By Dick Kraus
Newsday Staff Photographer (retired)

Can anyone answer that question? I doubt it. This debate has been going on for a long, long time and I have yet to hear an answer that will satisfy all of us.

I am referring, of course, to the hot issue du jour, which is image manipulation in news photographs. I have stated, as recently as last month's Digital Journalist, that there are two schools of thought on the matter.

1. The Purist Photojournalist, to whom any kind of image alteration is an anathema.

2. The Artistic Photojournalist, who would go to any length to make his/her photograph something that would stop the viewer in his tracks.

I believe that I made my opinion clear in last month's diatribe. If you don't wish to go back to read it using the link above, then suffice it to say that I take a middle road using the maxim, "Everything In Moderation."

I am a purist as far as Spot News photographs are concerned. Except for normal corrections in toning and color for the sake of good reproduction, no manipulation is permissible, nor should any alteration of any kind be allowed if it will alter the editorial import of the image.

Allow me to illustrate this with a photo from my collection.

©Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus

In The above photo, the face of an Army officer can be seen behind Jackie Kennedy at the graveside of her husband. His face and the white gloved hand near the bottom of the photo, intrudes on the viewer and diverts attention from the President's widow. This is the original print made in a conventional darkroom. An attempt was made to burn down the face and glove and this was the way it appeared in the paper. I believe that this darkroom burning-in is permissible for publication because you can still see that there is another figure in the photo with Ms. Kennedy. The editorial content has not been altered.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus

In this photo, made for my own personal use for display and for my lectures, I used Photoshop to burn down the distractions. It was my intention to show how alone Ms. Kennedy was at that point and by almost eliminating the face and white glove, that impression is fortified. Photoshop gave me much more control than was possible in a regular darkroom.

I would never consider this photo for editorial use in a newspaper or magazine without a disclaimer stating that the image had been altered.

Here's an interesting conundrum. Photography is art? Photography is science? What do you think?

I think that Photography is a combination of both.

When a photographer composes an image in the viewfinder; chooses an angle, selects the one lens that will be perfect for the scene, and sets the right exposure to capture the mood, he/she isn't that much different from any paint and brush artist who chooses the right angle, light, perspective, brush and colors. I see that as art.

Science is the part that complicates everything. The paint and brush artist can brighten a scene if the sun goes behind a cloud. The photographer has to shoot what's there or come back another day. The P & B artist can draw any perspective that suits his whim. The lensman has to deal with the laws of optics. P & B can eliminate a distracting shadow. Film and digital artists have to throw in some flash. Do you see where I'm going with this?

Photographers are artists and should be whether we're shooting news or whether we're making family portraits or scenes from our vacations. With today's cameras, anyone can make a good snapshot. But, professional photographers should be going it one step better. We should be making pictures. Yes, even news pictures.

How does that happen?

There are a lot of good photographic techniques that can turn a snapshot into a picture. Fill flash is one good example. I see far too many photos in the papers, these days, where facial detail is murky. The Purists say that adding flash to a scene is an artificial manipulation that wasn't there, naturally. I say, bull shit! I say that photographer was just too lazy to carry a flash gun. The trick is to balance the flash so that it just opens the shadows without overpowering the scene.

Here's an illustration from my personal album to illustrate a simple way to make a snapshot into a picture.

© Dick Kraus

I used these photos to illustrate my point because I have these "without flash" and "with flash" illustrations in my personal file. You can see that the flash-fill shot keeps the integrity of the natural illumination.

Below are some fill flash examples on the job.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus

Most of my feature photos like this one of a local historian made use of available light with a weak flash fill to open the shadows.

© Newsday Photo by Dick Kraus

I spent a day out on the water with a scuba diver who dives on offshore wrecks. Heading back to the harbor at the end of the day, I felt that this scene needed to be made. But, strong back-lighting made fill-flash an imperative.

I hope that these illustrations make it clear that I am in favor of introducing flash into a news photo. That goes for spot news as well as feature photos.

Now, here's something to chew on, and I am certain that what I am about to say will raise some hackles.

With the exception of spot news stories, if my flash introduces a distracting shadow on a background, or a glare in someone's glasses, I have used Photoshop techniques to minimize or even eliminate the offending distraction.

I pause here to allow for the shocked reaction to this disclosure.


Are y'all finished?

OK. First of all, go back and note the bold face type four graphs back. I'm talking about feature photos here, and I'm talking about something that I introduced into the scene that wasn't there before my flash went off. It seems as though if I put it there, I should be allowed to remove it. And, in so doing, how does it alter the editorial content of the photo?

Sometimes, when taking one of the innumerable head shots that I have had to make during my long career, I have had to use flash in order to get a decent shot. Sometimes I needed only one gun and sometimes I have used multiple flash guns. Anyone who has used flash equipment in the field knows how tricky flash photography can be when you don't have built in modeling lights like the big studio units have. There have been times when my light or lights just didn't get into the subject's eye sockets and their eyes looked dead and lifeless. You know; no sparkle in the eye. This is especially true when using bounce flash. Well, here's something else that'll keep you awake at night. When that happens to me, I will often use the clone tool to add a little spectral catch light in both eyes. Before you switch your browser in disgust to another url, just look at the following example and tell me how I offended your journalistic sensibilities?









This top illustration shows dull, lifeless eyes. No sparkle.












With the help of Photoshop's clone tool, I was able to add just a tiny hint of a catch light into my now "sparkley" eyes.

Hmm. This looks good enough to use as my bio shot at the top of this article.

One final note. We have all made photos under difficult lighting situations. Given the immediacy of our assignments and the inability to carry every lens and every bit of lighting equipment to cover all the possible contingencies that might arise, we often have to do the best that we can in any given circumstance. Compromises have to be made. Exposures have to be selected to give us the best possible picture to reproduce in our publication. Under very contrasty conditions, that exposure might result in washed-out highlights or murky detail in the shadows. Yes, throwing fill flash into the shadows would be great. But, there are many times that you just don't have enough lighting power to handle the job.

In the days of the wet darkroom, we would do a lot of dodging in the shadows and burning-in of the highlights. That helped but is was almost impossible to do it perfectly. The areas that were burned in would often extend into areas that didn't need darkening. The same with the dodged areas and the dodged areas would often lack contrast.There were advanced darkroom techniques that would help, such as the use of Potassium Ferrocyanide to lighten dark areas, but considering the deadline constraints at most papers, such techniques were impractical. What resulted were poor photographs published in the next day's paper.

The advent of photo-editing software such as Photoshop in the hands of skillful photographers and technicians ameliorated a bad situation. What Photoshop was able to accomplish was to be able to take information that was present in a photographic image, but too light or too dark or contrasty or flat, and adjust only that part to bring it into conformity to the rest of the image. You weren't adding anything that wasn't already there. The purists think that this is manipulating an image. OK, in the true sense.of the word, it is. But here is what the dictionary on my Apple Computer has to say.

manipulate verb [ trans. ]
1 handle or control (a tool, mechanism, etc.), typically in a skillful manner : he manipulated the dials of the set.
• alter, edit, or move (text or data) on a computer. • examine or treat (a part of the body) by feeling or moving it with the hand : a system of healing based on manipulating the ligaments of the spine.
2 control or influence (a person or situation) cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously : the masses were deceived and manipulated by a tiny group. • alter (data) or present (statistics) so as to mislead.

The colored text are the areas to note; especially the last part "so as to mislead." Take a look at the following examples and tell me what was misleading about what I did.

Once again, I am using some recent examples of my personal work, since I have been retired for the past four years and don't have any news photos to illustrate my point..

Barbara and I had a gazebo built in our backyard about two months ago. Last week, after finishing a delightful dinner in our bucolic, screened-in shelter, we sat and watched the evening shadows march across the lawn. Magic light, that delightful, brief time where the landscape softens just before darkness takes over, lulled us into a euphoric sense of all's right with the world. I lit the oil lamp on the table which gave us just a comfortable glow inside the gazebo without throwing off any real light. It doesn't get any better than this.

I felt the need to share this with our friends and family and what better way to capture this scene than in photographs. I ran out to my car and grabbed my old Nikon D-1 and my tripod and set them up to make some interiors and exteriors. I found out, quickly enough, that if I exposed for the exterior landscape, the inside of the gazebo would be too dim. Conversely, I would blow out the landscape if I exposed for the interior. Popping a flash inside helped but it destroyed the warm glow of the oil lamp.

The problem was solved at my computer. I used the lasso tool in Photoshop to outline the landscape areas that were too bright, on both sets of photos seen below. Then I used Levels to bring them down. I then went to the menu bar at the top of my screen and under Select, I chose Inverse. Again, I used Levels to add some brightness and contrast to the interior portions of the gazebo. Yes, I altered the data as stated in the dictionary definition of the word manipulate. But, I didn't deceive because all of the data information was present in the jpeg file.

Remember, I said that photography was an art and a science. OK. The scientific fact is that film (or a digital disk) cannot record the same degree of shades and tones of which the human eye is capable. What I did was to adjust my jpeg files to bring them closer to what I had seen with my eyes. I altered the data, but, I did not deceive. Judge for your self.

Original unaltered file on the left. Photoshopped treatment on the right.

Here is another example where I used the same techniques described above to lighten the interior of the gazebo.

Using the photos above as an example, let me propose this scenario to you.

Your paper has sent you to the Presidential Retreat at Camp David, Maryland. A story of major importance is breaking. President George W. Bush is holding an extraordinary meeting with Osama bin Laden which could result in an end to the violence and war in the mid-east.

You arrive at the camp, along with hundreds of other journalists. It is late in the afternoon and because of the importance of the story, the White House Press Office is anxious to allow photos to be made. But, due to the stringent security measures necessary to protect the two men, the Secret Service will only allow the media to get no closer to the meeting place than 500 yards away. At least you will be able to get a photo of the cottage while the meeting is taking place.

Evening is falling as the photographers are herded into place. You are an experienced photographer and knowing that close access would be limited, you brought your 600mm lens and a uni-pod. You set up your equipment and make some exposures in the deepening murk. You "chimp" your digital camera to check the LCD screen on the back to make sure that your exposures are ok. After a couple of minutes, you are all herded out of the area and back to the press center. Everyone rushes to grab their lap-tops to download their images and get them on the satellite phone to transmit back to their office. But, wait a minute. As you look at the image enlarged on your computer screen, is it possible that you can barely make out two figures sitting in the dim light on the screened-in front porch? You look closely but you can't make out any recognizable features. It's probably a couple of security people keeping watch on the porch. But, you take Photoshop's lasso tool and...well, you know the drill. When you upped the contrast and a bit of brightness in Levels, sure enough, it's George and Osama!

What to do? What to do?

You have what will probably be a Pulitzer winner and certainly one of the most important news photos of the decade. But, you altered it. You manipulated it. You tweaked it.

Or did you?

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.

Please take a moment of your time and let me know what you would do.

Dick Kraus




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