Vogue/Condé Nast Contest Attempts To Secure Free Images For Unlimited Use

From an ASMP press release:

ASMP, joined by the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA), American Photographic Artists (APA), the Picture Archive Council of America (PACA), Graphic Artists Guild (GAG) and North American Nature Photography Association (NANPA), is concerned about the terms and conditions of a contest announced by Vogue, a Condé Nast publication, entitled the New Exposure Photography Competition, Presented by Bottega Veneta. This contest, which is targeted at students and emerging photographers, appears to be an effort to secure thousands of free images for unlimited use in publications and in advertising. For this reason, we believe this contest exploits photographers and we strongly caution everyone to carefully review and understand all the terms and conditions along with the rights they are surrendering before entering any competition.

The core problems we see are that:

  • The sponsors have the perpetual, unlimited use of all contest entries.
  • There is neither compensation for contest participants nor is there credit given for their work.
  • Participants are required to sign a liability release and copyright assignment, and to indemnify Botega Veneta and Condé Nast against any lawsuits that may arise as a result of the usage of the photographs.
  • Every entrant is required to waive any right to sue in the event of misuse of the photographs entered.
  • The winner is being offered $10,000 for a shoot that would normally command several times that amount. The winner will be required to grant copyright ownership of all photographs from the shoot.


We believe that while competitions can serve a purpose within your business plan and potentially give your work significant visibility, there are a number of issues to consider before you enter. For more information about the terms, conditions and issues for Photography Competitions, go here.


New Forensic Claim That World Press Winning Picture Is A Composite

Dr. Neal Krawetz of Hacker Factor Solutions specializes in non-classical computer forensics, online profiling and computer security. On Sunday he wrote a blog post titled “Unbelievable” that claims the World Press Photo Award winning image taken by Paul Hansen is significantly altered. Many people questioned the image’s veracity when the winner was announced (as is the case with most PJ contest winners), but most of the negative commentary focussed on the obvious enhancements made to the image and not any allegations of serious alteration.

Dr. Krawetz proof of alteration (read the full post here):

  1. Image size is not native so the picture was either cropped and/or scaled
  2. The XMP blog includes a save history that has several conversions on different dates. He claims this “is what you typically see when a picture is spliced from two sources.”
  3. The photo was edited two weeks before the contest deadline, not when it was taken back in November. The final edit occurred the day after the international jury concluded their meeting and announced the winner.
  4. ELA analysis (error level analysis) shows “middle people are much brighter than the other people. Those are either due to splices or touch-ups.”
  5. The lighting on the people’s faces does not match the position of the sun.

his conclustion:

Hansen’s picture is a composite. This year’s “World Press Photo Award” wasn’t given for a photograph. It was awarded to a digital composite that was significantly reworked. According to the contest site, the World Press Photo organizes the leading international contest in visual journalism. However, the modifications made by Hansen fail to adhere to the acceptable journalism standards used by ReutersAssociated PressGetty ImagesNational Press Photographer’s Association, and other media outlets.

I have to say that his evidence is not entirely damning. Taken with a grain of salt it merely points to all the enhancements people were carping about previously and not some new smoking gun. I have heard but cannot verify that the RAW image has not been seen by the jury and I do not know Dr. Krawetz beyond a cursory google search, so I’m sure we’ll find out more if news outlets decide to investigate his claims further or World Press does something (a site called extremetech.com is taking the splicing allegation and running with it). If anything this is a great opportunity for those contests and media outlets featuring photojournalism to check what protocols are in place for when questions arise. And how about some guidelines for what you think is acceptable, so there’s clear rules to follow. Given how far the old masters pushed reality in the darkroom there’s no reason to think the digital darkroom will be any different.

thx for the tip Ellis.

UPDATE 1: Paul Hansen speaking exclusively to news.com.au:

Hansen said the “photograph is certainly not a composite or a fake”.
“I have never had a photograph more thoroughly examined, by four experts and different photo-juries all over the world,” he said.

The story in extremetech.com said that Hansen “took a series of photos – and then later, realizing that his most dramatically situated photo was too dark and shadowy, decided to splice a bunch of images together and apply a liberal amount of dodging (brightening) to the shadowy regions”.

But Hansen said he had done nothing of the sort. Here’s what he told us:

“In the post-process toning and balancing of the uneven light in the alleyway, I developed the raw file with different density to use the natural light instead of dodging and burning. In effect to recreate what the eye sees and get a larger dynamic range.

“To put it simply, it’s the same file – developed over itself – the same thing you did with negatives when you scanned them.”

UPDATE 2: According to Huffington Post UK, World Press is investigating:

“However, in order to curtail further speculation – and with full cooperation by Paul Hansen – we have asked two independent experts to carry out a forensic investigation of the image file. The results will be announced as soon as they become available.”

UPDATE 3: World Press Photo has independent forensics experts review the image and they concluded that “we find no evidence of significant photo manipulation or compositing. Furthermore, the analysis purporting photo manipulation is deeply flawed” and “I can indeed see that there has been a fair amount of post-production, in the sense that some areas have been made lighter and others darker. But regarding the positions of each pixel, all of them are exactly in the same place in the JPEG (the prizewinning image) as they are in the RAW file. I would therefore rule out any question of a composite image.”

UPDATE 4: Dr. Neal Krawetz of Hacker Factor Solutions claims vindication after his post goes viral:

While writing this blog entry, the photographer made a statement. He explained how he made the picture. Specifically, he is quoted as saying:

“In the post-process toning and balancing of the uneven light in the alleyway, I developed the raw file with different density to use the natural light instead of dodging and burning. In effect to recreate what the eye sees and get a larger dynamic range.

“To put it simply, it’s the same file – developed over itself – the same thing you did with negatives when you scanned them.”

This is exactly what I have been saying. It is a composite. It is more than a simple color adjustment or burning. He made it using variations of the same picture. This even appeared in the metadata as multiple as multiple records from Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw 7.1. I did add that I could not rule out separate pictures. However, I definitely detected the layers and edits.

At minimum, Hansen appears to have combined multiple versions of the same photo with different intensity mappings in order to emphasize harsh brutality in 2012 and grief in 2013. But that’s just the minimum. I still cannot rule out splicing between similar images. (This doesn’t mean it happened, it just means that I cannot rule it out with the given data.)


Frankly, it doesn’t surprise me that World Press Photo would award a manually altered picture their highest honor. World Press Photo claims to feature the best in photo journalism and claims to strive for ethical integrity. But I’m just not seeing it. World Press Photo and I seem to have differing opinions regarding what is ethical and what is acceptable manipulation. And they can run their contest however they want.

Getting Us Closer To The Truth In Photography

Harry Fisch organizes Travel Photography trips with Nomad Photo Expeditions and recently won the places category in the 2012 National Geographic Photo Contest. 72 hours later he had lost it. The winning image was disqualified because he had removed a plastic bag in post. A blog post about what happened (read it here) has an email from the editor telling him that cropping the bag out or simply leaving it in would have had no impact, but digitally removing it violates the rules. Ouch. Harry is a good sport about it and concludes that had he been on the jury, he would have done the same saying, “rules are rules.”

Many people will argue that photography can never tell the truth. That the lens, image processing, where you stand, and what you chose to include in an image all alter the facts. This misses the point entirely. The point of truth telling in photography is for the photographer to make an image that gets us as close to the truth as they can. That is the goal. Now that the mechanical limitations of photography (film and printing) are gone we are less reliant on the camera to tell the truth, so that obligation falls on the photographer. You must build trust with your viewers and editors so they believe what you are saying.

This is an unusual position to be in, because photographers often relied on the camera and film to do this. Inherent imitations of the medium prevented them from doing too much to alter what happened (although many pushed it as far as it would go). Limitations may be returning to cameras. A new software development by the the human rights organization Witness aims to make it easiter to verify the authenticity of video, photos, or audio created and shared from mobile devices (story on Nieman Journalism Lab). “The app collects metadata that it will bundle and encrypt with your photo or video — including generating an encryption key based on the camera’s pattern of sensor noise, which is unique to each camera.”

The current practice of submitting RAW files for verification (to magazines and contests) may soon be assumed by software that does the verification for us. I expect this will be taken to the next logical step and any work that’s done in post will be recorded and encrypted by the software as well. Eventually news organizations and contests could set a “score” that’s some percentage of allowed manipulation to the pixels of an image that they consider ok. Maybe the software will disable certain tools used in post processing (this is Hal, I’ve disabled the clone tool). Regardless, the goal will be the same. Getting us closer to the truth. And the burden will return to the limitations of the software and not the photographer. That will be a good thing.

Update: the contest was incorrect [corrected], it was not Traveler’s but National Geographic magazine’s, which is officially called the National Geographic Photo Contest. And Harry Fisch was the Places Category Winner not the Grand Prize Winner of the overall contest [corrected].

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner

How about that. Life.com is giving out awards today for best photo blogs of 2011 and we nabbed one. In the write-up they mention “the blog’s loyal, smart, and vocal community is scarily well-informed and immensely helpful.” I completely agree that the comments are what makes this blog unique, so a big Thank You to all the commenters.

Photojournalists Push Boundaries With Apps And Computers

Fantastic debate going on in the world of photojournalism right now as two of the top contests have awarded images that stretch the definition of photojournalism. Wait, there’s a definition of photojournalism!? No, and that’s the reason for the debate. If contest organizers, newspapers and magazines would simply define what’s acceptable and what’s not, there would be no debate. It’s pointless for an all encompassing definition to exist because purists want facsimile’s and populists want aesthetics. What’s important is that contests and publications communicate to their followers the rules they’ve laid out and the purpose for them. If factual information is imperative to your mission then you must fact-check your photography (magazines) or hire photographers who follow your carefully defined rules (newspapers) just like you do with your writing. Asking photographers to police themselves is silly and lame.

The first debate erupted when Damon Winter was awarded 3rd place at POYi for a series of images taken for the NY Times with his iphone and processed in the phone with the Hipstamatic app. The very vague rules for POYi and the NY Times are as follows:

Assistant Managing Editor for Photography Michele McNally (here):

We do allow basic contrast/tonal adjustments as well as some sharpening and noise reduction.

POYi Rules (here):

No masks, borders, backgrounds or other artistic effects are allowed.

WOW. You people are really laying it out for everyone. Good job. Now that cameras are basically mini computers you sound like you’re stuck in 1984.

The second debate bubbled up when Michael Wolf was awarded honorable mention in the Contemporary Issues category at the World Press Photo contest (here) for a series of images taken of his computer screen while looking at google street view. In this case there seems to be not much debate about rules but rather a collective huh from photographers wondering if this really qualifies as picture taking.

FYI these are the equally lame World Press Rules (here):

11. The content of the image must not be altered. Only retouching which conforms to currently accepted standards in the industry is allowed. The jury is the ultimate arbiter of these standards and may at its discretion request the original, unretouched file as recorded by the camera or an untoned scan of the negative or slide.

12. Only single-frame images will be accepted. Composite and multiple exposure images will not be accepted. Images with added borders, backgrounds or other effects will not be accepted. Images must not show the name of a photographer, agency, or publication.

So, while the debate about it is great for photography, personally I have no problem with the tools photojournalists choose to tell their story. I do have a problem with contests and publications that claim to uphold the ideals of photojournalism but leave photographers flapping in the wind when it comes to defining what that means.

I highly recommend reading though the different threads on the debate.

More on the Damon Winter controversy:

Chip Litherland – there’s an app for photojournalism

Birds To Find Fish – Drawing the Line

dvafoto – Some thoughts on iPhone pictures and POYi

Gizmodo – Hipstamatic and the Death of Photojournalism

NY Times Lens Blog – Damon Winter Discusses the Use of an App

More on the Michael Wolf controversy:

greg.org – Michael Wolf Wins World Press Photo Honorable Mention For Google Street View Photos

BJP- Is Google Street View photojournalism?

dvafoto – Some thoughts on Google Street View and World Press Photo

Overall Discussion:

Conscientious – It is that time of the year again

Self-Guided Tour – On Technology and Photography: Damon Winter in POY, Michael Wolf in World Press

Photography Contests – The Fix Is In


I got this question from a reader recently:

I have entered some of the contests but I always get the feeling that they are fixed to some degree. I have talked to other photographers and they feel the same way.

It always seems to be the same people winning over and over again. Particularly up here in Canada where the market is smaller. I’m guessing that its just the luck of the draw and the more entries you put in the more chances you have because sometimes the photography that does win is crappy. For example photos of celebrities no matter how bad they are always seem to win. I’m guessing that judges also know who the photographers work is considering how high profile some of it is.

I know this sounds kind of bitter and don’t get me wrong because I love to see great photography win and I love seeing stuff that inspires me but sometimes… its frustrating seeing what wins.

Yes, I believe the contests are fixed to some degree. I don’t blame the organizers or the judges necessarily, it really comes down to the herd mentality of the photography business.

First, you have the taste of the judges. Many are hiring from the same pool of photographers and even if they are not there’s the simple math that if two judges kind of like something, then they agree and you have a winner. As opposed to one judge loving something and another hating it. That would be the loser. Add into this the simple economics of the photography business where the people in charge, the owners CEO’s, CFO’s and EIC’s, define successful photography as photography found in successful magazines.

Second, you really can’t look at contests as a source of new talent. They really amount to a nice group back slap for another year in the business doing good work.

Celebrity photography is another matter. Not only is it quite difficult to gain access to celebrities it’s also impossible to get them to participate in an interesting picture. Therefore the bar if much lower for me when it comes to celebrity photography. I know many photographers prefer to focus on the technical aspects of a picture but for me subject matter is 2/3 the battle. Access is a huge deal and hiring people who not only are able to gain access but convince people to do extraordinary things was always high on my agenda.

So, while I don’t believe awesome, incredible photography is hitting the cutting room floor I know some really boring stuff makes the cut because of familiarity and subject matter. That being said, I’ve always looked at the results from contests and found interesting photography that I didn’t know about.


I got an email from Geoff Smith about a contest called the Canteen Awards that he recently participated in and thought I might like. After reading this statement on the website my interest was piqued:

Naked Judging Exposed: In too many photo contests it feels like the fix is in: the outsiders’ entry fees pay for the insiders’ prizes. Canteen is confronting this feeling head on. We exhibit the winning images alongside the comments of our judges, Brooklyn Museum director Arnold Lehman and photographer Matthew Porter—even when those comments clash.

Geoff, who incidentially was a runner-up in the contest (congrats man) told me that Canteen is a literary magazine published in Brooklyn, NY and he decided to enter because “the entry fee was only $15 and you got your choice of issue of the magazine as well (the cover price is $10).” Now, not only are they publishing the different rounds of cuts in the contest along with judges comments (here), which is unbelievably insightful and transparent. According to Geoff “they published longer versions of the judges comments, essays really, in the print issue (#6, due out Aug. 1).” And, gave him a full page to respond to the judges comments.

If that weren’t enough, they’re having a show at Powerhouse Arena in DUMBO Aug. 4th-29th, called Naked Judging Exposed: The 2010 Canteen Awards in Photography (reception Aug. 19th) where Geoff says “They also put me in the show and they are exhibiting my entire 6-image entry which, for me, is just bizarre and awesome and I can’t thank them enough, but also shows that they are really walking the transparency walk and not just using the trope of changing how things are done as a marketing or promotional device.”

I think we have a new standard for photography contests. Nice work Canteen.

My Guide To Photography Contests

I’m pretty sure it’s not just my in-box that’s crammed with photography contest notices these days. Mine are of the “will you share this incredible opportunity with your community” ilk and I’ve stopped even checking to see if it really is “an incredible opportunity” or actually a way to either a.) Make some money off contest fees or b.) Get some usage rights and/or collect images that they’re too lazy to go find themselves.

Now that we’ve entered the dog days of summer and many people are thinking marketing strategy for the fall I thought I’d put a few thoughts about photography contests on the blog.

Avoid contests with 1st, 2nd and 3rd places. Having been on the judging end of a few contests I can say that when forced to all agree on something or put it to a vote the results are, well, average. In a contest like this a better approach would be one judge. The contests like PDN’s Photography Annual and American Photography’s book where there is no ranking simply inclusion are a better format for photography, because it allows for a wider variety of work to be included in the “winners.”

Know your rights. First stop should be http://www.pro-imaging.org an organization thats produced a bill of rights for photography contest organizers. Contests that do not appear on their site need to be carefully researched. Any contest that takes excessive rights to the images submitted is geared towards amateurs and you should steer clear of it.

Entry fees should pay for something. The fees are an important barrier to entry for a contest, because as a contest organizer you want people to limit their entries and to consider them carefully. I cannot imagine wading through all the dreck a free contest will attract. I’ve experienced the fatigue of looking at hundreds and hundreds of images and I can tell you first hand it’s not long before you begin to doubt your choices. So, yes, photographers should want contests to have an entry fee associated with them, but there should be something that fee is going towards and preferably it’s printed and collected or given out to jurors/industry professionals.

Ignore the jury. The chance that someone on the jury will see your image and give you a job is virtually nil. I made a tremendous effort once to write down all the names of the photographers whose work I liked while sifting through entries then tacked that list to my cork board back at the office and that still wasn’t enough to get me to pull the trigger on some amazing people. Expects other jurors to do less. There is an exception. I find that seeing the same photographer and image winning multiple contests is an effective way to sear them into my brain. If you’re got something truly remarkable you may want to “shoot the moon.”

If you win, don’t just stand there. You should enter contests with the sole purpose of using a win to start a conversation with someone you want to work with. I suppose validation is another reason photographers enter, but I think it’s more important to have a marketing goal in mind. I entered contests with my magazine work solely for a section on my resumé for awards.

Contest organizers who want to run a legitimate contest that truly represents an “incredible opportunity” should do the following:
1. Create a pool of winners or use a single judge.
2. Adopt the bill of rights.
3. Make it transparent where the money is going.
4. If you have top tier judges create something they can refer to when hiring.