Monday, March 28, 2011
In photojournalism, is editing pictures ever OK?

This lovely gallery of HDR photography that our intern Nancy produced sparked more than oohs and aahs. Many excellent questions came up in the comments about the ethics of this photography technique. Is HDR photography acceptable in photojournalism? What about digital manipulation that looks like HDR? Is ANY editing OK?

 

These are questions that journalists, viewers, and academics have grappled with from the beginning. Photography, of course, is an art form, but in journalism, there's an expectation and responsibility of truth and realism.

 

With that in mind, here are some guidelines for submitting photos to iReport that we hope will help clear things up:

 

Our absolute first preference is that you submit original, high-resolution, unedited photos. If your pictures need brightness/contrast adjustment or cropping, we have photo experts here at CNN who can take care of it.


If you manipulate your photos in any way, from editing contrast to adding filters to, yes, using HDR, we just ask that you be transparent about it. Please be up-front in your iReports about any modifications you've made to a photo. Editing your pictures does NOT preclude them from being used on CNN -- we just need to know about it so we can pass that information along to our viewers.


If you're going to edit a photo, please remember that you can make adjustments, but you need to keep the photo's original meaning in tact. That means don't crop out people or objects who are important to the meaning of the picture, and don't make so many adjustments that the viewer is misled (i.e., if the photo was shot at night, don't play with the lighting to make it look like it was shot during the day).


Always keep a copy of the original, unedited photo, because we frequently ask for that if the submitted picture is too heavily edited for us to use.


All the same rules apply for photos taken with apps like Instagram and Hipstamatic. We prefer unfiltered images, but if you'd like to add a filter, just make sure you tell us what you did.


Finally, there's no need to add watermarks or other credits to photos you submit to CNN iReport. We never use iReport images on CNN platforms without checking with the photographer first, and we always credit you. So you don't need to add a watermark to images you share with us (and we probably wouldn't use a photo that was obscured by a watermark in the first place).

 

Make sense? We hope so. Please leave any photojournalism ethics questions you may have in the comments, and we'll make sure to get back to you!

18 Comments
March 28, 2011
Click to view luvnola's profile

Very informative Rachel as I have often wondered about the issues of manipulated photographs used in photojournalism.  I recently did a 12 page research paper on their use in the Judicial System. 

Does this mean that photojournalist working for news agencies are NOT allowed to edit photographs or is this done by the networks they work for?

March 28, 2011
Click to view luvnola's profile

BTW David, Awesome photograph!!!  peace, luvnola

March 28, 2011
Click to view rachel8's profile

@luvnola It depends on the agency - every company has its rules and standards. In general, most news organizations won't edit photos beyond cropping and simple brightness/contrast/sharpness adjustment.

March 29, 2011

I agree that a very minimum amount of editing is acceptable in photojournalism, and at times necessary. I also believe that you cross the line as soon as you manipulate an image to a degree that you change the message of the image, or change it in such a way as to portray something that didn't actually happen. Photojournalists have an opportunity to speak  for those that can't speak for themselves, that doesn't give them the right to put words in their mouths.

March 29, 2011
Click to view larena's profile

thanks Rachel I asked myself that long time ago watching some iReporters placing photos that are retouched now after reading this I understand and I hope who uses retouched photos will learn no to do it again

March 29, 2011
Click to view rachel8's profile

@RMullis Well-said!

March 29, 2011
Click to view fastnews's profile

It's not ok if the image is a news-image. I just resize to adapt fit for publishing/print and add copyright but never mess with the contents of the image. /Hasse Sukis, Photographer at Rockphoto and FastNews.SE

March 29, 2011

Edit a picture? Isn't that like cheating??? Cropping I can understand but.. anything past that is wrong.

March 29, 2011
Click to view uray's profile

The essence of iReporting is to present the case as it was. If a picture is manipulated then it is no longer original. Anybody can sit on a graphic and make images that look like real. It is not necessary to adjust even the quality of the picture.

March 29, 2011
Click to view JoyfulGypsy's profile

Larena, are you not aware that many of the photos you submit to iReport have been "retouched"?  Perhaps you are not aware, since you don't actually take the photos yourself, but it's obvious that some of them have definitely been edited. 

 

I don't have photoshop, and I do not use, nor like, HDR photography for posting on iReport.com, and I do consider that kind of photography deceptive and inappropriate.  However, I'll admit that I often enhance the subtle shadows, highlights, contrast, saturation, etc. using iPhoto.  My intention is not to "change" the image or situation, but simply to enhance it, since cameras do not always capture everything as they really are.  What you see with your eyes is not always what comes out in the picture.  Light situations play a big part in that.  Simple editing that does not falsify or change a situation or message is common practice for most news photographers.

March 29, 2011
Click to view marilene1's profile

What is ok for me may not be ok for CNN iReport so I guess our best choice is to follow the iReport rules.

It's what I intend to do. Regardless What everyone said I think the original is the real one. Thank you for the heads up!

March 29, 2011
Click to view JoyfulGypsy's profile

As per the post above: 

 

"If you're going to edit a photo, please remember that you can make adjustments, but you need to keep the photo's original meaning in tact. That means don't crop out people or objects who are important to the meaning of the picture, and don't make so many adjustments that the viewer is misled (i.e., if the photo was shot at night, don't play with the lighting to make it look like it was shot during the day)."

March 31, 2011
Click to view Sherbien's profile

my lens has dirt on the upper right that's why everytime i use it and take photos, i make sure that i can crop the photo with the dirt on my lens - is that ok. but if i'm not using that lens, i love the manual mode in taking photos, just need to have the right iso, shutter etc...

April 3, 2011
Click to view invictus1819's profile

Oops! I admit to having edited many of the photos I submitted to CNN's iReport, mainly on the brightness/contrast and cropping aspects. But it was not my intention to change the meaning or message of the photographs; or manipulate the image so as to come up with a lie or falsehood. Never that. Now that I read what CNN has to say, I will be transparent with any editing I shall do with my photographs. Thanks to CNN.

April 9, 2011
Click to view Christinayk's profile

I like the orange tint, the grey clouds and the stone beneath the sky gives me an inexpressible feeling. Good job!

December 13, 2011
Click to view Shabastic's profile

Well, well, well. We learn every day. I think its best to tag along with i-report rules on Photo submittion. On a Professional level, I can make my picture as pleasing and flattering as possible insomuch as my client will not complain.

September 7, 2012
Click to view StephanNorth's profile

Ha, I knew it CNN will not print my remarks to this!

January 11, 2013
Click to view ShutterbugDG's profile

there's no need to add watermarks or other credits to photos you submit to CNN iReport. We never use iReport images on CNN platforms without checking with the photographer first, and we always credit you. So you don't need to add a watermark to images you share with us (and we probably wouldn't use a photo that was obscured by a watermark in the first place).

 

I beg to differ. You don't seem to realize, or are willing to admit, that people use (swipe) copyrighted images without compensation, permission, or even the basic courtesy of a measly credit all the time. I, for one, would like credit for my images and protection from image theft. I think all images - even blurry, out-of-focus cell phone pics - deserve protection; alas, you seem to offer none. I'd like at least the option to have a default for my content displayed on your site.

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