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Hand of God
July 28, 2006 4:02 PM   Subscribe

Charlotte Observer photographer Patrick Schneider has been fired. After a 2003 incident in which the North Carolina Press Association stripped him of his awards for three pictures (before and after can be seen here) the Observer has fired Schneider over the alteration of this image. The question remains among photojournalists: is it unethical to alter a photo in such a way that it more closely resembles what the eye saw and the camera is unable to capture, or is this a deceptive practice that damages the public's trust?
posted by TheGoldenOne (78 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is silly. I get the feeling that this has more to do with office politics than ethics.
posted by mullingitover at 4:08 PM on July 28, 2006


All the best photojournalists have done this - and much much more. Burning and dodging is nothing - Eugene Smith would arrange scenes, tell people where to stand, even change part of the image (usually when there was a technical fault). And he's one of the founders of modern journalism.

What matters is the truth - do you use the photo to tell a lie about what was happening? "Let truth be the prejudice."

That said, the background darkening he did for one of the contest images (the one of the two men at the funeral) was a poor choice - the original was a much better image. The background wasn't distracting, and gave the whole image a context it lacked in the second version. Actually, I also though that the colours in the published photos were nicer for being a bit more subtle.
posted by jb at 4:09 PM on July 28, 2006


Jeez. I've seen unethical photojournalism before, and it involves faking images by inserting or removing major portions of an image. This guy got canned for playing with levels and exposure in photoshop -- big fucking deal.

I can't even tell the difference between the altered/unaltered images of the fire and the farmer aside from a slight exposure shift. (the one masking the background of guys is a little oddball and obvious)
posted by mathowie at 4:11 PM on July 28, 2006


How very strange -- noe of his alterations are of the substances of the photo; with the exception of the one where he's blacked out the background, he could have accomplished the same thing with hours of experimenting in the darkroom.

What's wierd is to think that there are all these photojournalists out there who think that photos present a mirror to the natural world, when most laypeople know that photography != realism.
posted by eustacescrubb at 4:11 PM on July 28, 2006


Though I know precious little about photography, I would agree with the comment above that the truth of the shot has not be falsified. When the photos are printedk do they truly keep the exact shades of color as the photo used?
posted by Postroad at 4:13 PM on July 28, 2006


what mathowie said
posted by matteo at 4:19 PM on July 28, 2006


I admit to knowing only the rudiments of developing film, but presuming that photojournalists in the past developed their own film, and made decisions during the developing process that affected the color intensity, etc. on every photo they developed? Essentially, did they not do during developing what this photographer did retroactively in Photoshop?
posted by MarvinTheCat at 4:22 PM on July 28, 2006


This is stupid because it assumes that there's some sort of "neutral" way to develop—or even take—a photograph. Idiotic, and a decision made by people who probably don't even know what they're looking at in the first place.
posted by interrobang at 4:26 PM on July 28, 2006



Yeah, this is total bullshit. As if any photo captures the exact shades of the object being photographed. Seems like journalism these days is all about proving some strange standard of objectivity (meanwhile publishing unchallenged the most egregious deceptions.)
posted by bukharin at 4:32 PM on July 28, 2006



And shouldn't someone have been fired for airing the choreographed toppling of Saddam's statue?
posted by bukharin at 4:33 PM on July 28, 2006


Playing with the levels can, in my opinion, be "doctoring". Case in point, the Times version of OJ's mug shot

However, I can't tell the diff between most of the photos in question in this case.
posted by darkness at 4:36 PM on July 28, 2006



posted by mullingitover at 4:37 PM on July 28, 2006


The people who fired this photographer are simpletons. I suspect that there is another newspaper out there that will appreciate Mr. Schneider's work. Good riddance to the Charlotte Observer.
posted by bim at 4:38 PM on July 28, 2006


An undoctored photo captures a quantum photonic record of the scene independent of the so-called "lighting" or "exposure". That's why you can put them on a computer and say "Enhance!" and it works. This guy is totally messing with that.
posted by cortex at 4:39 PM on July 28, 2006 [2 favorites]


Heh. Look at what is considered the best photography and I'm guessing the great majority have been altered, in the darkroom or photoshop.
posted by cellphone at 4:39 PM on July 28, 2006


As an amatuer photographer I'm a pretty hardcore purist. I want to get what I see in the frame, in the shot, right there on location. I love the challenge of trying to capture what I see and how I see it.

However, editing and tuning has been part of photojournalism since it's birth. They used to paint, trim and retouch the everloving crap out of black and white stills for black and white halftoned newsprint. Ever see any of the archival prints from old newspapers? Hell, they'd paint borders on people just to make 'em pop better in the coarsely halftoned printing plates.
posted by loquacious at 4:40 PM on July 28, 2006


There's got to be some political thing here. Photographers have been altering images since photography was invented. Photoshop just allows digital photographers to do some of the same things that film photographers can do. Improving aesthetics is not the same thing as adding or removing elements from the image.
posted by tommasz at 4:42 PM on July 28, 2006


There is a big difference between the doctored OJ cover and an innocuous photo of a fire. Unfortuntately, we live in a world where people want simplistic solutions. Thus they can be unencumbered by the thought process. Thinking is too hard and so it has become passe. Jeezus.
posted by bim at 4:44 PM on July 28, 2006


Dude, their story was totally airbrushed.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:44 PM on July 28, 2006


Photos have been altered since before Hearst. People are whining about it now? Too little too late.
posted by ZachsMind at 4:53 PM on July 28, 2006


His pictures are artistic, not documentary. Alteration aside, I don't really think that has news value..
posted by Chuckles at 4:54 PM on July 28, 2006


Eh. If the rules say "Don't do X" and you do X and get fired don't complain. Plus, what was up with the poorly removed background in the firefighter photo? I think that was lame.

Also, is there a before and after shot of the actual picture that got him fired? The fire and farmer pics aren't the ones that got him canned, so it's somewhat irrelevant how doctored they looked.
posted by delmoi at 4:54 PM on July 28, 2006


In the context of journalism, I don't think photos should be altered at all. Its a difficult situation, particularly when it comes to something seemingly as minor as adjusting levels because the line between reasonable adustments an intentional alteration/misrepresentation can be a very fine one. The photographer and publication are safer and more trustworthy (in my opinion anyway) if they run photos as-is.

Most often, this situation can be avoided by simply labeling the image as a "photo illustration". This is not uncommon, and would be an honest description of at least the first of those images.
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:56 PM on July 28, 2006


Doding and burning a black-and-white photograph cannot be compared to blacking out the background in toto, as this photographer, Schneider, has done or with his turning the background into a lurid orange. A reputable photojournalist understands the limits of image alteration. This guy seems to want to be more of a graphic artist in some of these shots than a photographer.

It's true that some "documentary" photographers posed subjects. That doesn't make it alright, and it doesn't excuse lame actions like Schneider's. His alterations were unnecessary; the may have made him more eligible, in his mind, for an award, but they didn't really enhance the image. It's sort of strange that he felt compelled to do this. What was he after I wonder?

In short, dodging burning help render a natural balance to an image that, for reasons of the property of film and paper, become unbalanced--too light here, too dark there, wrong contrast, etc. Dodging and burning is not used by a photojournalist or documentary photographer to radically spiff up a picture. This guy got canned b/c snazzy pics were more important to him than documentation. He tipped the balance.
posted by Il Furioso at 4:56 PM on July 28, 2006


I don't think anyone outside the Observer has seen the original file of the picture in question. A lot of people feel that being able to compare the before and after pictures would help settle the matter in their minds. It may never be released, or it may be released tomorrow. Until then, we can only speculate.
posted by TheGoldenOne at 4:57 PM on July 28, 2006


This guy got canned for playing with levels and exposure in photoshop -- big fucking deal.

Look at the firefighters photo again. Thats not levels that actively removing a background and enhancing the colors in the foreground. There's certainly artistic freedom in playing with levels but to remove backgrounds and not tell anyone borders on being disingenious. If this level of photo trickery without disclosure is a fireable offense where he works then so be it. He's either in the right and will find a sympathy job in no time or he might be wrong and out of work for a while.

The people at the NCPPA agree as they took away his award. I dont know if the act of playing with the background was the deal breaker or trying to cover up what he was doing, but he certainly did -some- wrong. At the end of the day he's cheating compared to the people who are ethical enough to not remove backgrounds and put rosey touches on everyone's cheeks.

Hell, the guy himself admits he war wrong:
"I went too far with the firefighter photograph for contest purposes and was thinking about how to stop the judges. I am willing to accept that, as one audience member put it, 'Good people sometime make bad decisions.'"
Sorry, but this old ghost doesnt feel any sympathy for him. FWIW, here in hell even Leni Riefenstahl agrees.
posted by the ghost of Ken Lay at 4:57 PM on July 28, 2006


He worked for an organisation with rules regarding what photographers can do. He broke the rules. He got fired. He can now work for a place with different - and probably smarter - rules. (Though the decision to remove the background from the firefighters photo seems dodgy ethically and just plain stupid artistically, IMHO).
posted by bunglin jones at 5:27 PM on July 28, 2006


Is this the same guy that added a bunch of people to the background of photos from Iraq?
posted by bob sarabia at 5:29 PM on July 28, 2006


I was a photojournalist and photo editor for 20 tears, and now I teach photography and journalism. I have a million thoughts on this, but I'll spare you most.

While the "hand of God" burn is crap, if you look through any National Press Photographers monthly magazine from the 70's you'll see much worse. A slap on the hard should be punishment enough.

But the others? Hell, my newspaper's press had more variation than that. Are those photos lies? I'd say no. If they are then the following are also lies: posted by cccorlew at 5:36 PM on July 28, 2006


In a world where the Bush administration hires reporters to do their bidding, mainstream news organizations wait to be spoon fed their news by the powers that be, and 30 to 60 second TV news "stories" masquerade as being informative etc., I can't get too worked up about a dude being a little artistic with a photo of a frigging fire. Was the sky this shade or that shade of the color spectrum? What about using a filter on a camera? Should we dictate the shutter speed too? Who gives a crap.

Now excuse me while I go watch Amy Goodman on Democracy Now so I can get some unvarnished truth. :)
posted by bim at 5:43 PM on July 28, 2006


A slap on the hard should be punishment enough.

That sounds more like a reward than a punishment. sorry, couldn't resist

posted by psmealey at 5:45 PM on July 28, 2006


An undoctored photo captures a quantum photonic record of the scene independent of the so-called "lighting" or "exposure". That's why you can put them on a computer and say "Enhance!" and it works. This guy is totally messing with that.

False. A photographic image (digital or otherwise) does not begin to convey the complexity of depth, angle, colour and shade that the human eye (and optic nerve) picks up and processes. This is exactly why there is an art (and a science) to processing photographic images. A Xerox copy won't do, when there are three dimensions at stake!

Film more or less accepts light on a single (small) uniform plan from all vectors, where the human eye does not, based on its positioning. This is why it's permissible, and moreover essential, for photographic images to be edited.

The camera always lies.

Sorry, I'm a little bit buzzed at the moment, and I'm sure I'll be able to craft a more coherent reply to this basic fallacy, just didn't want to let it stand for the moment.
posted by psmealey at 5:53 PM on July 28, 2006


I was surprised that his awards were stripped away by a panel of fellow photographers who would presumably be aware that most of the manipulations in question are as stated above well within the normal processing of images prior to publication. It is as if they don't have even a basig grasp of the technology. The fact is that cameras cannot see what the eye sees and all images need some manipulation to be presentable. Most amateur photographers are not aware of it but their images have been compressed, sharpened, and adjusted for color balance and saturation before they are even written to the memory card (those who are aware of all this preprocessing often shoot in raw and do all of the same things on their computer). For those who still shoot film, color balance and exposure are altered by the processing lab. The only alteration I saw that was anything other than routine (and relatively minor at that) Photoshop adjustment was the firemen and that was both obvious and didn't affect the main subject of the photo.

I would guess that photo editors and graphic designers routinely alter photos far more than what I saw. Hell, even cropping a photo to fit in the allotted space on a page can change it far more than what I saw. Too bad I don't own a newspaper or I would not hesitate to send him job offer.
posted by TedW at 5:54 PM on July 28, 2006


Well, that's a crock of shit.
posted by teece at 6:05 PM on July 28, 2006


And since a lot of the complaints centered on him obscuring background detail, I expect the folks behind this to decree that all photojournalism be done at apertures of f/16 and above in order to ensure adequate depth of field. No bokeh for you!
posted by TedW at 6:06 PM on July 28, 2006


Man, psmeasley, you are buzzed. That was a ridiculously over-the-top joke.
posted by cortex at 6:13 PM on July 28, 2006


psmealey, your buzz is messing with my spelling
posted by cortex at 6:14 PM on July 28, 2006


Cut me some slack, cortex. At a basic level, really, all I was trying to say was summed up neatly by TedW:

cameras cannot see what the eye sees and all images need some manipulation to be presentable

Note to self: when drunk, less words = better.
posted by psmealey at 6:25 PM on July 28, 2006


They should all read Harold Evans' Pictures on a Page. Inventive cropping, dodging and superimposition has been the history of newspaper photography. This is just digital hypocrisy
posted by A189Nut at 6:32 PM on July 28, 2006


Heh. Slack unquestionably cut. I was just pleased to troll by accident. As a long-time amateur photographer, I'm absolutely in agreement with that axiom.
posted by cortex at 6:33 PM on July 28, 2006


FWIW: Photographers are among the most zealous keepers of their "craft", and they have a very aggressive stance against novel tricks. This is probably why the board (with an abstained vote) voted unanimously to yank his awards. The abstention was probably a guy who was divided on the debate between photojournalism and photo illustration; the 4 voters were probably among the "purist" types who think enhancement = fraud.

To add criticism: I think his editing sucks. The firefighters picture is a hack job. And his originals, from the photos I saw in the linked articles, are photographic cheese & schmaltz. That sort of populist pandering crap doesn't belong in a respectable newspaper. So while I believe the newspaper bosses are terribly misguided (hence Schenider is getting away lucky), I'm wondering who's coming out on top here.

Also, the fact that pictures like these get awards in the first place is the reason why I don't follow the photographic trade mags. I'm always a sucker for great photography, but the stuff that they feature... yecch. Ugly models, hackneyed backdrops, cheesy effects. All such photos are definitely a result of creative thinking and effort, but so often photographers' collective aesthetic judgements are awful. This stems from the fact that being a photographer is often a result of merely owning a camera (and having dizzying expensive lenses/accessories), and that talent/taste is rarely the most difficult barrier to entry.
posted by brianvan at 7:02 PM on July 28, 2006


if you shoot in RAW digital, your file doesn't even Have a finished state until you make one...and exposure, color, contrast, sharpness, etc...can all be adjusted before it creates the "final" image you will use for print. Not to mention the various methods of adjusting and converting an RGB camera image to a CMYK image.

that they give the color adjustment as a reason is absurd.
posted by th3ph17 at 7:06 PM on July 28, 2006


I don't necessarily think that the guy should have been fired, and the suggestion that there may have been something political involved. But I think that photojournalists should NOT alter photographs and editors need to hold the line. Even if it is common, that doesn't make it ethical. (Heh heh, ethics being common. That's funny.) Even if the camera lies, the journalist must not.

Excuses about whether the "substance" or "truth" of the photo is maintained are just WAAAY too subjective and vulnerable to being stretched to fit another agenda, AKA slippery slope.

Heck, why should the paper even pay someone to take a picture like that - they could probably find a stock image of a silhouetted fireman, or an illustration. I'd say "the truth of the shot has not be falsified" by a stock photo depicting the exact same scene, if it was going to save me that guy's yearly salary.

Any other old-timers remember the Spelling Bee Placard scandal from way back in the nineteen-hundreds? In that case, the insignificant alteration to the photo just happened to involve removing the name of a competing newspaper from the image. Oops.

Stalin was maintaining the Truth of the Revolution when he had Trotsky erased from all of those photos. We shouldn't encourage that kind of thinking in these Patriot-Act, shred-the-documents-before-the-FOIA-requests times.
posted by XMLicious at 7:27 PM on July 28, 2006


A point that I haven't seen made in so many words:

How is manipulation of an already-taken photograph any worse than manipulation of a situation for ideal results? Or even complicity in such manipulation? Isn't it obvious that the latter are greater evils than the former?

Yet the mainstream media have already committed the greater evil, by broadcasting Bush's infamous Mission Accomplished photo op, and relying largely on embedded (and thus controlled) reporters and photographers for news reports from Iraq.

Their recent scrutiny of the Bush administration's end run to tyranny aside, they have in recent years proven themselves willing lapdogs, content to wait for any scraps that might fall from their master's table.

As for the photograph in question...

Well, the media can cling proudly to their skewed definition of journalistic integrity as they slide further into the abyss of irrelevancy... just as the average American clings to "driftwood" social issues while the maelstrom of tyranny sucks us ever downward.
posted by The Confessor at 7:35 PM on July 28, 2006


Another point to consider: a number of employers are interested in raw footage (not just RAW, heh); an organization with its own cadre of layout specialists is never thrilled to deal with someone who self-edits for a preceived optimal shot, which may need re-aligning to match the employer's/client's/audience's concerns over the hiree/"artiste". In the old days, it was no thrill to correct crappily airbrushed images submitted as source initial files; likewise, few editors look forward to pouring over Photoshop macros to insure the gamma tweaks are just so, because someone who thought they were the 21st Century's answer to "Weegee" Felig began horsing around with balancing. It makes little difference if journalism's involved, or if the image is for a modeling agency or insurance investigation firm. If you're paid only to shoot, that's what's expected. You want to correct the negatives or digital footage, contract your material to an art gallery, or to an employer with a set of terms more flexible to you. But you don't double-guess the outfit which handed you their rules beforehand.
posted by Smart Dalek at 7:41 PM on July 28, 2006


I want to feel sympathy for this guy (because I typically manipulate about 50 to 100 photos each week for publication in a newspaper).... but I can't, after seeing what he did to the firefighter photo. I would have fired him for that one.

Generally, here's what I've been taught as a standard procedure for toning photos:

0. Remember that all of these steps are done only to ensure that images are printed with optimal quality - not to significantly change the content of the image. Remember also that the intent is to enhance the image rather than to destroy it.

1. Analyze. Look at grey levels. Are the darkest and lightest areas anywhere near the thresholds known to reproduce well on the press? Does the person's skin tone have an appropriate grey level based on what you know their skin looks like, and how they were lit?

Is there a color caste? Find a light neutral color under the same light as the subject, and check the red, green, and blue values and make sure they're not too far apart from each other.

Remember all these observations.

2. Crop, if needed.

3. Adjust levels to compensate for exposure. Try to make sure there is a total range of color in the photo (unless there's a really good reason not to.) (if you shot raw, this will not be too destructive...). If the image is supplied as JPG and is too horribly under-exposed (or entirely washed out), reject it or skip this and all other steps.

4. If the neutral color had RGB values too far off from each other (say, 240, 227, 240), correct it.

5. Create an RGB s-curve that accentuates highs and darkens lows without making them too light or too dark. Keep in mind target grey values known to be faithful reproductions (on your press) of subject's skin tones based on lighting conditions.

(some people call step 5 contrast adjustment.)

6. Dodge and burn, but not with the dodge and burn tools (they're destructive). Rather, make another curve that gets the target area to the desired lightness or darkness, and use the history brush to paint or blend the target area of that history state onto the state you were working on. (This is a lot more faithful to the integrity of the image). Use this for things like compensating for unsavory lighting conditions (not for removing people from backgrounds...)

7. Some monkeying around with black. I don't understand this step but it has something to do with the way our press works. It's an action (macro) I use with the same parameters on every picture to make sure that black looks like black rather than mud.

8. Sharpen (using the same parameters every time, also through an action) because every digital image benefits from some amount of sharpening. The exception is if the image was already sharpened in-camera, or if the photo was provided by a source that does not indicate whether the image has already been sharpened.

That's it, as far as digital manipulation goes. We're also supposed to do these steps in this order every time. (doing them in some other order is considered too destructive).

What I don't know is how the cherrypicker(?) sunrise photo could fit into all of this. I'd really have to see the before and after. (He was shooting the sun, after all.)

But then, as I said, he'd have never taken the sunrise photo for me, since I'd have fired him for the firefighters pic.
posted by bugmuncher at 7:41 PM on July 28, 2006 [4 favorites]


National Press Photographers AssociationCode of Ethics
    Photojournalists and those who manage visual news productions are accountable for upholding the following standards in their daily work:
  1. Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.
  2. Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
  3. Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one's own biases in the work.
  4. Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.
  5. While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.
  6. Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images' content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.
  7. Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.
  8. Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.
  9. Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.
    Ideally, photojournalists should:
  1. Strive to ensure that the public's business is conducted in public. Defend the rights of access for all journalists.
  2. Think proactively, as a student of psychology, sociology, politics and art to develop a unique vision and presentation. Work with a voracious appetite for current events and contemporary visual media.
  3. Strive for total and unrestricted access to subjects, recommend alternatives to shallow or rushed opportunities, seek a diversity of viewpoints, and work to show unpopular or unnoticed points of view.
  4. Avoid political, civic and business involvements or other employment that compromise or give the appearance of compromising one's own journalistic independence.
  5. Strive to be unobtrusive and humble in dealing with subjects.
  6. Respect the integrity of the photographic moment.
  7. Strive by example and influence to maintain the spirit and high standards expressed in this code. When confronted with situations in which the proper action is not clear, seek the counsel of those who exhibit the highest standards of the profession. Photojournalists should continuously study their craft and the ethics that guide it.
News images are one thing, editorial/illustrative images are another. As far as news images go, I'd say that Mr. Schneider was treading on the line items in bold.
posted by cenoxo at 7:50 PM on July 28, 2006


Is it OK for a photographic artist do do this sort of thing? Yes.
Is it OK for a photographic journalist to do it? No.

The camera always lies, yes - but you don't have to help it to make your point for you. Doing so changes the result from "reporting" to "pushing your agenda", regardless of whether the viewer agrees with the end result or not.

Someday in the future, some researcher trawling through newspaper archives is going to draw a line in history and say "This is the point where we stop treating journalism as objective record, and start treating it as subjective record". FWIW, I think that point is about 15~20 years past.
posted by Pinback at 8:57 PM on July 28, 2006


The firefghter pic probably deserved some sort of rebuke professionally.

The second picture I can't seem to find an appreciable difference. It could just as well, as said above, be variation from one print to another. The third picture it seems the sky was changed to make the outline of the figure more prominent. However, that change is very, very modest to these eyes.

The cherrypicker picture is great. What if he had, instead, used a colored filter over the lens when he physically took the picture, would that still be considered a termination offense?

Go outside at sunset, and look straight up. Then, look towards the setting sun. Very different.

Firing this guy for making the sky a little more "orangey" is frankly hard to believe.

Editing out protesters at a speech by the President is a little different from tweaking the color balance a bit to make his tie look more true blue without the slight purplish hue it acquired due to red ambient lighting.

At least to me it is.
posted by Ynoxas at 9:28 PM on July 28, 2006


I wonder if this is part of a broader conflict between film and digital photographers. With film, you can dodge and burn the print, but you still have a permanant negative to work with. I know a lot of artists who don't trust/like computers and I imagine the same is true with photographers. Still, I believe that digital cameras and photoshop are the best thing to happen to photography since the pin hole.
posted by jabo at 9:41 PM on July 28, 2006


I wonder if this is part of a broader conflict between film and digital photographers.

Well, considering that newspapers have faced declining revenues for-freakin-ever, it seems... Any newspaper that hasn't converted to digital photography must be insanely profitable or a front for some moneylaundering operation.

15 years ago, the photo department at my paper used to spend tens of thousands of dollars annually. Now it is lucky if it gets to spend $100 in a year. And the photo store can't afford ads anymore.
posted by bugmuncher at 9:59 PM on July 28, 2006


Is this the same guy that added a bunch of people to the background of photos from Iraq?

You're thinking, I assume, of the Brian Walski incident.

By the way, we discussed Schneider at the time of the award controversy.

Personally, I'm with the camp who thinks he's a bad photojournalist, and that the fireman photo was butchered. (In that case, at least, the undoctored image ran in the paper. How he expected such crude work to get past judges of his peer group I don't know. How he got them in the first place ....) The forklift picture is obviously one where he should have given the paper the option to run an enhanced one, or had a discussion with his editor about how to do that, which he obviously did not, thus the politics question is on the money too. "Hey boss -- knowing my history -- I want your input on this ..."

Let him work for magazines or something where this is not only acceptable but encouraged.
posted by dhartung at 10:55 PM on July 28, 2006


this whole discussion presupposes that news photogs are actually holding up some ivory tower of ethics and realism in their capture, which is the biggest load of bullshit the public has ever been fed. news photography has NOTHING to do with capturing "reality", and everything to do with a snapshot of an in-the-moment point of view.

i've heard the argument from professors at UNC's school of journalism - that photographers must strive to accurately represent reality. what a load of hogwash. any viewer of news photography that doesn't recognize the inherent bias in capturing images in that fashion should be sent to the salt mines where actually reality can't harm them. news photography presents a bias far greater than print journalism - everything from the choice of lens to the aperture and shutter speed settings profoundly influences the composition, so to claim that some ex post facto photoshop manipulation is "unethical" is simply nonsense perpetrated by the stodgy old technophobes that litter journalism schools across the US.
posted by casconed at 11:55 PM on July 28, 2006


The world looks noticably more orangey through my right eye than through my left. Which one is the accurate representation of reality?
posted by Freaky at 2:09 AM on July 29, 2006


Re: firefighter photo — total hack job.

The original needed little in the way of balancing: I would have pulled some of the detail from the shadows and touched up the contrast and saturation just a tad, and that would have been good enough pre-sharpening.

The background was already out of focus from the proper application of depth-of-field, so it wasn't distracting. In fact it gives the image context.

The facial expressions are enough to capture the viewer.
posted by bwg at 6:05 AM on July 29, 2006


A lens changes the perspective of a scene. A camera sees differently from a human eye. This is true. But it doesn't prevent good photojournalism and work that strives to promote genuine communication and integrity. Some people might laugh at this earnestness. But look at our country now. This is what happens when we let standards promoting integrity slide.

A good photographer strives to absent bias as much as possible from a picture. It's not the fault of the camera if US media outlets don't run stories or feature pics that orient us to general truth.

Schneider's photographic manipulations did nothing to enhance the verity or, for what it's worth IMHO, the beauty, of his photographs. That's what is so damn strange to me. What expectation is he trying to fulfill? Does he think we, the reading/viewing public, demand hyper-real, manipulated images? Maybe we do. Maybe we're in a phase where everyone wants the truth souped up a bit. "Let's see, this pic shows a little girl being kidnapped by an affluent white male. Hm, let's just darken his skin and hair a little. And let's make that sky a lurid orange with a blimp bursting into flames and plummeting toward the frantic mother, screaming for her daughter to be returned to her. Hm, there should be ninjas attacking the mother, too, with nunchucks. Now, that's more like it."
posted by Il Furioso at 6:13 AM on July 29, 2006


The world looks noticably more orangey through my right eye than through my left.

Freaky.
posted by cortex at 6:15 AM on July 29, 2006


This is what happens when the public's perception of reality is fucked around with. Used to be that black and white photos were "life-like". Then color came along, and "Wow! So life-like!" Everyone's trying to out-do reality with punchier colors, exaggerated perspectives, tighter subjects... but that's not real reality. It's just perceived reality.

Give an amateur a camera, and the first mistake they'll make when taking a shot is to clutter up their subject with loads of background crap. You don't "see" that stuff when you're there taking the photo, because your mind is fixated on your subject. It's only when you look at the photo that you see a tree growing out of someone's head, or a bunch of electricity lines pissing all over your wonderful cityscape.

An ever better example is when your subject is too vast to fit in the frame. Look at tourists when they get out of the train station in Venice, for example. Snap, snap, snap. What are they taking pictures of? Oh, everything! The sights, the sounds, the smells... But you and I know they can't capture Venice by just snapping a bunch of quasi-panoramic photos. You don't get any of that sense of wonderment that way.

What you're supposed to do is, eventually, learn how to frame your shots so that they tell a story. Not just a "story" in the photojournalistic sense. I'm talking about a visual story that makes your eyes wander, entices them, leads them around to your subject.

But that's hard. It's so much easier to pump up the color saturation so your crappy photo of the Grand Canyon is now a crappy, super-duper-colors! photo of the Grand Canyon. And when you show it to your friends, that's what they'll notice, and that's all you'll talk about... "Yeah, the colors were so vivid! You just had to be there, man..."

Unfortunately, everyone's doing it. And if these are the kinds of photos that win awards... well, shit, the judges have already outed themselves as idiots. Don't see why some color saturation or background dodging and burning should invalidate the entries.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:47 AM on July 29, 2006


Reporters do this sort of thing all of the time when they interview someone for a sound bite before the camera rolls:

"Ok, I'm going to ask you this question, and you're going to tell me A, B and C. Then I'll ask you this question and you'll say... "
posted by wfc123 at 8:24 AM on July 29, 2006


casconed writes:
this whole discussion presupposes that news photogs are actually holding up some ivory tower of ethics and realism in their capture, which is the biggest load of bullshit the public has ever been fed. news photography has NOTHING to do with capturing "reality", and everything to do with a snapshot of an in-the-moment point of view.

I wonder if you're taking the definition of "reality" a bit too far. Photojournalists strive to capture real moments with a camera. In many cases that means focusing on 2 or 3 people when there are hundreds involved. Aesthetics are usually important, but sometimes they are not required.

News photography presents a bias far greater than print journalism - everything from the choice of lens to the aperture and shutter speed settings profoundly influences the composition

Do you know anyone who honestly thinks certain lenses (say, a fish-eye) are unethical? I don't think my readers would think so.

Aperture and shutter speed affect exposure and depth of field. Bad exposure can ruin an image. A shallow depth of field can provide good aesthetic value.

Using whatever technology you can to take a compelling, aesthetically pleasing, photograph that captures some important moment is what photojournalism is all about. Adding to that moment for aesthetic reasons, aside from steps that improve the print quality of the original image, is unacceptable.

(When I say "adding to" I am also referring to "taking away" - like in the firefighters pic, he may have thought he was burning the firefighters out but at some point he was really just adding black to it.)

Civil_Disobedient writes:
Give an amateur a camera, and the first mistake they'll make when taking a shot is to clutter up their subject with loads of background crap.

I process a lot of artwork from reporters who are not trained well as photographers. I don't get so much of the background crap, but I do get people trying to use a flash indoors from too close or too far away, without adjusting aperture and shutter speed to compensate.

But they're using crappy point-and-shoot stuff where doing so would require going through 8 menus...
posted by bugmuncher at 8:24 AM on July 29, 2006


They give us those nice bright colors
They give us the greens of summer
Make you think all ther world's a sunny day oh yeah
I got a Nikon camera
I love to take a photograph
So mama don't take my Kodachrome away

posted by eustacescrubb at 9:19 AM on July 29, 2006


wfc123 writes:
Reporters do this sort of thing all of the time when they interview someone for a sound bite before the camera rolls:

"Ok, I'm going to ask you this question, and you're going to tell me A, B and C. Then I'll ask you this question and you'll say... "


That would be a really amateur reporter. The reporter should know their question won't be included in the newscast anyway, whether they're making a SOT, VO/SOT or a package (unless there's a really good reason to include it...)

The experienced reporter listens for the bite during the interview, and if it doesn't arrive, tries to steer the interview to allow the subject to make a point in one or two sentences.

(The evil reporter presses for answers that agree with the story he or she has already written in his mind.)
posted by bugmuncher at 9:59 AM on July 29, 2006


Photojournalists (and all photographers) are pronouncing their biases and selectively recording only a particular interpretation of reality the moment they decide which way to point their camera and what to include or exclude from the frame. There is no objective reality in photography.
posted by normy at 10:45 AM on July 29, 2006


Reporters do this sort of thing all of the time...

A more apt analogy would not be reporters prepping their subjects (which would be like staging a photograph) but rather the editing that goes on in every story. For reporters to maintain the same standard of objective reality that some seem to expect from photographers they would have to include every word uttered by their subjects, as well as any other sounds, facial expressions, hesitation, haste, and on and on. Obviously this is not realistic to expect of reporters and it is equally unrealistic to expect photographers not to "edit" their pictures appropriately. Trustworthy writers and photographers can and do edit their output to make it better without changing the meaning of the story.
posted by TedW at 11:08 AM on July 29, 2006


I think the dodging was extreme as well of lighting of face of firefighter on left. I couldn't tell a difference with grass fire. The third image with net had been lightened to see subject better and sky opened up, both things I think are just plain OK. I worked the old days using pencil or ink to fill in areas of a half-tone screen print. Lots of burning back then.

Now at my paper, I am not allowed to work with any of my photos. A backshop crew does it all, and they can only lighten or darken the picture overall. Separate dodging or darkening are not allowed. I have to write out instructions for cropping. Needless to say, everything is ordered one column bigger than required. I also lay out pages, so I can then crop on the page the way I want it. But that's the only control I have.

So this guy was pretty lucky that he could manipulate images.
posted by zonefive at 11:36 AM on July 29, 2006


posted by darkness Playing with the levels can, in my opinion, be "doctoring". Case in point, Time's version of OJ's mug shot


However, I can't tell the diff between most of the photos in question in this case.


Time did not alter the image of OJ for that cover. Time hired Matt Mahurin, an illustrator who specializes in altering and creating images with Photoshop, to produce the image. Mahurin's signature style at that time involved dark, brooding imagery, so Mahurin darkened OJ's mugshot and added effects--note the vignetted corners, the subtle blurring, and the resized numbers and lettering. Neither Mahurin nor Time deserved the allegations of fraud and racism directed at them; the cover was not intended to be strict journalism; it was a photograph altered to be a dark, brooding illustration.

When that cover was printed, I was working for a magazine and we had reviewed Mahurin's portfolio of work and considered his style for a feature story, and most of his work at that time looked like the OJ cover.
posted by fandango_matt at 11:43 AM on July 29, 2006


This is an absolute, complete crock of shit.

Bugmuncher, you're massively po-faced about the digital darkroom process. I notice you crop -- how is that not considerably changing the image, compared to whamming up the orange in the background?

There is a strange tendency for US journalists to take the whole business overly soberly, and all the while they're discussing ethics, their papers are printing spin and deceiving the public. It always seems to me like they're missing the wood for the trees.

Journalists are, at base, story tellers. They find a story, and they tell it to their readers in the most interesting fashion possible. Of course they have an obligation to the truth, and altering it is off-limits, but within that their prose and images can and should be worked on within an inch of their lives to produce the best possible result.

I've worked as an editor, both of words and of pictures, and I tell you right now -- the sort of verifiable "truth" that some people here are lauding as a gold standard does not exist.

I could talk for ages about the impossibility of not putting a spin on copy and keeping it readable, but this is photography so I'll keep it to that.

Take the early days of digital photography, when the workflow was digital but photographers were still shooting film. We'd get those films and scan them in. The scanners would produce a hellish flat crock of shit. Do we print that? Is that the verifiable truth? Is it bollocks. You image it, you adjust it, you dodge and burn and you produce a good-looking image that tells the story. Have I added clouds to a burnt-out sky? Yes. Have I added vignettes where none were before? Yes. Have I removed a person? No.

This photographer's firefighter picture crossed the line, but only just. He didn't change the truth, he just very, very badly darkened the background. His other pictures are completely acceptable. Did a man bend over with a stick in a burning forest? Yes he did. Were the flames orange or very orange? Who gives a fuck?

Using whatever technology you can to take a compelling, aesthetically pleasing, photograph that captures some important moment is what photojournalism is all about. Adding to that moment for aesthetic reasons, aside from steps that improve the print quality of the original image, is unacceptable.

This is a entirely fallacious difference you're making between the taking of the image and the printing of it. Regardless of your innate assumptions, the only photographs that are complete in the camera are Polaroids. Nothing else is done until it's printed, and the printing requires just as much artistic ability as the capturing of the image. Why would it have been acceptable for him to use an orange filter to take the shot, but not in process?

You can write as if you're writing minutes, you can shoot as if you're working for the cops, but your output will be dull and will interest nobody, and you will fail.
posted by bonaldi at 11:51 AM on July 29, 2006


If you were a black man accused of a crime, and your face was plastered on the front page of a major news magazine, how would you feel if your image were manipulated, your features darkened, your eyes made to seem hollower, your five o'clock shadow turned into a ten o'clock shadow? Please. It's unfair at the least, racist in the main. This kind of manipulation does harm to the subject and the viewer. A photographer's or illustrator's "style" should not figure in these types of photographic representations. Ideally. If these artists want to express themselves, they can do it in another venue. (I understand this is Time magazine, and who really takes its work seriously anymore. Nevertheless...)
posted by Il Furioso at 11:59 AM on July 29, 2006


His other pictures are completely acceptable. Did a man bend over with a stick in a burning forest? Yes he did. Were the flames orange or very orange? Who gives a fuck?

No one is denying that. The fact that a child molester never molested anyone on tuesdays dosn't make him any less a child molester.
posted by delmoi at 12:02 PM on July 29, 2006


Well, he was fired for one of the acceptable ones, delmoi, three years after the fireman shot, which he apparently learned his lesson from.
posted by bonaldi at 12:04 PM on July 29, 2006


Just so long as Playboy doesn't start digitally altering their pictures.... now that would be dishonest!
posted by spilon at 12:17 PM on July 29, 2006


Moreover, I don't buy this argument that the news media is spun and corrupted anyway, so let's not expect too much from the photography. Additionally it's a bit facile to say "There's no such thing as objective truth," so in essence don't expect a rendering of "truth" in photography. Statements like this demonstrate an admirable coming to terms with Realpolitik, but it's not sound thinking nor sound ethics. A housefly sees things in stereovision, but that doesn't negate the fact that I see in Il Furioso vision, and what I see is "true." If the photographer does the work in the right spirit, we can hope for the best.

Most photos need some manipulation--hence burning and dodging to introduce some balance into the image where it has been lost. There is a vast difference between balancing an image--burning in a spot that is too light, or doging a face that is too shadowy, cropping out an irrelevant edge if you want to--and coercing an image overly or introducing your personal style. Bullocks on your style. Save it for your coterie of fans in the art world. The danger in all this computer enhancement and manipulation is, Where do you draw the line? It's easy to get carried away and push the envelope, especially if you want some swanky awards to put on top of your fish tank. The firefighter blackened out background is silly, unnecessary, and probably not terribly unethical, but it's dead wrong in a pj context. Anywhere else, who cares? If the photo is simply an entry in a lame photo contest, big deal, but keep it ouf my beloved state's (NC) newspapers, for what their worth...
posted by Il Furioso at 12:20 PM on July 29, 2006


Moreover, I don't buy this argument that the news media is spun and corrupted anyway, so let's not expect too much from the photography. Additionally it's a bit facile to say "There's no such thing as objective truth

That's certainly not my argument. I'm saying that it's impossible to convey some sort of objective truth in photographs -- Il Furioso vision certainly doesn't see in 1/125s of a second, and you can't recount that moment like a camera can.

A camera offers at best an approximation of how the world looked, and particularly in the digital age, the RAW file that comes off that sensor may bear absolutely no relation to the "moment". Who's to say that the photographer didn't look at the sky and see it that orange? Then his photoshopping was just an attempt to get closer to the truth, not further away.

What'd if he'd ramped up the flash and aperture to completely darken the background on the firemen? Would that be "dead wrong in a pj context"?

As for bullocks to style ... your beloved state's newspapers must be fucking dull. Think of digital printing like adjectives: too many, and there's too much writer. Too few, and it's minutes of the meeting and everyone's turned the page.
posted by bonaldi at 12:29 PM on July 29, 2006


bonaldi writes:

Bugmuncher, you're massively po-faced about the digital darkroom process. I notice you crop -- how is that not considerably changing the image, compared to whamming up the orange in the background?

Wow. I feel enlightened - this is the first time I've encountered "po-faced."

Anyway, cropping is part of the process of composition because life does not happen in the 4:3 aspect ratio. (or 3:4 vertical).

Cropping with intent to mislead (say, to make a crowd look a lot larger than it is) is unethical, I'd say.

But if it makes an image stronger, less cluttered, etc. that's fine.

I challenge you to find a tenured journalism professor at an accredited school that says cropping any photo is categorically unethical.

This is a entirely fallacious difference you're making between the taking of the image and the printing of it. Regardless of your innate assumptions, the only photographs that are complete in the camera are Polaroids.

I never suggested the images that come out of cameras are complete for all journalism purposes. There are a bunch of steps that should be done to them to get them print well on the known colorspace and resolution of the press.

Nothing else is done until it's printed, and the printing requires just as much artistic ability as the capturing of the image.

Where I work, printing is not an art. it is a science, also with a standardized procedure.

Why would it have been acceptable for him to use an orange filter to take the shot, but not in process?

I admit I hadn't thought of an orange filter, because I didn't know journalists (or anyone else) had them. I'm not ready to take a stance on colored filters. But ones without colors, I'd say, are fine, and part of photography.

In any case, I don't think he would have used the orange filter on the image I've said I'd have fired him for - the one of the firefighters in daylight, surrounded by a field of black because he burned the hell out of it.
posted by bugmuncher at 2:28 PM on July 29, 2006


bonaldi also writes:
What'd if he'd ramped up the flash and aperture to completely darken the background on the firemen? Would that be "dead wrong in a pj context"?

I don't know how well that would work since the funeral appeared to be outdoors in daylight. For the flash to have any effect, he'd have to get close enough that he might intrude upon the moment... and even then he might just get the same shallow depth of field he had before....

But in any case, if he were indoors and did something like that, I'd find it acceptable, as long as the rest of the image didn't suffer for it.
posted by bugmuncher at 2:38 PM on July 29, 2006


I don't know how well that would work since the funeral appeared to be outdoors in daylight.

What would happen is, the flash would bring the objects close to the camera up a few levels in brightness, the camera would then reset its exposure to match the flash, meanwhile the light would dramatically fall off so that everything in the background that isn't affected by the flash would turn to black.

And to answer the "What'd if he'd..." question, I'd suggest that if he'd been quick enough to think of that in a pj situation, then he might deserve the award.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 6:36 PM on July 29, 2006


Anyway, cropping is part of the process of composition because life does not happen in the 4:3 aspect ratio. (or 3:4 vertical).

Er, yes, but everything else you say indicates that composition in the camera == good, while anything outside the camera must only be directly linked to reproduction quality.

I know you won't find professors who think cropping is unethical, that's because there's a double standard at work.

Where I work, printing is not an art. it is a science, also with a standardized procedure.

Yes, this is where po-faced came from: printing is very, very much an art. How much to darken this, how much to lighten that, it's all aesthetics.Again, where does cropping fit into this? Do you have a formula for it? If you don't, there's the art creeping in. And it doesn't end with you either -- your press man is going to use his judgement to drop the cyan or raise the magenta based mostly on colour bars, yes, but also on whether your picture is coming out hellish.

I'm not ready to take a stance on colored filters.
I think you should talk to your tenured professors on this one. Hell, using coloured filters on black and white is 101-level stuff.

Either way, C_d wins. I don't think he deserved the award either. But fired for boosting the orange? No way.
posted by bonaldi at 8:31 PM on July 29, 2006


All right, here's my 2 cents:

Being fired for boosting the orange is just a cover. He was fired for other reasons -- reasons the editors didn't want to reveal. So they used his background and this "altered" photo as an excuse.

Happens all the time.

As for the photo alterations, I agree with most here: Removing the firefighter background was stupid; complaining about the slight enhancement of the other two photos is absurd. Film photographers have done it ever since they figured out how to. Photoshop is a tool that allows mediocre images to be enhanced for better clarity and a better representation of reality -- or to mislead.

Here's the problem: Knee-jerk reactions. Like a kid drawing a picture of a gun while doodling in the classroom, who is kicked out of school because of their no-tolerance policy. WTF! There are too many knee jerks out there with power, and they're ruining it for everyone else.

But back to the topic at hand. Cloning a Diet Pepsi can off a table as if it had never been there = bad photojournalism. Enhancing a photo to bring out a better and more representative image of what the photographer saw (in moderation, please) = good photography.

Fired for the nitpicking offense of altering bland lighting to dramatic lighting? Nuh-uh. He was fired for another, unstated, reason. This was just the public excuse.
posted by Seabird at 9:35 AM on July 30, 2006


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