Recently, I read a stylebook with lots of visuals. The author was trying to convince readers her ideas are the way to go on how to look great. Though the author’s an expert, she was selling her educated and informed opinion, not fact. I agreed with much of what she imparted but disagreed with other points. No matter, except that I resented a tactic she used several times with photos manipulated to make her point.
For instance, one set of images showed a woman wearing one pair of eyeglasses, versus a different pair the author liked better. The woman looked pretty much the same in both pictures except that in the second photo, her hair was about four shades lighter than in the first photo. Because she had the same hairstyle and was photographed at a similar angle in both and because (magician’s trick here) the author wanted you to focus on the eyeglasses, most readers wouldn’t notice the difference in hair color. So, was the benefit from the glasses alone? Or did the hair color make a difference? The author would have been much less disingenuous if she had mentioned the change in hair color. By the way, I liked the “before” photo better.
In another instance, the author wants her readers to wear one shade of lipstick over another. She used a set of photos of a beautiful celebrity with different styles of makeup. The unfavored lipstick photo was small. Apparently, it had not been retouched, except maybe they added wrinkles! The celebrity frowned, showing no teeth. The second photo showed the celebrity in a large, airbrushed (wrinkleless) photo, smiling broadly, white teeth gleaming against lips wearing the favored shade of lipstick. Even if the superstar had been wearing identical lipstick in both photos, no one would have preferred the scowl. Granted, few people have access to celebrities to ask them to wear different lip colors; but even photoshopping the “good” and “bad” colors on an identical photo would have been a more honest way to demonstrate the author’s point. I happen to be passionate about lipstick so I noticed this play; but I wonder how many other readers glanced, agreed, and moved on.
In fairness, perhaps the author wasn’t aware of these manipulations. But as authors, when we are trying to sway readers, we can be careful not to let our passion overtake good sense.
Have you ever felt manipulated by a nonfiction book?
How do you keep yourself honest when writing nonfiction?