Manipulating photos in journalism

Let’s admit, with technology these days we can do some pretty neat things to alter photos. We can make ourselves look skinnier, fatter, prettier, younger, or older. We can turn an ordinary sunset into something out-of-this-world beautiful. But when does pleasing our standard of appearance jeopardize our ethics in journalism? Is it at anytime acceptable to manipulate photos?

Original photo after an Israeli air raid in Beirut on the left and photographer's manipulated version on the right.

The photo above was taken by a freelance photographer for Reuters, Adnan Hajj. It was discovered that he had manipulated the photo sent to Reuters to enhance the intensity of the situation. As you can see in the photo on the right, the balls of smoke are all exactly the same, just cloned over and over. ‘”It’s accepted within the industry that you can follow some techniques from the darkroom,’ said Cole Porter, the director of photography for The Seattle Times,”  taken from The New York Times.

Sometimes it is necessary to manipulate a photograph. For instance when we see “red eye.” The camera obviously records an inaccurate picture because our eyes aren’t naturally red. Correcting red eye is technically altering the photo, but in order to show the true, actual scene, Jerry Lodriguss said. The debate still stands, is this unethical?

In some cases, it is a little more acceptable to manipulate photographs. Many magazines “touch up” their models digitally to make the end result extremely flattering. It is almost understood that these are altered photos, so we are offended less.

Photo taken from Google images

Photoshopped photos can be some of the most beautiful artwork made. Intentional alteration of photos is creative and intriguing.  It is a problem in journalism however, when the author intends the photo on being true. In most cases the audience expects accurate portrayals in news events and this usually means an untouched photograph.

Karl Enghofer


This entry was posted in Journalism Jobs, Law and ethics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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