How to differentiate between legitimate enhancing of a photograph and manipulation that aims to distort the truth?
There is no clear answer to this. Different image processing practices are used in different fields of photography, even in different sections of the same paper. The ethics of photojournalism influence the guidelines: how realistic or truthful is the image of reality that will be presented.
The strictest authenticity requirements of all types apply to news photographs and video inserts. In practice, only technical improvement is permitted: nothing may be added nor removed from the picture.
Different image processing practices are used in different fields of photography, even in different sections of the same paper.
Primarily, the use of photographs is regulated by journalists’ guidelines, in addition to which media houses might have their own norms. However, in many guidelines there is only a small mention of image processing, if that.
As an example of Nordic guidelines, the Finnish ones state that “in addition imagery or sounds must not be used in a misleading fashion”, and the Swedish ones that “the documentary character of photographs must be supervised. One must ensure that photographs and images are truthful, and that they are not used in a misleading way” and that “Combination photographs or other digital image processing must not be used in a way that can mislead the reader. In the case of a combination photograph or image that has otherwise been retouched, there must be a mention of image processing”. The Norwegian guidelines are quite similar to the Swedish ones, but Icelandic and Danish guidelines do not discuss image processing at all.
One must ensure that photographs and images are truthful, and that they are not used in a misleading way.
The Swedish Guidelines of ethical photography
Adnan Hajj, a freelance photographer working for the international news agency Reuters, caused uproar in 2006 when he was caught having added a smoke cloud to his photographs of bombings in Lebanon. Reuters dismissed the photographer as a result of the controversy and, in 2007 roughly six months after the incident, compiled a comprehensive guideline package on image processing for its photographers.
The Reuters guidelines are above all crystallised in the premise that only slight framing, resizing and basic adjustments are allowed. It is not permitted to add anything to or remove anything from photographs. Harsh colour adjustments, exposure adjustment and blurring are also forbidden.
Reuters prohibits, for example:
- The adding and removal of elements
- The use of a cloning or healing tool on anything other than removing small imperfections
- The use of an airbrush and/or paintbrush
- Sharpening only part of the image
- Excessive lightening or darkening
- Excessive modification of colour tones
- Using the Auto Levels tool on Photoshop
- Blurring; • Use of the eraser tool
- Quick masks for selections, such as depth of field
- Automatic camera settings, in-camera saturation styles.