World Press Photo is one of the pinnacles of photojournalism contests.
” The 2015 Contest drew entries from around the world: 97,912 images were submitted by 5,692 press photographers, photojournalists, and documentary photographers from 131 countries. The jury gave prizes in 8 themed categories to 42 photographers of 17 nationalities from: Australia, Bangladesh, Belgium, China, Denmark, Eritrea, France, Germany, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Russia, Sweden, Turkey, UK and USA.” reads the World Press Photo website.
The unfortunate news, however, 20% of the images that made it through the final stages of judging were disqualified due to manipulation.
Time.com ran a piece by Oliver Laurent and Ye Ming, examining the disqualifications.
The World Press Photo website makes their rules on digital manipulation of photos very clear. It states in rule number 12, “The content of an image must not be altered. Only retouching that conforms to currently accepted standards in the industry is allowed. The jury is the ultimate arbiter of these standards.”
11 rules above and at the very top is rule number 1, which states, “The World Press Photo contest is only open to professional photographers and photojournalists.* The photographer’s professional status must be established by providing a document of verification (press card, union membership card, letter of reference or other official document).”
In my opinion, having worked in news industry for decades, there is no need for rule #12 if you have rule #1.
Bottom line, if you are a professional photojournalist telling stories that are presented in the realm of news and documentary coverage you should never be altering your work to change the content of the image.
At the BDN we take ethics very seriously. Using a clone tool or healing brush to erase out an ugly water bottle from a table or moving an airborne football closer to a receiver are just a couple examples of behavior that is strictly prohibited.
Image enhancement also has its limits. While some dodging, burning and sharpening is used to get the image closer to what the photographer saw in the moment, changing it too much inherently changes the content of the image and is also prohibited.
As a photo editor, it’s sad to see that so many photographers think it’s OK to do this type of manipulation. The worst part is that it can be performed so well now that even the most sensitive eyes can’t see the manipulation without examining the original. And with hundreds of images coming across the screen every week, that task is nearly impossible.
In an already distrustful world of web users, the last thing we as photographers need to do is propel that distrust.
If I have any plea for modern photojournalism, it’s this. Please do not extensively alter your images. It will catch up with you and damage your career. Millions of people in the world wish they could have this job and would give almost anything become great at it. Honor our tradition of ethical visual journalism to keep it a sustainable career. You are not just hurting yourself, you’re hurting me, my colleagues and people who’ve dedicated their lives to sharing the truth.
Here is a link to a gallery of winning work from the competition.