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bodies in accident photos
Robb Long, Photo Editor, Photographer
Faribault | MN | USA | Posted: 4:02 AM on 03.24.06
->> Our sister paper just recenlty ran a photo of a fatal accident that killed two 19 year olds.

The photographer shot two photos, one in which a truck is mangled under a semi with no body parts in it and the other from the drivers side with the drivers lifeless arm and leg showing.

Our paper ran the photo without the body parts because we figured that photo told the story just as well as the one with the body parts hanging out of it.

The other paper ran the photo with the body parts hanging out of it and when asked why they said for shock value.

give me some feedback here.

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Bryan Curtis, Photographer
Plainville | CT | USA | Posted: 7:49 AM on 03.24.06
->> I was in the same situation a few years back. Fatal accident with a body in one of the cars partially covered by a white sheet. I had the shots of the young man's bloody body being looked at by authorities, but we decided to use photos of other things going on in the scene. If the body was fully covered by the sheet we may have ran the photo, but with a bloody arm and leg showing we decided to use the others.

I don't think they needed to run the photo with the young girls arm and leg showing. Maybe if it was a bank robber or a murder suspect that was running from the cops. I'm not an editor. I know I wouldn't want to see a photo of my younger brother dead in an accident. I would want to see the scene, not the body. Shock value? I think the two girls dying was shock enough.

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Wes Hope, Photographer
Maryville | TN | USA | Posted: 8:32 AM on 03.24.06
->> Your sister paper's statement speaks volumes about their view about their community.

I don't think that any community newspaper worth it's salt would just blatantly run a photo of a dead girl, even if it is a leg and arm, unless they were willingly trying to elicit a negative response.

Let's face it. We live in a society that doesn't have a problem seeing photos of dead Iraqis or dead Sudanese or dead (fill in the blank here) as long as it isn't a fellow American or worse yet a fellow citizen of their community.

Should the photographer have even shot the photo in the first place? Maybe.
Should the editors used the photo? Definitely not.

"Shock value" is not how you keep readers and not how you build trust in your community photojournalist.

That's my $.02 and your mileage may vary, etc. etc.
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Will Powers, Photographer
Phoenix | AZ | USA | Posted: 9:20 AM on 03.24.06
->> Should the photographer shoot them? No question yes the photographer should. Should the paper use them? Someone else's decision.

If I were an editor and teens were routinely being killed in a rash of accidents, I miight use them for shock value. The police depts. in cities I've worked have brought cars that were driven by drunken drivers and wrapped around telephone poles to schools (before schools starts), used ambulances and EMT's pretending to need to remove bodies from cars with the jaws of life for shock value.

Newspapers are also a community service. Should a newspaper use a photo for shock value? Only an editor knows for sure.
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Ken Ritchie, Photographer
Lancaster | OH | USA | Posted: 9:43 AM on 03.24.06
->> The fact is that our readers see twisted metal so much that it has become a commonplace image that probably won't make them think twice about how they drive or how they watch out for other drivers.
As gruesome as the image might be, it is sometimes necessary to shake people enough to cause them to change their behavior for their own good and the common good (other drivers).
If the photo with body parts made one parent talk to their teen about why he/she should drive safer, it will have been worth the shock.
When I am at the scene there is no question whether or not I should shoot the bodies. My job is to shoot EVERYTHING that tells the story. It is also important to look for more subtle details from the scene like bumper stickers, CD cases, school text books that may tell the reader about the dead drivers personalities. That way, there are other connections that the readers can make so that we may not have to show the bodies.
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Alan Stewart, Photographer
Corydon | IN | USA | Posted: 10:45 AM on 03.24.06
->> Ken, I don't know if you have kids or not, but I'd be pretty pissed if a newspaper used a photo of my dead daughter as an example to "shock" parents into talking to their kids about driving safe.

Call me a softie (especially where my kids are concerned), but any decent photographer for a community newspaper should be able to get a solid crash photo without including body parts.
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Ken Ritchie, Photographer
Lancaster | OH | USA | Posted: 11:11 AM on 03.24.06
->> Alan, I do have a son.
And, my younger brother was killed on October 19, 2000 at the age of 14 when a teenaged driver hit him while he crossed a street. If ANYTHING good - like a dialouge about safe driving - can come from such a tragedy than I, as a family member in grief, will take it.
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Heston Quan, Photographer
Placentia | CA | | Posted: 12:13 PM on 03.24.06
->> Way back when I was a seventh grader in Junior High there was a fellow student, that I didn't know, that died in a car accident in broad daylight. The small weekly community newspaper ran a front page photo that I will never forget. The photo was taken at a medium distance showing her entire lifeless body face down on the concrete as the focal point with just a partial view of the wrecked car in the upper left hand corner. I also remember the caption identifying her and saying she died at the scene.
I think that was the most f'd-up photo I have seen run in a newspaper. Why that photo? What was the photo-editor thinking? For sure he wasn't thinking of the family involved. I know it was just a small circulation paper, but there is a thing called ethics and morality that he should have been aware of.
Sadly, that same year, two teachers died suddenly. One to another car accident and the other to a heart attack. Thank God no one from the paper was around to record either one!
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Blaine McCartney, Photographer
Osage City | KS | USA | Posted: 12:26 PM on 03.24.06
->> Robb,
I think publishing photos regarding the loss of human life largely depends in the community you live in. A large metroplis would use a photo with limbs and blood around the scene more than a publication in a small community.

One example is that some time ago, interviewing for a photographer position at a large daily, the first question that the managing editor asked me if I ever taken a picture of a dead body. After replying no, he asked me if I would. I said yes, I have a job to do.

I wouldn't hesitate a bit taking the best photos to tell the public what happened. Last summer I shot a murder-suicide and my boss ran a photo I took of a grieving victim's daughter being consoled by a friend. A gripping, compelling photo, but nothing nasty about it, but we still got quite a few complaints about it.

In the end it's the editor's choice, and each one has a different view on these sort of things.
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Alan Stewart, Photographer
Corydon | IN | USA | Posted: 12:27 PM on 03.24.06
->> Ken, I'm sorry about your loss. It's something I've never gone through, and God willing, hopefully never will.

I just believe if a photographer of an automobile accident has to use the arm and leg of a dead person to give his or her photo a "wow" factor, they are using gore as a crutch to get the desired response.
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Joshua Brown, Photographer
Clyde | NC | USA | Posted: 12:37 PM on 03.24.06
->> I know at the paper I work for, we will not publish a photo of a dead/bloody... body unless There is compelling and overiding news value to the photo. I feel this to be a good policy for papers to follow. If an editor wants to use "shock value" as a way to attract an audience, that works for him/her and their community. Personally, I think that there should be some thought about the family of the victim as well as the community at large. Young children don't need to see that on their doorstep as the walk to the bus stop in the morning.
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Will Powers, Photographer
Phoenix | AZ | USA | Posted: 12:45 PM on 03.24.06
->> Not that this is exactly a fair comparison, but when someone dies and donates their organs there is a benefit to their death to other families. Is it possible that the dramatic photos of the death of this yourng person will save the lives of others.
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John Tucker, Photographer, Photo Editor
Cordova | TN | USA | Posted: 12:54 PM on 03.24.06
->> The sad part of this is that people will seek it out just to see it. I shot a racing accident where a guy was mangled back in 1998. I was asked for the photo that showed the body almost 10:1 over the simple wreck photos. This was when I was just shooting for a website, but it still holds true................people want to see it, but 9 out of 10 would not admit it. It also becomes another story when it's YOUR family member that is shown in such a manner. Remember when people got new computers and hooked to the internet and they would proudly report that they visited How many of them would have done it if it was their kid displayed with a fence sticking through their skull? There is never a reason for a newspaper to run a picture of any identifiable bloodied, dead body, shock value or not. The torn up cars would be gruesome enough, the bloodied ground where the victim had laid would show the horror, but people want to see this stuff and it sells...................don't believe me.......then why did you click on this topic?
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Wesley R. Bush, Photographer
Nashville | TN | U.S. | Posted: 4:49 PM on 03.24.06
->> Completely irresponsible journalism. Just curious, but this caught my attention. "...when asked why they said for shock value."

Who asked whom what? And who responded? There's no way that could be the official wording from the paper.
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Mark Smith, Photographer
Elk City | OK | USA | Posted: 5:37 PM on 03.24.06
->> My nephew was killed a fews years ago in a car accident and I can assure you that if we'd have seen a photo of his body, my entire family would have been horrified and disgusted. It is indecent and disrepectful, and while "people want to see it" may be true to some extent, I promise you it does not reflect positively on the publication that runs it.
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Matthew Rosenberg, Photographer
Philadelphia | PA | United States | Posted: 5:40 PM on 03.24.06
->> I don't think there is any hard answer to this grey question. I think the real question is why are people so adverse to confronting reality but will gladly pay 7 or more dollars to see SAW II at the multiplex?

...........and then have the gall to compare 9/11 and other incidents to two-bit terror plot movies.
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Stanley Leary, Photographer
Roswell | GA | USA | Posted: 6:06 PM on 03.24.06
->> This is what the Dart Center ( is trying to inform photographers and journalists about--trauma.

There are three types: first hand--where you see it yourself, second hand--you are interviewing a victim for example and then the third is through a medium like newspapers and TV.

We need to understand had traumatic events can and do affect us doing our jobs. We need to know how to process this responsibly. We need to understand how as journalists we can further traumatize people by doing our jobs covering events or be part of the process of healing for the victims and the community.

Sometimes we need to make human cost decision of asking certain questions to those affected.

The other thing we need to do is determine what the public needs to see through our medium. Sometimes you can tell it in print or with voice over rather than showing the actual scene. You may put warnings and put the photos inside the paper.

What I am trying to say--without proper training and knowing how to deal with these events in a way we are helping to tell the story responsibly and ethically we will fail miserably. We may even end up with Post Traumatic Disorder needlessly.

If you have never received any training, look into the online materials at the Dart Center. Look into applying to be a Dart Fellow. If accepted they pick up the costs—it is really a high honor to receive this distinguishing honor.

It is apparent from the posts some people are intuitively more sensitive to the issue or received training.

Knowing how to deal with these issues before they happen is just as important as owning an on camera flash and knowing when you need to use it.
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William Maner, Photographer
Biloxi | MS | USA | Posted: 6:39 PM on 03.24.06
->> Like any newspaper photographer, I've been in some gruesome situations. The papers I've worked for would never run graphic accident photos. Perhaps being in a small southern community plays a role in such decisions.

I'm on hiatus now due to being the caregiver for a seriously ill family member. I still get out to take a few photos in an effort to stay sharp photography-wise.

Before I go further, I have to say that I live in Biloxi, MS..We really took a beating from Hurricane Katrina. I live about 3/4ths of a mile from the beach here.. Our house was received relatively little damage, all things considered.

The morning after Katrina hit, I went out taking photos of the area to share with friends and relatives. The most wrenching thing I saw were a bunch of caskets scattered around on the beach not far from my house. There are some mausoleums that sit less than a couple of hundred yards from the beach. They were severely damaged by the rushing waters of the storm surge. As I walked about, I saw body parts scattered about, but I couldn't bring myself to actually taking photos that included the parts. I don't know..maybe it was out of respect for the dead dead.. I wasn't doing these photos for news use..Just something to put in my hurricane photo album.. I'm going to link some photos of the scene so you can get a sense of the setting.

It was just an eerie situation for me..Had I been working as a hard-nosed photojournalist who was thinking about shooting potential award winning, provocative photos, I probably would have shot them.. As just a snapshot guy, I thought otherwise...
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John Tucker, Photographer, Photo Editor
Cordova | TN | USA | Posted: 8:33 PM on 03.24.06
->> William,
I wish there was a counter on your photo pages. You'd see that even though there are so many that say they find it disgusting, they will still try and peek. I still say there is no need to identify anyone with a "death scene" photo on the front page of the paper, but I also know that if the paper had a flap covering the gruesome shots, 95% of the readers would lift it to see the photo. Many papers run shots that are nothing more than "shock value" photos...........the above mentioned paper was caught being stupid enough to admit it.
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Jeff Stanton, Photographer
Tucson | Az | USA | Posted: 11:25 PM on 03.24.06
->> I would want to see the scene, not the body. Shock value? I think the two girls dying was shock enough.

Yet we watch it on television from some overseas country and think nothing about it while having your dinner.
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Rick Burnham, Photographer
Enfield | CT | USA | Posted: 1:51 AM on 03.25.06
->> Maybe it's the circumstance that makes a difference. I've seen published photos of firefighters removing deceased or lifeless victims of fires, others of people in dire peril due to a fire in an apartment, house or project in many papers. Some of those photos move over the wire and get published in many other papers all over the nation.

Is this any different from the two 19 year olds? I don't know. Maybe it's the fact that a "rescuer" is actually in the act of at least trying to do something vs. someone who is "unsavable" and already deceased . Like others have said, I'll take the picture and let the guy who gets paid to lay out the paper make the decision on whether to run it or not.
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andrew wilz, Photographer
Aspen | CO | usa | Posted: 3:18 AM on 03.25.06
->> if you run a pic of my body anywhere, i'm coming back from wherever i end up going... i'm gonna hunt you down... and take you with me back to wherever i came from...

Let people go with some dignity...
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Robb Long, Photo Editor, Photographer
Faribault | MN | USA | Posted: 10:58 AM on 03.25.06
->> WES,

I was away on vacation and my news editor asked for one of the accident photos becuaseit happened in our city. The person on the other end said we will send you the pic.

My newseditor got it and said no way when she saw the limb dangling from the window with the head facing down in the other direction.

She knows we wouldnt' run it, so she asked for more without body parts in them and they said, why, this one has more impact, shock value to it. They sent her a few more without the body part in it. They ran with the body part, we ran without.

I have more I need to say but want more feedback especially on why people feel in general that accidents and the photos that go with them are considered news.
I am playing the devils advocate here, just asking questions.

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Darin McGregor, Photo Editor, Photographer
Greeley | CO | USA | Posted: 3:34 PM on 03.25.06
->> Here in Greeley we have struggled with this a lot in the past. Greeley is in Weld County, Colo. and Weld has led the state in traffic fatalities for nearly the last decade. For years we didn't cover the issue much and the problem only got worse. Starting about three years ago we began a much more aggressive approach to covering accidents. We started shooting just about as many as we could get to and supplemented that coverage with in-depth projects and photo essays exploring the causes, the impacts on the victims' families and other aspects of this very important issue. Needless to say we caught a lot of heat from many readers. Now, three years later the numbers are declining dramatically. Is it coincidence? Probably. But I think we did the right thing by bringing the issue to light in a way that was hard to ignore.

As far as bodies in photos, we generally stayed away from them. I encouraged the photographers not to self-censor in the field and to shoot what they saw, but in the editing process we always chose photos without the gore because we thought others better told the story. Some times we did show photos that were obscured by sheets or other things, but that still conveyed the full impact of the situation. These decisions were made on a case-by-case basis though, and without seeing the photos and knowing the situation behind the accident I am not willing to cast judgment on this. There are times to run all kinds of photos, even ones with bodies, but it should be done with reason and purpose that goes beyond simple shock value.

Accidents are honestly the hardest things I have had to cover. One day while driving back from a particularly bad fatal I started thinking about everything I had seen in the last two years. In my head I started counting all of the lives I had seen the end of. I stopped counting at about 50 and hadn't even got to them all. It hit me like a ton of bricks and I had to take off the rest of the week from work to recover. What overwhelmed me was a tremendous feeling of guilt. In that time I had grown very good at shooting this type of news event and had won many awards for my coverage. But it felt horrible to know that covering death was something that I was good at. I knew that my intentions were pure and that my goal was the prevention of such loss. The reaction of many by-standers and rescue personnel to my presence at these scenes only compounded my grief. They always called me things like vulture and parasite even though I was just doing my job the same as they were. At the time I was always respectful to them and stayed out of the way. But I always wanted to explain to them that there was no place I would rather not be than there taking those photos. I wasn't there because I wanted to be, but because I was obligated. They never knew how much sleep I lost or how many tears I shed, sometimes even while pressing the shutter.

In many ways the grief I felt was the only thing that would keep me going out time and time again. I knew that as long as it still bothered me I still cared. I have said many times that the first time I notice that I am too jaded to be shaken up after covering such a tragedy that I would smash my camera on a rock and end my career as a photojournalist. If I didn't care about the subjects of my photos anymore how could I make photos that really mattered or made a difference? It is our own emotions, sensitivity and empathy that give us insight into how to make meaningful photos.

One last note, I do find it interesting that Americans find it much easier to run and look at photos of dead bodies as long as the victims are from somewhere else. This debate came to a head at my paper as we edited photos for Katrina. Many editors were against any body photos. These same editors whistled a different tune nearly a year earlier when we picked photos for our tsunami coverage. It's an interesting disconnect in my opinion.

Thanks for letting me share some thoughts.

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John Tucker, Photographer, Photo Editor
Cordova | TN | USA | Posted: 4:03 PM on 03.25.06
->> Darin,
Your words will be familiar to a lot of people that cover such tragedies. Thank YOU for sharing your thoughts.
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Paul Kelm, Photographer
Plzen | Czech Republic | Czech Republic | Posted: 4:11 PM on 03.25.06
->> Darin,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
What a tough issue! I really appreciate you helping some of us understand the conflict that goes on for those pressing the shutter at such scenes.
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Thread Title: bodies in accident photos
Thread Started By: Robb Long
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