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Acceptable digital manipulation...........or not?


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<p>As art, photo manipulation is much more accepted but being a photojournalist, I think he crosses the line even if h is manipulation doesn't really affect the "story" of the image, but merely the aesthetics. What do you think?<br>

<a href="http://www.petapixel.com/2010/03/03/world-press-photo-disqualifies-winner/">http://www.petapixel.com/2010/03/03/world-press-photo-disqualifies-winner/</a></p>

 

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<p>The rules vary slightly between publishers and between contests, obviously. In my book, any manipulation from the photographer disqualifies the image as a photojournalist-image. If an image needs cropping, color correction etc the graphic designers, page layout folks etc can do that stuff when getting it ready for publication within the ethical rules of the publication in question.<br /><br />Having said that, I do minimal manipulation of my images. I crop and I color correct if needed. But I don't claim that my images are pj, nor do I work for anyone these days that demands images are 100% free of any manipulations. For my clients (mainly book publishers) correct caption info is more important than if an image has been cropped.</p>
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<p>I think the rules make sense, and apparently allow plenty of latitude for adjusting the color, contrast and so on. The rule says you can't change the "content" - that's pretty clear. You can't add blood to someone's face, or remove a tattoo, for example. Most digital work is equivalent to wet darkroom work. In fact my RAW editor even refers to the process as "developing" the RAW image.</p>
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<p>"It wasn’t the crop, nor the post-processing, that caused the photograph to be disqualified, but the removal of the portion of the foot that is visible between the thumb and fingers of the hand being bandaged."</p>

<p>I'm all about adjusting the image to suit my vision, but I'm not a PJ. I think there has been enough publicity about PJ's getting fired/disqualified for removing tiny, distracting, background elements that the photographer should have known better. </p>

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<p>I suppose whatever rules are in place, if you've agreed to follow them you should be disqualified if you don't.</p>

<p>Whether the rules make sense is a different question. It's pretty clear to me that the crop and post-processing in this case have more effect on the feel, look, interpretation, and every other aspect of the photo than the cloning does. So I have a hard time understanding what seem like arbitrary rules. If just the cloning were done, it seems to me that would be a much more similar photo to the original than if the little bit of foot were left and the post processing and cropping were done. I guess the case could be made that cloning is more like a "factual" change and the cropping and post processing are more "interpretive" changes. But I think a lot of arguments could be made even against that one. After all isn't the removal of color a "fact."</p>

<p>It's one of the reasons that, although we sometimes really need rules and they act as good guidelines, they can seem kind of arbitrary and silly. The main point, though, is when we freely agree to abide by them, if we break them we do so at our own peril.</p>

<p>In my own work, which isn't guided by such rules, I routinely crop and adjust contrast and dodge and burn precisely in order to express and communicate what I want. It might be manipulation, and to me, it's more importantly expression.</p>

We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!
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<p>The foot being removed, in my opinion, doesn't have nearly the influence that the crop and post work does yet it's the foot that gets him disqualified. The image submitted, and the original photograph really seems to tell two different stories. I'm of the mindset that facts shouldn't pass through the journalist's filter of interpretation. The problem is, you can't capture EVERYTHING in a photograph so there is always going to be some type of artistic decision making on the part of the photographer. Where is the line drawn and really, can you trust ANY photograph?</p>
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<p>Tim, I strongly agree with that conclusion. The large crop and post-processing have produced a very different image. The removal of the foot is hardly noticeable. Depending on the nature of the photo contest, I'd either disqualify the photo entirely on both grounds, or accept the photo on both grounds. However, I disagree with the opinion that you can't capture EVERYTHING in a single exposure (although that's much easier to do in contemplative landscape photography than in spontaneous photos involving people).</p>
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<p>For me the crop and post processing have completely altered the image from what it was originaly. I personaly suspect that the judges were not happy with the amount of post processing done to the image It is not just a foot in all honesty that whole person has been cleverly remove from the image using a combination of cloning out the foot and darkening the top edge so the rest of the person is not really visible. The cloned out foot gives them the final reason to disqualify the image.</p>
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<p>On the other hand they must have been happy with the overal image to award it a prize in the first place. I know I was quite suprised though when I saw the original image compared to the winning version. It seems odd to me that the original was not viewed before the prize was given though.</p>
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<p>Stephen, I really believe you cannot capture everything. There are too many parts too a story. The photographer makes decisions on how to arrange the elements to tell the story the best way he/she can but it will never be the whole story. This photo was disqualified because the photographer took what was "factually there" and removed it, but had he moved to the right he might of taken the foot out of the photo before the frame was even shot. Does it change the story? My point is that even in journalism there is creative decision making so the "story" will always be told through the filter of the photographer. We rely on the integrity of the photojournalist, but can we trust it? </p>
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<p>Acceptable digital manipulation or not? Acceptable for what, exactly?</p>

<p>Clearly, it wasn't acceptable for the WPP contest. However, the story was shot for the news agency RIA Novosti, so it's safe to assume it's acceptable for that particular news agency. There are best practices, but there are no hard and fast ethics in photojournalism. What is and isn't acceptable depends on the publication/intended use of the photography. </p>

<p>That said, it seems to me like Mr. Rudik came back with a memory card full of mediocre images and had to rely on post-processing to save himself. </p>

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I worked for a small town paper in the mid to late 1990s. Before digital. Two of us did all the photography for the paper. We shot mosltly B&W TMAX 100, 400 and 3200 ISO. We had to develop, make contacts and do selected 5X7 enlagements for manual layup. We never altered a picture but you can push process, which we did, to correct for underexposure mainly with 400 film shot at 800. We occasionally cropped an enlargement to bring out detail. Usually, though, we cropped in the viewfinder. However, cropping with and enlarger or in the view finder, IMO, is a distinction without a difference. With digital there is always an issue to get the colors to be true particularly on newsprint. Some newspapers today a remarkable job with color. There was no photoshop available to us so we could not alter the content of the picture. I think what we did was standard practice. I would think the same would hold true with digital content for journalistic purposes. The big job then was to fight with the printer about pictures in the paper that were so damn dense you couldn't tell what they were. Anyway, it is fraud, as I understand it, and cause for firing if a photojournalist changes the actual content of the picture to be published as news.
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<p>From all the papers and magazines I have worked or shot for in the United States this would be called photo illustration not photojournalism. The cropping is not an issue. Some dodging and burning and coverting an image B&W is still not a great issue. Removing content by cloning, adding noise excessive burning is over the top.<br>

I understand that the photographer wanted that B&W film feel, then he should have shot Tri-X.</p>

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<p><em>"</em><em>Where is the line drawn and really, can you trust ANY photograph?"</em> <strong>--Tim</strong></p>

<p>I'd say trust in a photograph is not a black and white (forgive the pun) issue. It's a matter of degree. A photograph is a photograph. It is not the reality it purports to represent, even the most representative photograph. And yet, some do a pretty good job of it. I mean, take a mirror. How much do you trust it? You're looking at yourself backwards. It might be tinted, distorted, strangely lit. Some photojournalists get pretty accurate and fairly neutral photos, <em>relatively speaking</em>. No one is going to be able to keep their perspective and even some unconscious biases out of a photo completely. They have to take the picture. They have to compose and frame, etc. But I think we can assess more or less accurate photographs. We will occasionally be fooled. That's life.</p>

<p>I recently did two portraits of a guy. One was a very straightforward color Wal-Mart style portrait, just made to get a likeness of him with a pleasant expression. It's a nice photo of him and it looks like him. (So many photos don't even look like the subject.) The other portrait was more my thing, black and white, with some strong personality and story line coming through, reflections, lighting stuff, etc. Now, I suspect most people would say the Wal-Mart classic-style portrait was more true, more straight, more accurate. I think the black and white, on an important level, is more true. The Wal-Mart style one <em>could be anyone</em>. It's generic, though it looks just like him. You'd know he has nice blue eyes and a decent jaw line and red hair. It's him on the surface. It would be better to say it's accurate but not particularly true. The more unique and different black and white is much more HIM. His friends will recognize something special in that one that really captures him and I think most viewers who don't even know him would sense that as well. It just tells a different kind of truth. So, which photograph would you <em>trust?</em></p>

We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!
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<p>Ditto what Ray House and others wrote. If it violates the specified rules, it's a problem regardless of ethics.</p>

<p>Regarding ethics and photojournalism, standards have changed over the years. When I was studying journalism in the early 1980s the standard text was <em>Visual Impact In Print </em>(Hurley/McDougall). That book clearly states that certain content changes were considered acceptable, such as removing street signs, utility poles or objects "growing" out of a subject's head. Modifications may have including not only dodging and burning but bleaching or other processes to remove obstructions or distractions.</p>

<p>Nowadays such modifications would probably be considered an ethical problem. In part, digital editing has led to a zero-tolerance policy regarding PJ ethics. It's impossible to define how much modification is acceptable so to avoid debate it's simply easier to forbid any editing that changes any content whatsoever. And why that doesn't include conversion from color digital capture to monochrome is anyone's guess. Such is life on the slippery slope.</p>

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<p><em>"It is what it is"</em></p>

<p>What is right vs what is wrong is becoming more clouded in the culture we live in today. This does not only apply to photography.</p>

<p>Photography remains far more (subjective) than (objective)</p>

<p>For every 100 rules that were adhered to, I certainly can find 100 rules that were bent, twisted and altered for various motivations from political to nepotism.</p>

<p>Get over it..move on.</p>

<p>This is a "Life is not fair" discussion.</p>

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<p><strong>Tim</strong>, you raise an interesting point about whether our trust can be in the photograph or will be with the photographer. I'm thinking that I've seen photos where I didn't know who the photographer was or really anything about its taking and yet I have the sense that I can trust some more than others. Example: most Eggleston photographs have a trustworthy quality, even before I learn they're Eggleston's. There's something IN the photo, a kind of straightforwardness, directness, innocence. When I see historical documentaries, even if I know nothing about the photographer, there are usually visual clues right in the documentary letting me know how much a role is played by bias. Again, I can certainly be fooled sometime, but I think there's a lot right in the work that speaks to these issues.</p>
We didn't need dialogue. We had faces!
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<p>Seeing the original image and the cropped one, set aside the foot removal, the heavy cropping and conversion from color digital capture to monochrome do change completely this image anyway.<br>

Why the rules permit that is a mystery to me?<br>

Obviously you can change the image until the point it has nothing to do with the original one without resorting to actual content change.<br>

How on earth that is photo contest than given the fact that most of the work has been done post processing. How about to have contests for the best post processing editors and for the best photographers separately.</p>

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<p>Fred - perhaps an answer-less question and perhaps an interesting topic for the philosophy forum.....I'll leave that to you. That place scares me. ;-)<br>

Valko - seems an obvious solution. Technology is really starting to blur the line.......especially after seeing Photoshop CS5's new content fill feature. Check it out if you haven't already.</p>

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