Ethical Photo Editing (Personal, Professional, and Journalistic)

Essential Question

  • What are the common ways in which professional photographers edit their images?
  • What techniques are considered ethical and appropriate in personal, professional, and journalism? 
  • What techniques are considered beyond the inappropriate or entirely wrong?

Lesson Objectives

  • Students will discern their own standards for photo editing in personal, professional, and journalistic contexts

Lesson Context / Summary

In order to help students more fully understand the similarities and differences about the ethical choices that they might make in personal, professional, or journalistic photo editing, this lesson helps them understand some of the basic techniques and ethical principles at play in each context. By reviewing examples of photo editing tips and standards from three different sources and then editing one photo in three different ways, students will develop more sophisticated understanding of the technical and ethical decisions at play.

Lesson Opener

Ask students to think about the times they see pictures in their daily lives (their own and others from friends on social media, from professional sources, and in journalism). Brainstorm ways in which these various types of pictures are similar/different from one another. 

Direct Instruction

Using the "beach" juxtaposed mage from KQED, ask students to first identify the similarities and differences between the two photos and to try and discern which was the original and which was altered.

Then, ask students to consider whether those alterations were appropriate if the photo was used:

  • As a personal post on social media
  • As a photograph for a professional shoot for an advertisement
  • As a photograph for a well-respected news publication

Have them brainstorm ideas and create a list, mindmap, or Venn diagram of questions/decisions they would need to make in each situation. 

Guided Practice

Ask students to read the following, then return to their initial brainstorming and to add subsequent ideas to enhance their thinking:

Independent Practice

Have students take an image of something (or, with permission, someone) in the classroom or school. Ask them to use a basic image editing tool like Fotor or Pixlr. Then, have them create three versions of the photo:

  • One for personal use on social media
  • One as if they are a professional photographer creating an advertisement for the school
  • One as if they are a photojournalist covering a story in the school

Assessment / Reflection

Invite students to write a brief annotation for each photo, articulating their reasons for creating the edits and what ethical standards were at play in personal, professional, and journalistic contexts. They could create this into a blog post, sharing each of the three versions of the photo as well as the annotations.

Extension / Homework

Students could comment on one another's multiple photo versions, asking thoughtful, yet critical questions about the technical and ethical decisions that their peers made in the process.


ISTE Innovative Designer

4b: Students select and use digital tools to plan and manage a design process that considers design constraints and calculated risks.

ISTE Creative Communicator

6b: Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.

Love it! Wow!

Thanks, Renee!