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9 – 12 > Unit 4 > Lesson 4

Retouching Reality (9-12)

What are the creative and ethical aspects of digital-photo manipulation?

Students think critically about the different purposes and contexts of digital image editing. Students explore various benefits and drawbacks of photo manipulation with three case studies. The first prompts students to think about photo editing as a fun and artistic activity. The second raises ethical questions about altering photos, specifically within the context of journalism. The third invites students to think about the impacts that digitally manipulated photos have on different audiences. All three case studies highlight various ways that online communities both celebrate and regulate digital photo manipulation.

Lesson Objectives

Students will be able to ...

  • consider both the creative benefits and ethical drawbacks of digital photo manipulation.
  • understand the importance of purpose and context in evaluating digitally edited images.
  • think critically about how the Internet allows users to both celebrate and regulate our “copy-change-paste” culture.

Note: Though the issue of digital photo manipulation may seem specific, it can be used as an example of the much larger and more general problem of what happens when easy access to user-friendly new technologies outpaces the formation of an ethical roadmap regarding their use.

Alignment with Standards

Common Core State Standards:

Grades 9-10: RL.4, RL.10, RI.4, RI.7, RI.10, W.4, W.6-8, W.10, SL.1a-d, SL.2, SL.5, L.6

Grades 11-12: RL.4, RL.10, RI.4, RI.7, RI.10, W.4, W.6-8, W.10, SL.1a-d, SL.2, SL.5, L.6


2b, 3a-d


1a, 3d, 4a-d, 5a, 5b, 5d-f

Additional Lesson Materials

Family Tip Sheet
Student Activity Sheet