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|| SportsShooter.com: News Item: Posted 2006-09-04

Digital Manipulation: 'We as individual photographers need to do the hard thing and step back and check ourselves.'
By Gerik Parmele, Columbia Tribune

When I started my photojournalism career, an uncouth but loveable Latvian befriended me. He had started in newspaper photography using 4x5 cameras. Before he died, I saw him make photos with a digital SLR.

In the darkrooms and over coffee Harald would regale me with stories -- true or untrue - of things newspaper photographers would do that in today's climate would get one fired.

He told me about fake, stuffed robins used to "capture" the first red-breasted robin of spring for its perennial feature photo; the child's shoe at the ready to toss into an accident scene; keeping different colored sweatshirts at hand in the trunk of his car to give to subjects and make better color in a frame. These are stories we've all head -- they've made the rounds.

He talked about darkroom manipulations as well, like using an X-acto knife to scratch spectral highlights into the eyes of a portrait subject. When printing under an enlarger, he'd take a piece of tightly balled cotton; place it on the unexposed photo paper where a baseball should be. Just before the end of the exposure, a gentle puff of air would give it that natural movement.

We've come a long way since those days, to a time when our professional ethics as a whole has never been stronger. And yet here we find our profession under the ethical microscope.

These most recent incidents hurt us all, just like the days after Princess Diana died and we all had to suffer being called "Paparazzi" now and again; in an industry this small and tight-nit it's easy to see how the actions of a few impact the group as a whole.

In times like these it is easy to point fingers and jaw on messages boards. However, the photojournalism industry and we as individual photographers need to do the hard thing and step back and check ourselves.

Have you written your own personal ethics statement? Have you read your employers? If your employer doesn't have one, have you suggested it? Have you done your part to ensure our collective credibility?

I wrote one for my newspaper shortly after being hired a year ago:
• When on the job Columbia Daily Tribune photojournalists will represent themselves to the public as news gathers and avoid behavior that will confuse the purpose of capturing news images.

• Tribune pictures must always represent what is truthful and factual.

• We do not stage, re-enact or recreate news events for photos. Personality portraits and studio illustrations should not create an artificial sense of spontaneity. Photo illustrations, computer enhancements, colorized and composite photographs should be labeled as such, out of regard for the public's trust.

• We do not digitally alter or manipulate the content of a news photograph in any way; it is acknowledged that creative toning can enhance the story-telling qualities of a photograph to benefit the reader's experience. However, adjustments made that substantially alter the original scene are not acceptable. Backgrounds should not be digitally blurred or eliminated.

• When working with captured images photographers should strive to restore the authentic nature of the original scene by making acceptable adjustments in PhotoShop. This includes cropping, dodging and burning, normal toning and color adjustments.

• The Columbia Daily Tribune also recognizes the National Press Photographers Association's Code of Ethics. Staff photojournalists are asked to follow those as well.

After our check-up, what I think we need -- now more than ever -- is transparency and openness. Because web logs are so popular I think it natural for us to use them to our benefit just as they have been used to point our mistakes.

Using the web log format to discuss what we do and why we do it would be a way to give an inside glimpse of what the majority of photojournalists strive for every day. This could be a place where our readers could gain a new level of understanding about photojournalism, instead of reading about it on some unknown web site with other dubious agendas.

Just as Harald educated me on how far our ethics had come, we must now do our best to educate others and our readers to get past this setback caused by these recent incidents.


(Gerik Parmele is the photo editor of the Columbia (MO) Tribune. You can see examples of his work on his SportsShooter.com member page: http://www.sportsshooter.com/gerik)

Related Links:
Parmele's member page

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