News has an ethical obligation to be truthful. Not truthy.

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When an award-winning photojournalism photo has been toned to look like a movie poster, you are signaling to next year’s entrants that the bar has moved. Find the best retoucher you can, and heighten the drama as much as possible. We don’t care about factual statements. We care about visceral reaction and entertainment value. Make us feel something! Truth be damned.

via PetaPixel/a>.

There Are 16 Comments On This Article.

  1. There are so many different problems with this article and line of reasoning, it’s hard to know where to start. In the first place, processing is always involved in a photo. Every sensor/film captures light differently. It’s up to the photographer or printer to process to levels consistent with his/her aesthetic taste.

    Second, we simply have to get over the mistaken notion that a photo is the thing. A photo is a representation, possibly, but more accurately, it’s a representation of what the camera, maybe even the photographer, saw. Photos are abstract.

    Third, many of the statements in the article fly in the face of good photography. The article states that it is photographer’s job to capture reality just like everyone sees it. That is so far from the truth and so harmful to young photographers learning their craft, it is shameful to put out in the world for public exposure. The photographer’s job is to make photographs, not capture, that show the world in a new way, to point out things the average person might have missed.

    Perhaps people should just strap fully automatic cameras to themselves and walk around shooting randomly and send automatic feeds to some news agency
    with no processing, no editing. Just don’t call those people photographers.

  2. Sorry but I’m with Murabayashi on this one. Yes, there is a very arguable line between the ethical truth, and how we choose to present it. I feel like the line was crossed. You can make all of the rational arguments you want about “what is manipulation”, the effect of the act was that the photo tells a different story when it is manipulated beyond our basic understanding of reality.

    All that said, I have to admit (painfully) that the photo did one very important thing. It got noticed. It made a statement. Maybe that was the most important function of the entire work, and be damned whether it was honest ‘photojournalism’.

    See, now I’m sounding like a platform pundit. Simply because the photo communicates a message that I personally feel is important, I can maybe (just maybe) forgive the way in which the message was presented. That’s outright wrong, and clearly unethical, from the journalistic standpoint.

    Just because the ethical line has always been very foggy, (and most likely will never be otherwise,) does not mean that pushing the de facto dividing line toward after-the-fact message manipulation is acceptable. In photojournalism the push should always be toward the minimum adjustments necessary to make the photo easily and accurately reproducible.

      • To me, (and I believe to any trained photographic eye) it appears the “original” image is already edited to the edge of reality. If so, I feel that alone is marginally dishonest. If the original has not been excessively processed, then the photographer was both very lucky (as to the conditions available for the photograph) and very good (the ability to use the conditions available, including using his flash if he had one). So be it. That’s the image we have.

        The “different story” is that the image(s) become increasingly unreal, and therefore have a different effect on the the viewer. I myself, as a father of a young child, am terribly affected by the photo, and the fact that the original actually affects me more viscerally that the edited version means that they tell two different stories.

        The editing of a photo affects its emotional, and potentially its rational impact. That fact cannot be altered. Is there really a need to further sensationalize that which is already merely an interpretation of reality?

        Oh…further more, the nameless troll should receive no more responses.


        “Perhaps people should just strap fully automatic cameras to themselves and walk around shooting randomly and send automatic feeds to some news agency with no processing, no editing.”

        That’s a lot closer and scarier than you think. It’s here. Now. Today.

        • mirror mirror

          nameless troll has a long and storied career…

          First of all, processing a photo is NOT editing, editing is selecting the photo. Edited to the edge of reality… wtf are you talking about? This scene didn’t happen? It is NOT what we are looking at? What do you mean?

          It is World Press Photo of the year and the photographer is “lucky”, and we get “the image we have”?

          What are the different stories? If you only saw the one image it would mean something different to you? It is a funeral image, it is real, it happened and it wouldn’t make a fuck of a difference if it is in b&w or color if the photographer truly captured this image as it happened.

          • I owe you an apology for the troll comment. It was as inappropriate as your use of the f-word in response.

            The question was never whether the scene really happened, but whether the basic ethics of good photojournalism were broken. Whether the image was sensationalized after the fact by excessive processing.

            Nonetheless, you remain nameless, and the cussing does little to advance your argument. Please make a reasonable and logical argument to the contrary instead of attacking other opinions.

            • mirror mirror

              Apology accepted, and sorry for the profanity.

              I believe the image ran and won as the bottom photo, and the “over processed” image is being ran as the WPP “winner” so I don’t know if those organizers adjusted the sliders or the shooter. At this point, in this context I am not sure if the photo qualifies as hard news but rather recognition of the shooter.

              I am obviously biased, and not sensitive to the ethic’s involved in post processing as you are, but you make your point and I do respect your right to have a different feeling.

              I have to remain nameless and faceless, it is a long story…


  3. Even though it was a lab error (the drying room was too hot), this kind of thinking certainly worked for Capa. His D-Day images are iconic because of the effects “added” in post. Without it, they would have probably been lost in the sea of other WWII images. And the most iconic WWII image, the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima, had to be re-staged for the camera, but people are happy to use it as the powerful image that it became. So all of this is not as simple as it seems.

  4. if someone writes a memoir and it’s full of inaccurate recollections he eventually has to go on Oprah and apologize.

    not because it’s not a good book but because it was sold as a memoir and not a novel.

    these “over processed” images are obviously so, making it really difficult to call it misrepresentation. the odd part is that judges of photojournalism competitions so frequently like to draw attention to images that looks increasingly commercial.

  5. if i did such sloppy toning for the master printing of my art clients i wouldn’t be called in to get their images ready for the big wall. how ironic when art sets higher standards than photojournalism.

    • mirror mirror

      You have never seen images toned like this in a gallery? You need to go to a few more shows, look at some magazines. Art has a standard? What would that be, or do you mean craft? It is all subjective.

      • i have seen such images, dont worry. both digital and analog printing. maybe i am too sensitive to this way of working, but my opinion and basic rule for retouching is “if it is visible, then it isn’t done properly”. and lucky for me there are still people and customers out there that appreciate that rule.
        besides, as a colleague pointed out, there are three other journalists clearly visible and part of the crowd, probably more next to the camera. the picture with them least visible is the one that gets the trophy. would love to see the whole +/- 5 minutes aof images shot around the winner. mind, i dont say it’s a bad picture but it isnt what i call original journalism but more like a crowdhearding-sourcing event…

        • mirror mirror

          Point taken.

          Are you still doing any analog work? I was so sad to see the empty remains of Dia Positive / Bond St. Lab in NoHo a couple of weeks ago, they printed some great stuff for me in the past…. :(

          “crowdhearding” :)