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Thursday, 09 April 2009


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Well said. I just simply don't understand why folks feel attacked by things like this. Camera A vs. Camera B, HDR vs Non, etc, etc...

Everyone take a couple of deep breaths...have some tolerance people. Accept that the world we live in shouldn't all be the same, if it were...well I don't want to imagine that. There are going to be differences of opinion and that's a good...no...great thing.

Mike, I don't care for this look either, but it's NOT a HDR look; it's over the top local contrast kick up and off the scale saturation bump up look.

It has nothing to do with HDR. It's really unfortunate that a bunch of flickerites that don't know anything about HDR use local tone mapping for excess and think it's HDR, it's not and never has been or will be.

It's likely that this image was abused from a single shot and just used a local contrast tone mapper to produce this excessive example of really trendy post processing.

HDR can greatly enhance photographs especially when you have no idea it's been used.




Your recent piece reminded me of a discussion that took place in one of the railroad related fora that I frequent:


I certainly fall into the camp of scenes appearing photographically at least a little bit like they do in reality. Still, as you can see by the discussion, my sentiments weren't exactly shared, LOL.

It's interesting that such a simple thing can stir emotions so thoroughly in both camps.

Thanks as always for another interesting blog entry!

Peter: This one is easier to feel threatened by than most, I think. It appears that I might possibly have submitted in all good faith a picture that some people would think was dishonest in the context of photojournalism. It's easy to take that pretty personally; are they calling me dishonest? Humph!!! (I don't do photojournalism professionally and never have; so my being ignorant of the modern tenets of the field is more forgivable than it would be for an actual photojournalist.)

And, in fact, part of what's at issue here is that the modern tenets of photojournalism are still being invented. I'm waiting to hear people objecting to the use of flash, since it changes the lighting a lot and how a room *really* looks depends a lot on the lighting and it's now possible to take pictures by available light about anywhere. (Only half joking; you can make an argument that turning a dingy basement office into a well-lit nice-looking place is more dishonest than making a slum look like the lusciousness of the Jurassic.)

If I may pose a devils advocate-esque question challenging your position that pictures 'should look like earth'.

If the original landscape picture had been taken with a dense ND graduated filter and shot on Velvia 100 - would it have been disqualified as well?

Also, should film shots be colour balanced for neutral light (the low light shots would have shown a strong blue cast without using warming filters or pp'ing for instance)

I had a quick look at the press photographer of the year gallery which turned up these 'not like the world really looks' pictures..

compressed perspective

differential focus

large amounts of black and white adjustment

time warping sports pictures

Artistic blur?

shadow highlight

large amounts of contrast enhancement (including local?) + flash?

Artistics desaturation


Photography, even photo journalism, is art and like art of all kinds, it will create controversy. As a previous poster notices, this is a good thing; because controversy requires discussion and from discussion comes understanding and the world is woefully short of understanding when it comes to art which circles us back to those photographs.

Art cannot be valued as good or bad since these are subjective opinions and we are all different subjects with different opinions. How art is used, however, is a corollary branch of this theorem that all art is good. It would seem that this judgement has to transcend the individual opinion since it can affect a larger community and thus that community's opinion is what will set the boundaries and limits of acceptability.

Thoughful photographers will apply both arguments to their work: it is my art and thus it is valid representation of the truth of my vision. But 'truth' is not an absolute. My photograph might not be a valid representation of some other truth, so it probably should not be put forth as such.

I believe that these considerations have existed since the first attempts to communicate via images. Cave paintings: I saw two big animals and killed one for food. The stick figures scratched into the rock conveyed this message exactly for all who have seen them over the millenia. Art? Journalism? Both? Glad I don't have to decide.

Differences of opinion? This is mine...I might be wrong...

But since you asked, and since it's my blog...

I thought you were no longer a "blogger"?

People seem to want a bright line that defines what's acceptable photojournalist manipulation. For example, no cloning, simple dodge and burn, and color correction only. With a simple set of rules, it's easy to tell if someone broke them.

A simple set of rules will allow crazy things and disallow sane things. These pictures illustrate how you can go way out of bounds by overusing acceptable tools. I've seen other pictures that illegally retouched that didn't affect the integrity of the picture, such as the girl kneeling over a body at Kent State. Is it material that in the original she seems to have a fence post growing out of her head?

We give too much credibility to untouched pictures. The reporter supplying all the words doesn't after all provide a verbatim transcript of everything he/she saw, heard, and read on the story.

I think we should apply the same high level standards of journalistic integrity to photo manipulation that we do to the writing of the stories. Do whatever you like to the image, but speak the truth as best you can. Whoever edits the picture has to be willing to show the before/after if called on it. By that test, these images would fail.

Well put, Mike. And it was just a contest from which he was excluded, after all.

Take this, for example. Earth never looked like this
You should add "to me".

You just can't tell people how Earth looks. One person's "real" is another's "dull" and neither is correct.

The line between what's acceptable or not will be drawn by the editor and readers' common sense, of course. I think what we are discussing here is, if we lived in Denmark would we still take that source seriously after this?

I think you have to be very careful when declaring 'the world doesn't really look like this photo'.

Do you similarly discount the work of Ansel Adams because his Zone System assigned more 2-dimensional beauty to the B&W tonal range than nature had been able to imbue? Or maybe because he worked in B&W, when the world is actually colored (to the non-color blind)...

Do you yourself never use a polarizing filter to darken skies or remove objectionable reflections from glass or shiny objects or haze, for better color saturation?

Have you never dodged and burned in the darkroom to heighten the beauty of a print, though the actual scene might not have been rendered so?

Atmospheric clarity in different parts of the world or specific weather conditions sometimes enhance colors to an unbelievable (to others not present) degree. Should we then use a 'dulling' filter over our lens?

Do you similarly discount the paintings of Monet, et al?

If 'visual truth' should be our yardstick in all things 'art', then I guess it all depends upon how you look at it.

I agree that this guy's overcooked images don't look good, or real, and I love any and all references to Spinal Tap in any context, so, yeah, dude, back the dial off of 11. (As an irrelevant aside, there is actually some controversy in European PJ circles about PJ trends coming out of Denmark, or so I am given to understand.)

That said, I am disturbed by the notion that a photojournalist's work should be checked against what the raw image, opened in Adobe Camera Raw (or any other converter), looks like before any sliders are moved, as if that was some standard of "real" or "original". It's most definitely not. (Obviously, an out-of-camera JPEG is no such infallible standard either, in this age of art filters.) As a methodology for establishing malfeasance, it's about as defensible as trial by ordeal, and this is not the first time I've seen its implied use.

Compositing Hitler into a picture of Obama's cabinet definitely a no-no. Juicing contrast or color a fair bit, or tons, as the case may be? More of an, ahem, gray area. Maybe PJ contests would be better advised to give work like this a firm "last place prize", rather than disqualify it.

I'm afraid that your overcooked example of the dump looks a lot like a typical National Geographic picture made with Kodachrome I.

I take photojournalism seriously. Manipulating images to the degree shown by this photographer is not acceptable as photojournalism. The manipulations - especially the tenement one - are equivalent to lying. The tenement manipulation increases the squalor of the place by orders of magnitude. It changes even the person's skin color - a lot. Years ago, another photographer got into hot waters for darkening the skin color of the subject (an african-american) - do you guys remember that?
Freedom of expression in art is one thing, deception in reporting is another. Photojournalism should never be like advertising. Mike is completely right, and I am glad he has the guts to speak out.

Mike, just a small correction. The HDR dial goes up to _23_. :-)

Yep. I had considered saying something similar in my brief comment yesterday - that the photos look like they were taken on some planet circling a star in a galaxy far, far away, not here on Earth.

The fact that one has to argue that the photo reproduced above has taken liberties with reality in its reproduction goes to show just how far the limits of credulity have been stretched. I'm not sure if it is the inevitable result of technology's trajectory or if rigor has simply gone out of fashion.

Take for example, the straw man that has been made of the raw file. Because a raw file must be rendered via "some" curve does not mean that any given "interpretation" of that raw file is equal. Such an argument is patently silly.

Digital photography has not suddenly superseded reasonable verisimilitude--and anyone who shoots film, or has a preference for it, is by definition not a Luddite. End stop.

Journalistic standards are, like any standard, subject to the dictum of contemporary taste and preferences (even downright biases) but it doesn't follow that standards are useless or "untrue" as truth itself is subject to the same preconditions. And given the current environment, where propaganda has become synonymous with reportage, we need these standards more than ever.

I never understood why people get so bent out of shape over "processed" images. Even if YOU don't change a thing yourself, your final image is still a result of your lens characteristics and filters, your camera's processing chip and software (or film type and manufacturer), and your own digital work flow (or film lab preferences).

For me, the final look of an image is determined by what type of feeling I want to convey. Maybe B&W or selective color for a more emotional, intimate feel; HDR for a stunning out-of-this-world look; adjusted color and contrast to more closely resemble what I think I saw; or simply leave it untouched for historical accuracy.

I'm not even against using effect filters just to be playful or artistic.. I'm even guilty of *gasp* adding fake backgrounds, cloning out undesirable elements, and even swapping people's heads around! Surely there must be a special place in Photographer's hell waiting for the likes of me!

I use whatever techniques are at my disposal to produce an image that is as close as possible to how I envision it in my mind's eye. All the possibilities are what makes this hobby so much fun for me.

C'mon folks, you're supposed to be enjoying this whole photography thing, remember?

I didn't comment on the PJ post because it seemed obvious that the images were outside accepted photojournalism standards.

I don't think HDR as a process should necessarily be placed in the wretched excess category. Extended dynamic range is a benefit if it allows images to convey more information in a natural way. The issue is that the current HDR tools lack sufficient control to render subtle images. When and if the tools become more precise HDR may be very useful.

One other point that I think is worth mentioning. Pop culture is an HDR over the top world. It's all about attracting the maximum attention from people with short attention spans. People who are growing up in this saturated environment can hardly be blamed for being influenced by the hype.

For my part, I would side with the Danish judges for a reason that matches Mike's justification to give his opinion. Just as this website is his blog so he is the ultimate arbiter of what can be on it, their contest is to be run by their contest judges. If they think something isn't in the spirit of their contest, that's their prerogative--end of story, at least for the contest.

On the wider issue of whether such things belong in journalism its at least slightly cloudier. I find it interesting that different cultures accept different standards in their journalism. For instance, a lot more openly subjective judgement is allowed in French and English papers that I've read (justifying strikes, condemning politicians stances, or the like) compared to the US, which seems to always strive for sounding objective (which I think is often false pretenses, but whatever). Regarding news photography, I don't really care what standard is set so long as it's clear, openly available to the consumers, and applied to everyone. Who sets such standards? Well, here we get back to the photographer's union and editors, one controls its members and the other what they want to publish in their paper, and if they don't want to use super-baked stuff because it's misleading and gives their union or their paper a bad reputation regarding the truth, then again that's their right. Their integrity is at risk by publishing, so they can require unmanipulated or low-manipulation photographs.

Ok, the geologist in me has to comment. The Pleistocene, looked a lot like today with only a little more ice. Yes there were volcanoes spewing lurid lava, but there were no dinosaurs.

So it is unethical for journalists to have a personal style or interpretation of what they see and experience? What line exactly did he cross? Is this woman's squalor any less real for her? In what way have we been deceived? Your standards (and other's) are clearly not my standards.

And where do we draw the line with these so called "standards"? Must photojournalists only use 50mm lenses and shoot from eye height? Should we ban excessive DOF shots? Are colour blind people to be screened from taking pictures?

Okay, I'm being extreme here. But I feel that to endorse the Danish Press Photography Union's decision to basically censor this journalist for "excessive" style, is to endorse some arbitrary standard of what "real" is and I cannot agree with that. If he had doctored images or criminally misrepresented facts then he should no longer be a journalist. All he has done here is to offended certain people's sensibilities.

"I'm shocked, shocked to find post-processing going on...".

Personally, I don't care much for his style either.

I would just add that such (exaggerated HDR, etc.) pictures presumably wouldn't get disqualified from an art photography prize unless there were specific stipulations. They might, however, just lose for hurting the judges' eyes. On the other hand, a photojournalism prize is a different thing, with many stipulations implicitly included in "journalism".

(As an aside, the picture above reminds me of cross-processed colour photos. Techniques such as those are perfectly acceptable in the world of art, but pretty dubious in the world of photojournalism -- so it's not really a matter of film versus digital.

Mike, you oughter link to it any time you have an article on another site (like photo.net), it seems I've missed several.

Well, talking about Not-of-this-planet photos - I'd say on the same basis you should ban all B&W photos from pj contests - after all earth is in colour isn't it? I for one never saw a black&white day in my life. I bet if someone never in their life saw a b&w representation of reality they'd be as thrown off about it as the Danish judges.
Incidentally, if you care to take this photo and simply desaturate it you'll get what is pretty normal in b&w photojournalism...

I like when earth doesn't look like earth, especially since the earth offers some amazingly exotic things that if we compared to general city life would look very non-earth like.

People, ok photographers especially, get too caught up in disapproval of specific effects/lenses/tools.

I'm not a fan of that image not because I dislike HDR, or weird hyper reality but because I don't think it was well done. The tools just weren't used right, whatever those tools were.

Just like photographers need to learn how to Just Say Yes, I think we need to learn how to just say No, I don't like that image, and put our guessing at the tools aside.

With film you could do a large number of manipulations, it's true, especially when you got into things like re-shooting, but the film system left a physical trail of evidence from which manipulation could later be judged --specifically, a negative.

Some serious commentators have said that Nikon RAW is not designed to produce the best out-of-camera image, but the best file of data to be post-processed, and that these two things are *NOT* the same. When you pull up a Nikon RAW, you get not what you saw, but a mass of data that can be made to look like what you saw. The adjustment is *required.* RAW is not a negative.

If you were shooting under fluorescent lights but experienced that light as white, which people do, but the RAW shows the light as green, no problem: click the white balance. What you get is not "correct," it's is a purely subjective adjustment for a psychological phenomenon (seeing green light as white.)

With a negative, you had a standard. You could look at the neg, look at the print, and say, "You went too far." With digital, there's no negative. The only possible judgement is Mike J's: "The world doesn't look like that." But what if the photographer's answer is, "Yes, it does." Who do we go with, the guy who was there, or the guy who's in Wisconsin?

For example, in the photo above, which looks like it might be from the Caribbean, I agree that the world doesn't look like that most of the time...but might it not look like that if you were wearing photo-grey Polarized sunglasses, at noon in the tropics, where all the colors look bright and all the shadows are exaggerated? That might absolutely have been the photographer's experience of the place. Which one is correct?

The problem is, we no longer have a standard of any kind, except the post-facto one of juries. We're like a bunch of Mexican cooks, trying to figure out how to season the burritos for American tourists.


As I said before (thanks for the feature! I'm honored), the aesthetics of the look are not mine, but that's not the issue for me.

The issue for me is that these images are meant to be photojournalism and therefore have a greater obligation to be respectful of the truth of the subject.

I remember a few years back being part of a similar discussion among nature photographers. The issue that was being kicked around was the problem of overly manipulated images distorting our audience's sense of nature photography. Partly this was an environmentalist's concern - if the public comes to believe that nature is always in hyper-saturated, jaw-dropping color, the real thing inevitably comes off as disappointing, and so such exaggerated work in fact works against one of the points of popularizing images of the natural world.

But the other aspect was the issue of self-preservation as professionals. Sometimes the sights we saw, the images we produced, were that dramatic and amazing in real life - but to a jaded public, they were just one more instance of juiced-up, post-processed manipulation.

It might be too strong to call such juicing lying, but the effect is not unlike that of crying wolf. The people who come running expecting a wolf are disappointed, while those who've been burned too many times by false cries never get to see one.

Such images are not wrong as art, but they are questionable as journalism. Some tweaking for effect isn't a problem for me, any more than the way a print journalist may use language in a long, narrative piece to create a mood and give us a sense of the people involved. But this shades into fiction for me.

Perhaps I am too sensitive about this, but my training as a historian, and my work as a writer of creative non-fiction and a nature/candid photographer all point me in the direction of "less is more" when it comes to post-processing. I hold journalists - photo or print - to a higher standard than amateurs and those who work as artists rather than professional witnesses.

These images, in my mind, cheapen photojournalism.

"My problem is merely that the pictures don't look like Earth."

Well, obviously you never dropped any LSD ;-)

(I realize this won't make it to the comments, but..)

Your writing is just too too good, Mike. I just love how you shred the counter-position while being just so damn nice about it.

"Do you similarly discount the paintings of Monet, et al?

"If 'visual truth' should be our yardstick in all things 'art', then I guess it all depends upon how you look at it."

We're not talking about ART! We're talking about JOURNALISM!

Is that not clear here?!?


So B&W photographers can do whatever interpretations they like, but color photographers have to keep the contrast to "realistic" levels ?

Mike -

I can't tell you what the world looked like in the time of the dinosaurs but I do have some info on another aspect of the color of the earth:



Just like arguing about camera A vs camera B, this argument seems to be about people making themselves feel better about how they do things.

"I'm not even against using effect filters just to be playful or artistic.. I'm even guilty of *gasp* adding fake backgrounds, cloning out undesirable elements, and even swapping people's heads around!"

Not if you're a photojournalist you're not. Not if you want to keep your job.



The book above is *literally* quite illuminating!

For those who don't know of Larry Bartlett. He was the original photojournalists black & white photoshop!

I for one *thoroughly enjoyed* looking at all those wonderful B&W images that passed through Bartlett's hands!

"Who do we go with, the guy who was there, or the guy who's in Wisconsin?"

When a witness is testifying under oath, do you take his word automatically because he "was there," or do you also try to evaluate whether he's telling the truth or lying?


I don't really see why they banned the guy. They should have let him enter and then quietly passed his work over. If they took offense to his photoshop skills, why provide the free press? Yeah, they're pretty ugly, who cares?

So, pushing the saturation slider all the way to the right (pop art colors) is wrong, but pushing it all the way to the left (b+w) is acceptable, if not the gold standard for photojournalism. Seems pretty arbitrary.

Images from either end of the saturation-slider-spectrum don't really look anything like "earth"... but I suppose we're used to seeing b+w images. It would seem that in a journalistic context we should be primarily concerned with what moment/subject matter is presented. The look of the photo is just a matter of taste (even if that taste is questionable).

Folks seem ready to privelidge what comes out of the camera as "the truth".

The engineers who designed the sensor, who programmed the processors, who designed the lenses and coatings, all have as much impact on the image as the photographer. Simply because those design choices have become "ritualized" and therefore invisible to most of us, doesn't make them any less real.

The look of "out of camera" images is changing too. As high-ISO and dynamic range expansion become more common, "straight" images look different than they did five years ago. I remember seeing the poster for the Nikon D3 and being blown away by the high-ISO shot of the motorcycle race at dusk. Now, I see those kind of shots every day in the newspaper. The photographer might be shooting "straight" (i.e. no Photoshop) but that doesn't mean that the image hasn't already been affected by 1000 technical/aesthetic decisions made by the camera designer.

I think journalism needs to get past the knee-jerk insistance that it is capable of "objectivity." It's one of the great lies of our civil society. All journalists have an opinion. All publishers have an agenda. All cameras have a look. Why shouldn't photojournalists be allowed to have a style?

I do have standards for what shouldn't be manipulated in the post-production of a news photo -- the "mise-en-scene." That means, the physical elements of the scene, including the people, settings and objects. (For example, erasing people or rearranging settings or content.)

While much has been said here concerning personal taste and creativity, precious little has been made of the subject matter. Does the photoshopped disaster above serve to somehow beautify the subject and her surroundings, or to further draw attention to the degradation of her environment? I honestly don't have the slightest! And while it's my understanding that photojournalism doesn't necessarily provide any answers, it should at least offer the possibility of a clue.

There is a good video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALfiTDYLtAQ which describes HDR in great detail. Problem is that it's 1:05:12 long, but at 43:14 there is Ansel Adams' print of Moonrise, Hernades shown with a plain un-worked print and the final dodge/burn print we all know. More than a little manipulation here, but this was not photo journalism.

What line exactly did he cross? Is this woman's squalor any less real for her? In what way have we been deceived?

What he did is squalor in Technicolor. And it's as false as the Hollywood "vision".

Her dirty dress turned into a thing of colour and vibrance. The washed out, used out and re-used clothes drying on the right suddenly gain vivid colour they probably didn't have even when new. The sterile, oft-trodden dirt of the "street" suddenly becomes as dark as the richest loam. Even the white fluffy clouds become fluffier. Everything screams FAKE!

Here's the original link again. Down in the middle. I can guarantee you that the blander "original" is quite an accurate picture of her squalor. It doesn't need to be prettied up.

What he did is to journalism what a velvet Elvis is to art. Hell, this is a velvet Elvis any way you look at it.

while this won't be the first time it's pointed out here, i think it bears repeating that 'looks like earth' is not a meaningful single reference standard. pictures, and the world too, look different to different people. very different. enough so that we frequently cannot even agree what we are all looking at in the first place.

this shouldn't be that hard to appreciate, but perhaps because i am a teacher (of visual anthropology, among other subjects) it stands out particularly starkly. students in general tend to think that the way they saw a picture, or a film, is both the correct way, and the same way everyone else did. (this is after all the great claim of photography--its objectivity.) when they subsequently describe what they saw in writing, and i get 40 essays which all seem to be about completely different materials, yet all couched in the same perfect assurance that there was nothing else to be seen... well it is a dramatic illustration of the point. the same thing happens every day in photo critiques: people see the same photo, but can't agree what they're looking at.

this is a bigger issue than can easily be dismissed by the common-sense approach of 'i know realism when i see it' (even though that will probably take most of us pretty far). frankly i think the question of exactly what different people see in the 'same' material is quite an interesting one.

in the raw/processed examples from the danish contest, the raw pictures look unrealistically flat to me. the processed ones look, well, heavily processed. to me, the most interesting thing which could come out of looking at the two would be a refinement of terms for explaining exactly what's wrong, and how, with the pictures for photojournalistic use (any such discussion of course has to take ends into account), and doing so with some degree of precision. to say 'i know it when i see it' may be a practical solution that works for oneself much of the time, but it doesn't help much in communicating what 'it' is to others.


Sorry Mike, but Calvin's dad wins with irrefutable logic.
Jeff was kind in providing the resource reference.http://www.cooperativeindividualism.org/calvin-father-on-black-and-white-pictures.gif

I have to admit that I find myself solidly in your camp on this one.
I am going to make this long because you let me...

With photojournalism "truth" has to be the only criteria. With that said, "impact" has to be considered. I am certain that many forms of manipulation have been engaged to increase the presentation of an "Image".
"I" have no problem with making a statement through needful (not artful)use of technological enhancements.

I could be wrong but I think the reason PJ work is frequently in B&W is because many newspapers still print that way. Super saturated colors would increase ink use and further impact their profitability.
Now personally I honestly dislike (want to say hate) the current trend in photos and movies of the "graphic novel" approach to images.(not that there is anything wrong with that) With regards to HDR, ok I guess, A good friend and successful landscape photographer (how he makes a living)had some images on display recently and I asked about one, becuase the light was not "earthlike" He responded that it was an HDR I humbly said "oh". (he has a DR. in physics with a focus (ahem) on digital imaging. he also teaches photoshop to photography stars.
Back to perception.... we New England based audio guys always gave JBL the benefit by imagining that "maybe" on the west coast, where houses were built differently than here in the east, they may actually sound good.
Take a deep breath and repeat.... Its only a blog.


After posting a couple of comments stating that I thought his interpretations may have been within some 'norm' (even if that norm is nascent) I should add that the pictures do nothing for me at all.. However, if the guy is a photo journalist the only disqualification criteria should be "Does his manipulation alter the journalistic portion of his photo". Photo journalism doesn't imply 100% veracity but it should imply an honest message - but what was the guy's message? Was it affected by increased contrast and saturation? I find it unlikely...

Mike, the RAW aerial landscape photograph, in the original article, looks underexposed and washed-out, and the manipulated image appears overly saturated and Velvia-like. Neither photograph looks realistic or Earth-like. Perhaps realism lies between both extremes?

It seems that the rejected photograph needs less adjustment, and the original RAW image needs some adjustment to closer represent reality. So possibly the problem isn't manipulation itself, but instead finding a way to use Photoshop "journalistically," and with appropriate restraint, to achieve a truer representation of what was actually there.

"Neither photograph looks realistic or Earth-like. Perhaps realism lies between both extremes?"

Of course. It still needs processing, just like most other image files.


Whoa! I know it's Easter but Mike's not up for the ultimate sacrifice just yet, in spite of some of the comments. Remove the nails, folks.
I think a lot of what's at stake here gets down to a pretty simple decision.
If it is to do with the creation of art, as in a painting, then anything goes - from Monet and Constable to Picasso and Dali, for example. Distortion and inexactitude are part of the expectation of some art and accepted as such. We either like it or we don't, but the person standing next to us in the art gallery has their own (and probably different) experience as they view it.
If it's "photo-art" I think the same applies, but it should be declared as such.
If it's to do with journalism then at the final call, surely the issue is "misrepresentation"? That can apply equally to the written word or to the use of photographs. Is what we are being asked to accept as a reasonable depiction of a scene or situation actually that, or has it been changed to meet the artist/photographer's perception and therefore, whilst representing his reality (perhaps) is not even close to the way most others viewing it would describe?
Ask yourself this question. Would you accept as "true" the same degree of alteration in a journalist's written report on which you rely for information? Probably not. He or she would be accused of bias or distortion of the truth. Art is one thing, reportage is another and I think we're floundering here in the margins. Is photo-journalism more about reportage or more about creation of art? Both are embraced within the broad spectrum of photography but, surely, both have some responsibility for honesty about the intent.


I think you need to get out of the midwest more. We do have color here in the tropics. While I agree with you in general, your sample picture did not strike me as esp. overdone, assuming it was shot in the tropics and not in the Midwest.

After I had heard about the news of Helen Levitt's death, I took some time out and went through her last book. I'm sure many people did the same and I'm equally sure that what makes looking at her photographs so special is that her subjectivity was a perfect marriage to the cameras objectivity. Doesn't matter whether her camera was loaded with colour or black and white film; what matters is that she embraced the cameras limitations and created a body of work that's unsurpassed.

"I wish I could find an event that meant as much as simple seeing."

Theodore Roethke.

Simple seeing... that's simply Helen Levitt and for me that's simply what photograpy is all about

As for the two shots that Mike's posted.

"Most of the pictures (in mass circulation photography magazines) suggest embarrassing strain: odd angles, extreme lenses, and eccentric darkroom techniques reveal a struggle to substitute shock and technology for sight."

Robert Adams

It's an older than photography quest.

I reminder of two positions:

1. We are talking about Photojournalism;

2. Those photos exude bad taste. They are like those very sharp, contrasty and kitsch photos of some wall calendars.


Seems to me the more things change, the more they remain the same. When I first got back into photography in the early 90's my entry point was via landscape/nature photography. At the time it seemed that almost everyone working in color was shooting the original Velvia ISO 50 transparency film which gave everything a kind of signature hyper-saturated look best embodied by the Sierra Club calendars of the day.

At first, I also shot Velvia so that I could make photographs that looked just like the "pros" who ran the workshops that I attended. But gradually, I found myself becoming more and more repelled by the Velvia color palette, because like Mike I thought that those photos just didn't look "like Earth"--and from my perspective Earth looked pretty darn amazing as it was. This dislike for what I began to think of as the Velvia "Disney-chrome" look progressed to the point that I actually developed a kind of physical revulsion one time while viewing the photographs at one of Tom Mangelson's galleries. I actually have a lot of respect for Tom and his work, but the colors in his photographs reminded me more of the visual hallucinations produced by LSD ingestion than of anything that I observed in the natural world (speaking hypothetically, of course....).

I realize that Tom is not a photojournalist and that his color palette represents an artistic choice. I just don't find the choice appealing. Moreover, in those days most photojournalists did not shoot Velvia because it depicted the world in such unrealistic hues. Today it's the same discussion, but focused on PS saturation and tone curves. Same arguments-just digital software instead of film "software".

Digital purist, digital purist, digital purist. Boy, that felt good.

I was born and raised in a Latin American country. The photos, esp. that of the woman in the tenement, offend me. Pardon me guys, but is a kind of visual porn. Look how colorful this poor wretched piece of third world mankind if. In fact, if he hadn't distorted the images, it would be quite drab. And that would have been more truthful, because the scene and the environment were drab. Now, I have no troubles with art which is controversial, but this, as Mike has repeat enough times, was not supposed to be art, but journalism. As journalism, it deceives, trivializes the subject, tries to give it an artsy esthetic. Enough said.

I think that this whole debate hinges on the ethics of whether the photo-journalist is duty bound to make a realistic representation of a scene or subject. I've read a lot of stuff about art and truth in this debate, but not much about integrity. In day to day photo-journalism most work does not transcend it's status as reportage to art. Only a few people are doing this kind of work, Salgado being the one that comes immediately to mind. The purpose of reportage is to inform the viewer of the conditions that were present at the time of exposure. Its not a statement of truth, when words like truth get used in journalism we invariably mean propaganda, which is reality distorted to fit a certain ideology. All reportage is subjective, it has to be as we are human beings and we all have our own biases and feelings. When we take a photo as a photo-journalist we have to walk a fine line between making an image with impact and representing the conditions at the scene.

This is not a digital versus film debate, or an attack on the use of imaging software such as PhotoShop. It's a debate about ethics and journalistic integrity. If the original photos had been commissioned as a piece of news then there should be no sexing them up beyond a few adjustments to help with reproduction. Conversion to black and white sits in this area as that is a solution to the limitations of certain forms of the print process used in newspapers. If the piece had been an editorial assignment where the brief was to convey an impression of being in the Caribbean they they would stand as being illustrations. But at the end of the day we are talking about journalistic integrity and the judges of the competition found it lacking, and I agree with with them.

It's more than saturation, it turns out. The computer translation of the page includes this bit:

The colors is if anything is supply with the pictures behindhand, so anything cloth, there's brown to råfilen, has been knaldrødt there remitted portraits, notes the judges.
"he consciously selected the chair and so done the yellow, and so has he selected the wall and done the blue", intends Peter Dejong. "by me is it unacceptable".

Many of the points people have made here are also addressed in the discussion, such as the issue of RAW files and the extent to which manipulation is or is not permisable.

The translation is here.

To play devil's advocate, at least two of the photos in the excellent gallery by Morenatti that you featured the other day exhibited extremely abrupt sharpness-to-blur zones. Lensbaby? Photoshop abuse?

Ah, HDR, another technical phenomenon becoming artist's expression by coincidence. Where to start?

For one, the original intent, still often cited, for HDR, was and is possible to achieve much less intrusively by relatively simple processes - in-camera as well as in post-processing [nonsensical term; but the linguist in me digresses]. On this blog I do not need into the techniques involved as we all know them, capable photographers we are.

The real problem is 8-bit rendition of HDR images. And that is the norm, 8-bit rendition. Printers are 8-bit in nature [and that's only the driver, don't think about what the actual print is in] as are monitors; this might eventually change. But it hasn't, yet.

What does that make HDR photos as looked at? Correct: wrong. First we use 16 or eve 32 bits to get more dynamic range, colour depth etc., then we push certain areas to our tastes - judging via totally inadequate output devices - to convert back to 8-bit for monitor or print. Leading to completely fake colours, contrast and so on.

There was a time we would have used the term 'over-processed' for what we see in most [not all] HDR photos. No prob with that as long as people see it as an artist's expression like false colours, IR, UV [in their non-scientific use], b/w ...

it seems to me that several posters already have raised their hands to say they don't have a problem with the realism of the edited version of the photo, and that it does look like earth to them. i can't vouch for their sincerity, of course. and for myself, as i said, the edited version looks quite obviously processed. but my basic point is just that what seems incredibly obvious to you or to me--that the edited photo is over the top--probably isn't obvious to lots of folks. should we really just assume that all of them aren't serious? (some, i'd suppose, are just being polemical... but i wouldn't stake too much on exactly which ones.)

i think there are a variety of reasonable responses to this. one of them is to say that not everyone's evaluation should count equally; if photojournalism is a standard, then maybe we should accept the judgment of experts on that standard as to what crosses the line or doesn't. that's one valid function for photo editors, no? the corollary is that the standards for 'looks like earth', then, are learned, not innate.

but again--and i wouldn't really say i am trying to make a big relativistic point here, though perhaps i should be--while i am actually a fan of pragmatism and common sense, i think the biggest vulnerability of both is that they encourage us to assume other people share our perspective. a lot of the time, they probably do (probably not as often as we think, though), or at least can put themselves more or less in our shoes. but that just makes it harder to accept when the remainder of the time, they really, sincerely don't.

put another way: you frequently express frustration that people are misreading what you actually write here on the, um, online magazine. we're accustomed to disagreements over words, generally, and aren't too surprised when they occur (annoyed, but not all that surprised). but maybe we ought to be less surprised when people also disagree over what they are looking at. it is in many ways a myth that seeing is any less subjective than language. seeing is different than language, yes, but it does not necessarily produce any more agreement or common ground (arguably, less, since shared words would seem to presume a shared language). if the video of rodney king can become exonerating evidence for the cops in it beating him up, then really, should we be surprised at this?

People are having a hard time dealing with the change and options new technology offers. Do you think it's going to become more or less of a problem as technology advances?

The solution is simple. Create a standard gear set and standard software processing for photojournalists. If it's not taken with a official PJ camera with official PJ processing then it's a not a news photograph, and may reflect the taste and style and mindset of the photographer; viewer beware.

I'd just like to second Robert Harshman's HDR comment above (way above). On the (rather rare) occasions I use HDR, it's to manage excessive real-world contrast, not to bump it up.
Regarding the sample picture, it's definitely overdone, but it's also true that real world contrast is very high under harsh tropical sunlight. I'd have called this a borderline case (I live in Brazil).

Those who point to all of the supposed liberties that black and white photojournalists get away with are ignoring the fact that for decades black and white was the only medium available for photography and journalism. Even after color film became widely available, four-color print reproduction was still expensive. Newspapers printed only in black and white. Magazines used color only for ads or special features. Given that color wasn't an option during this period, any arguments about how much less realistic B&W photos are than color are moot. And even then, photo editors were sure to question a photo that crossed the line from journalism and into "artistic interpretation."

Black and white photos are even more of a straw man these days because the vast majority of photojournalists shoot in color with digital SLRs. Black and white is now more of an "artistic" medium--which, by the way, is fine with me.

A couple of thoughts to fan the flames......

1) I think black and white IS a relevant issue here. Many photographers prefer B&W just BECAUSE it seems more true to life than color. I remember decades ago while traveling overseas photographing in an open food market that was filthy, swarming with flies and smelled of rot and decay. I sent home color photos to family members who commented on how charming and beautiful the scenes were. This was not a problem with a particular color film (or print manipulations), but the fact that they were looking at small shiny pieces of paper that had no smell. The photos were so ...... colorful!

2) Regarding excess and its abusers, aside from the ethical issues of photojournalism, I would suggest that our beloved Ansel Adams is the prime example of overcooked, over the top obvious manipulation of imagery. I have long felt he should be classified not as a realist but a surrealist. I've been to Yosemite, Mono Lake, Big Sur etc. etc. and none of these natural wonders look anything to me like the "master's" prints.

3) And Mike, in response to your statement "you can argue relativism all you want, but when something is extreme, genuine disagreement tends to be eviscerated," since when is popular opinion the arbiter of truth? Isn't 'extreme' a relative state?

"I look at Earth a lot more than I look at pictures, and I happen to think pictures taken on Earth should sorta look like Earth."

I think my pictures should look like my view through my sunglasses. They do all kinds of neat things to the world. Between the polarizer effects and the brown/yellow tint I tend to crank the clarity slider to 11 and move the WB to unnaturally warmer tones. At the end of it all you see very little that matches earth but a lot that matches what I saw.

Deus ex machina (I think I have the spelling correct...) I'm looking for something special in the pictures I take, it happens about once a decade, and I'll never make any money out of those pictures. I'm a press photographer by the way, and I tend to leave my pictures alone bar a slight tweak in curves, levels or USM.

I love looking at 'gee whiz' eye candy, but all the great photographers were short on 'gee wizadry.'

There is enough abstract and crazy infront of anybody any day to avoid over editing a photograph. Unless you work in advertising or fashion.

I wonder what would Albert Watson think of it all???

Check out the cover of the current issue of http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,20090420,00.html> TIME magazine...


Props to bagsnewsnotes.com at

I want to point out that the issue isn't really about photography, but about journalism. Of course there's human judgement involved. The same is true for all journalism -- what and how to write, what to report and what not to report, etc. Likewise, for photojournalists, its about what and how to process pictures, but also what pictures to take, what to frame, what to crop, or what not to crop, etc. One can tell a very misleading story (photographically) by "judicious" framing (or cropping) alone.

Some art is necessarily involved. Just as you want reporters to write well rather than enumerate everything they know, pick selective (but representative) quotes rather than just provide transcripts of interviews, etc., photographers (and photo editors) must make similar decisions. No one expects a strict division between right and wrong on the writing side of journalistic ethics; the photographic side is really little different.

What amazes me about this discussion is that we pay attention to a detail in order to forget about the essence:

When I frame a shot of a forest, do I include the smokestacks of the nearby factory?
When I frame a shot of a fancy restaurant, do I include the beggar on the pavement?
When I frame a shot of a smiling soldier, do I include his colleague killing an innocent child?

People are upset about the saturation of the colors? Are they serious?

The most important manipulation of the image is done by framing. This is true since the early days of photography and it was true even before photography because painters have more compositional freedom than photographers.

I agree that tastes differ, and some like boosted colors while others don't. But taste should not be confused with journalistic integrity. Someone wearing polarizing sunglasses could have seen the scene just the way it looked like the photographer's conversion.

Over at my blog, I attempted to re-create the photoshoped end-result from one of the raw files, just to see how much processing it really took. http://buildingsandfood.com/howto-not-win-the-picture-of-the-year-in-denmark

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