By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (retired)

Craziness is upon us. News photographers are running amok with Photoshop, altering important photos without a thought of the consequences, in order to make them more dramatic.

Craziness is upon us. Purists are screaming that images should leap from the camera to the presses, untouched and unaltered.

Every journalism web site, especially those devoted to photojournalism, is filled with angry comments in regard to both of the positions mentioned above. Radicals abound and the righteousness they spew is no less extreme than what I read in the papers these days concerning which religion is the "One true religion" or which political party will save the country (any country) from ruin.

Everyone has an opinion, and that's ok. But, I dearly wish that many people would stop and think about what they opine before pushing the "send" button.

This phenomenon is nothing new. "Truth in journalism" has been a heated topic of discussion for centuries. I'm sure there was criticism of certain town criers who may have embellished their oral broadcasts. And, we photographers have certainly heard the outraged critiques protesting Matt Brady's practice of arranging bodies on the battlefields of the Civil War in order to make better compositions. Frankly, I doubt if it started there.

Many contend that I began my career as a shlepper for Brady; a statement that I absolutely deny, However, I have been party to many heated discussions in the course of my long career concerning various aspects of ethics in new photography. At every Press Photographers Association seminar or short course that I ever attended, the nights in the hotel bar were filled with noisy, heated, beer-slurred speeches from seasoned pros to wet-behind-the-ears wannabe's about ethics.

"I know a guy," one newspuke would shout over the din, "who carried a battered teddy bear in the trunk of his car. Whenever he shot an accident that involved a kid, the bear would find itself prominently displayed in the wreckage."

"Hey, that's nothing," someone else would shout. "How about so and so from the Trib who used a charred teddy bear at fire scenes?"

Most of us agreed that such tactics were over the edge.

Later at night, more discussion would separate us into two camps. Is it ethical to use long lenses? Doesn't that change the perspective for the reader? How about using a flash? You are putting more light on the scene than there was? How much can you hold back shadows in the eye sockets or burn down the sky before it is considered manipulation. Filters? My God! What a can of worms that would open. The purists would try to out- shout the radicals on the other side of the debate. It's a debate that has been going on for as long as I can remember.

And here we go again. The technology may have changed, but the root of the argument is the same.

George Rubei e-mailed me a couple of weeks ago. George was a fine newspuke when we worked together at Newsday, many years ago. He went on to be a fine Photo Editor for the paper before chucking it all to sail around the oceans on his sloop for several years with his lovely wife. Now he is an Assignment Editor for a Florida tv station. We keep in touch. He was involved in many of the afore mentioned discussions about ethics. He is still concerned.

George Rubei wrote:


Have you been following the recent flaps over manipulation of newsphotos....namely the freelancer in Lebanon and the NC shooter fired for photoshopping his silhouetted fire pix....

What the hell is going on....doesn't anyone teach and imply the ethics of handling an image.

The one that bothers me the most is the NC pix....allegedly all the shooter did was enhance the image to reveal what he actually saw....It would be the same as burning down the sky to get the sun image to stand out....

Of course this guy had some kind of history of playing fast and loose with Photoshop...maybe there should be a Photoshop version for stills which would give the very basic darkroom skills needed for print...but what the hell, we all know of the instances of art departments airbrushing bodies out of a shot...and virtually every pix used in the old days took a short trip through the art department for minor airbrushing....

Maybe photo departments are not as tough as they should be on ethics...there seems to be lip service but no one is exercising common sense
Photo shop has made it too easy to screw around with the image.

Your thoughts?



Hi George,

Haven't we dinosaurs been through this a million times or more (and haven't I told you never to exaggerate?)? To airbrush/not to airbrush? To darken a sky or leave it alone? To use fill flash to lighten shadows? To use a filter to enhance the clouds? And on and on ad nauseum.

As I recall, one of Harvey's (referring to Harvey Weber, the Newsday Director of Photography who hired the two of us) first rule of journalism was to make a photo that was relevant to the story and would stop the reader from turning the page. (Tough to do as we became more of a head shot and real estate paper in later years) So, often a little darkroom artistry could make a ho hum shot into an eye catcher. The unspoken theory was that you didn't change editorial content. I mean, shit, George, every time I used a 300mm lens to make a dynamic perspective change, I was altering the reader's wide angle eyed view of the world. But, the editorial content was the same, as if I had given the reader a pair of binoculars. And now, I darken the sky and lighten the eye sockets with Photoshop instead of a circle of cardboard held in a wire coat hanger frame. Maybe the sky looked darker to my eyes when I snapped the shutter than it appeared in a print. And maybe, I even toned it down two shades darker than it really was. Does that change the editorial content? Who knows what every individual reader would have seen had he/she viewed the original scene. No two people see tones and colors exactly the same.

But, would I have cloned in another column of smoke over war ravaged Beirut? (especially as clumsily as the photographer in question did?) Absolutely not! Would I have enhanced the red in the sky in the NC fire shot? Possibly.

All of this brouhaha filled my computer every time I downloaded my e-mai last week while I was at sea doing another lecture cruise in the Caribbean. I subscribe to the NPPA-List which was filled to the brim with comments on all of this. I started to delete most of it without reading, simply because there was a lot of uniformed commentary by people who didn't know all of the facts; some condemning the practice and some supporting it. The truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Some papers have a code of "ethics" in regard to image manipulation. Those that do probably only trot it out when they get caught. Most, like Newsday, probably never see their photographers any more since most are freelance or contingents and they and the few staffers left on the paper never come in to the office anymore. They upload their self-edited take onto the paper's servers from home or a wi-fied coffeeshop, so there isn't much feed back in either direction.

So, if one were to take the moral high ground and never, ever manipulate a photo, again, what happens to Web's (Harvey Weber) admonition about publishing relevant photos that stop the reader from turning the page? Would readers appreciate pictures filled with dust spots and dark eye shadows and bleak skies that fade off the edges of the paper and unreadable shadows and not just give those shots a cursory glance before turning page after page?

There is no pat answer for all of this. I think that you might agree with me on my theory...everything in moderation in the name of relevant, eye catching photos AS LONG AS THE EDITORIAL CONTENT IS NOT COMPROMISED.

What do you think?



I believe that there are other issues forthcoming that will bite news photography and journalism in the ass. This current controversy regarding the doctoring of news photos is also appearing on blogs all over the internet. And the bloggers' opinions are being quoted in the mainstream media as though there was credence in what they had to say. My God!! It's bad enough that the public no longer has confidence in established media outlets, but to have them believing everything that some twit with a computer has to say on every issue boggles my mind.

I said as much on the National Press Photographers Association-List, recently, in response to an article in Editor and Publisher about Photoshopping news photos and the article quoted a bunch of blogs. This is what I had to say.

For those of you who read this article, my thought is that the larger issue that comes to mind is the unaccountability and irresponsibility of bloggers. They post their misguided opinions on the World Wide Web and people think that what they read thereon is gospel. Any fifth grader can post a blog, and many do. Shame on us.

OK. That's it. That's all I have to say on the matter until this debate resurfaces, again, in another 20 years. Anyway, if I'm still around, I doubt if I'll remember anything worthy of comment. So, don't hold your breath.

Dick Kraus




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