss the work of other trades and professions.

Jan 31, 14 1:55 pm



curt, I found this image on the web. The firm obviously figured out how to get around the code requirement for sprinklers, outlets, and various other required items. I'm your boss and I am telling you to do the same. If they can do it, so can we.

Jan 31, 14 2:13 pm

i don't really understand how to answer that sneakypete.

i'm expected to know the code.  on top of that, i personally feel a bit humiliated and generally bad when i do stupid things.  that motivates me to be competent.  i actively try to know what is required in the design of buildings.  i would not advise my boss or client or anyone else to knowingly deviate from code requirements, whether they think they see something in a picture or not.

it's not uncommon to look at a picture of a project and say 'they photoshopped that.'  if i saw a picture that i thought might require an alarm notification device, and my boss said i was supposed to omit the device because of a picture (for what it's worth, nobody i work with is that dumb), i would probably say to the boss 'they must have photoshopped it' or 'that's not in america, so they may not have to follow the same codes.'  of course a thermostat could still be there, just outside the frame of the picture.  the photoshopped picture comments i am typically involved in usually comes from something more like concrete being finished in an unnatural way rather than something like the lack of electrical outlets.

renderings aren't real either.  it would be prudent to base your experience off real life environments rather than magazine pictures.  it isn't the story's fault if you can't tell the difference between fact and fiction.

Jan 31, 14 2:25 pm

"it isn't the story's fault if you can't tell the difference between fact and fiction."


I agree. Most of these Photoshop jobs aren't telling a story, however, They're lying in order to secure publicity, awards, or the next job. That's where it strays into mildly unethical territory. Simply because everyone knows it's being done doesn't justify it.

Jan 31, 14 3:02 pm

i don't know sneaky.  if you say an edited picture is a lie, it seems you're creating a slippery slope that suggests a rendering that says it's what the building will look like is a lie.  an impressionist landscape is lying about what the landscape looks like.  i think a reasonable person should assume what's represented in a picture is just a picture.  if you want to see what the Villa Savoye looks like, go see the villa savoye.  until then, a picture is just a picture.

if you represent your picture as being unedited, and then edit it, then it's a lie (because you lied).  sometimes, though, a picture is just a picture.  if i took the picture before they installed the alarms, would that really be different?  if i removed the device for the picture and installed it when i was done?  most magazine photos in architecture magazines have a lot of staging that doesn't represent the actual use of the environment.

Jan 31, 14 4:07 pm

You make good points. The specific instance that bothers me is awards. The building is supposed to be getting the award, not the photo. The photo is a representation of the built product since the reviewers cannot be expected to travel to all of the projects. When things that are a part of the building are hidden from view artificially it makes the architecture seem better (in a manner of speaking) than it is. Every building has light switches. They all have lights, they all have safety features, they all have mechanical systems (of a sort). If the architect feels the need to remove them from the images representing the design for an awards committee, perhaps the lighting, mechanical, life safety, etc solutions were not as good as they could have been. Otherwise they are what they are and they should be shown. If architect a innovates and manages to have the sprinklers look amazing and architect b doesn't but has the intern photoshop them out, the playing field is not flat.

Jan 31, 14 5:31 pm

What major architecture awards only use images to determine merit? I find it hard to believe there are any.

Feb 3, 14 1:05 pm

Would you use your own point-and-click snaps instead of a pro photographer's work for your built project portfolio? No. The pro uses all kinds of tricks to get an "unreal", best-face image, from lighting and filters, to lens distortion, and other sorts of technical manipulation. Photoshop use is no different.

Feb 3, 14 1:52 pm

gwharton, if all we were talking about were lighting effects and subtle textural changes than yes I would agree with you. But we are talking about removing vital building systems and components from images. Sprinkler systems in buildings have to be there by code and are thus a part of the building. Removing them is removing a part of the building that the architect helped design. If the sprinklers and light switches take away from the design intent of the building so much, then the designers should have done a better job integrating them into the design.

Feb 3, 14 3:01 pm

perhaps there are situations where a photograph is implied to be an unedited representation of something.  in that case, photoshopping out a lightswitch might be unethical.  perhaps if you were selling a room on air b&b or craiglist, the accuracy of the picture is more important.

in those situations, i would say staging the scene in the way photographers often do would also lean towards an inaccurate representation of the space, or even adjusting lighting to a degree that would never occur in the natural use of the space.

if i have a picture of a space i worked on and said, 'i've done retail.  here's a picture of retail,' i don't think a modified light switch is critical.  it's possible the person i am presenting that image to would assume from said image, and that image alone, that i design spaces without light switches and could, therefore, design them a space without light switches.  however, i have a higher opinion of people than that (though my opinion of people is not very high at all), and working with someone that dense would be very difficult anyway.  i think the assumption that should be made in a case like that is that the light switch is not a relevant feature.

i'm not sure about submitting pictures for an award.  i think my initial thought is that they would be critiquing the picture rather than the architecture, so lighting, staging, and photoshopping are part of it.  photoshopping is a valid part of image manipulation.  if their goal was to critique the actual space, a photograph would be an inaccurate representation from the start, and therefore a flawed process, anyway.

Feb 3, 14 3:25 pm

Curt, you make a lot of good points. It could also be that I am putting a lot more importance on something that is less than critical.

Miles JaffeMiles Jaffe
Feb 3, 14 3:40 pm

Another disputable benefit of digital technology. Nothing is real. A playing field based on ethics and integrity is never flat. 

Real estate firms often photoshop entire scenes, adding sunny skies, pristine landscaping, etc., sometimes to the point that the actual property is a disappointment. 

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