The Danish Press Photography Union has excluded photojournalist Klavs Bo Christensen from the judging for this year's Press Photo Awards due to excessive Photoshopping. I don't read Danish, but the comparisons of the submitted pictures and the raw files in the online article are pretty eloquent all by themselves....
(Thanks to Axel Bauer)
Featured Comment by Rana: "Man, that's bad—and the others in the article are worse. There are those for whom that overly 'juiced' aesthetic is appealing, but I'm not one of them. I see enough of it on amateur sites to be profoundly unimpressed by it.
"I'm not a hardcore no-Photoshop purist, but I do feel that the images that result ought to bear some resemblance to reality. While I do tweak levels, curves, and contrast in my images, I try to do so only to bring the digital images in line with what my eyes saw. This is so extensive it borders on photo-illustration, rather than photography.
"If the photographer wasn't a journalist, I wouldn't take as much issue with it, but there's a certain obligation to visual truth there—not 'truthiness.' Indeed, the composition of several of the images featured is strong, and the images would be powerful with only minor editing—there was no need to do this to them."
Mike adds: There's simply a different standard for photojournalism—you're expected to be honest and factual, and that pertains to pictures as well as to words. Of course there's no "absolute" standard that can be applied, but the photographer, like the journalist, needs to strive to establish him- or herself as a reliable witness. You simply don't do yourself any favors when you dress up an image to the point that it looks obviously unrealistic.
I can sympathize with those who see nothing basically wrong with these examples, extreme though they may be. In part, photography is a visual language that we've had more than a century and a half to come to terms with; the distortions we're used to, and can interpret easily (black and white, wide-angle perspective, loss of detail in shadows, etc.) are unthreatening, whereas new forms of distortion are more contentious. Jim Hughes proved in an excellent article I published in Photo Techniques magazine that W. Eugene Smith, who is close to a patron saint for many photojournalists even now, often "stretched" the truth to a degree that would be unacceptable today—and that would certainly get him disqualified from journalism competitions. In some cases this even included adding elements that hadn't been in the scene.
And of course there's nothing wrong with Photoshop (or any other image editor), or with darkroom manipulation. But in photojournalism those tools are expected to be used to increase the accuracy and veracity of the photograph to the scene—not decrease it. That seems to be Mr. Christensen's failure here, not the tools he used. He's simply made himself a suspect witness by overdoing his manipulations to the point of obvious unreality, subverting realism for cheap effects instead of reporting it with an appropriate modicum of dispassion.
Featured Comment by Jerred Zegelis: "Thanks for bringing this to our attention! My high school students (photojournalists) often don't have the slightest problem drastically changing things in Photoshop, even after our conversations about ethics. These will be great to show them, and to discuss them as a class.
"I may be off base here—but the students, having basically grown up with photo editing tools (now on their phones even) think of Photoshop editing as basic as getting the right exposure...so these will be great to talk about!"
Featured Comment by Gordon Lewis: "The point I think a lot of people are missing here is that the version Christensen submitted aroused the judges' suspicions precisely because it look so 'unreal.' Keep in mind that he didn't submit both versions, so they had nothing on which to base a comparison other than a first impression. The apparent problem was that the version he submitted looked so different from the 'reality' that most of us have experienced that they came to the conclusion he had overcooked it.
"It may also be that he clearly violated the rules of the contest. Without knowing what the rules were, how can you say the judges were being unfair? I doubt you'd feel the same way if you were one of the entrants who had followed the rules to the letter.
"I also can't help but wonder how some of the defenders of generous Photoshop enhancement would feel if they were on the receiving end of the transaction. Would it bother anyone that nothing we saw first-hand ever looked as good as in photographs?
"In my opinion (and it's just my opinion), the closer photography gets to selling used cars, getting breast implants, using computers to correct the pitch of tone-deaf pop singers, and taking drugs to improve sports performance, the more it becomes a part of the 'do whatever it takes to get over' culture so prevalent in this country."