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|| News Item: Posted 2003-09-29

Truth or Consequences
By Mike Treola, Asbury Park Press

Truth: The quality or being true; as: (a) Conformity to fact or reality; exact accordance with that which is, or has been; or shall be. Manipulation: The act of handling work by hand in an artistic or skillful manner, in science or Art. Deception: The act of deceiving or misleading. The state of being deceived or misled that causes confusion. These definitions are right out of Webster's but in photojournalism has a looser meaning then the literal definition a dictionary provides.

With the recent controversy surrounding the manipulation of photos to win awards or worse to provide a better composition of news images has shed a light of doubt on the content we deliver to our readers. Credibility is what journalism lives and will die by. When we manipulate photos it tarnishes the public's faith in photojournalists because some have chosen to computer enhancement what the camera originally recorded as true.

Sure technology has now provided us with the ability to control photos in a way that an old school photographer in a darkroom had ever thought possible. Yes Photoshop is a wonderful tool but it has also changed how our business works for better or worse. To the ethical photographers Photoshop is a place to tone our images, perfect our crop and then deliver it to our editor or client. To the unethical photographer Photoshop is where backgrounds are eliminated, people added to images, and ultimately whose original content is changed.

While trying not to rehash Charlotte Observer staff photographer Patrick Schneider's recent reprimand for altering photos he entered in the North Carolina Press Photographer Association POY contest, his situation has raised some serious questions about the validity of contest entries in a number of areas

First: Is it fair to alter images from its original form to better the image for contest submission?

I'm sure most of you would agree that fairness is the foundation of all contests and altering photos is not only wrong but rather completely unethical. We all strive to make the perfect print that will just wow the judges but eliminating or enhancing a portion of an image through heavy-handed Photoshop skills has to make you wonder how the image should really look. It also raises doubt around all of our other submitted photos both in print and during contest time.

There is also a trend where color photos are showing up contest time in black and white when originally shot in color. I ask why? Had the impact been so great in B&W wouldn't your editor have run it that way? Or are you simply looking for that one oddity that'll catch the judge's eye? Great images speak louder the then the color or tone in which they are printed so why the sudden change come contest time? I just don't get it!

One argument I hear when discussing photography and computers is "Anything I could do in a tradition darkroom I do on my computer. " Yes this is a rule that I live by as I transition into the digital world.

I can live by this "rule" because my basic darkroom skills have set a tone for which I perceive to be a standard on my digital darkroom. I work the computer as a tradition workspace and tap its capabilities only that way . However there are many great darkroom printers in the world, some who can make images in a tradition darkroom that will make your head spin and have you insisting a computer was involved. So my rules regarding how I use my computer doesn't necessarily apply to you.

So I ask at what point is dodging and burning too much? Is toning down a background or in Mr. Schneider's case above completely removing the background ok? Is "fixing" redeye, dust or even lens flare ok?

We've all seen "Hand of God" photos that are wonderful historical images, but is this once ok technique become a thing of the past? With that said what standard is there to apply here? Well none!

We've gathered bits and pieces from colleagues, from our newsrooms and from those unfortunate times photographers have gotten caught altering their images. And since everyone doesn't have the same level of common sense this isn't a way to stop over manipulation either.

What's puzzling is the major Four-Letter Organization that from young to established professionals alike turn to for guidance hasn't taken the necessary steps to address photo manipulation in our workplace and in contests.

We need someone to step forward to educate this industry so there is no misunderstanding as to what we can and more importantly can't do to our images. And maybe we'll never have to hear "I'll just fix that later in Photoshop" ever again.

(Michael J. Treola, AKA "Tree", is a staff Photographer with the Asbury (NJ) Park Press. This is his first article for the Sports Shooter Newsletter.)

Related Links:
Mike Treola's member page

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