Sunday, June 28, 2009

Semper Fi

Photoshop is not a verb. It is a noun. It is the means to an end, not the end itself. -Vincent Versace

Semper Fi -- "Always Faithful" -- that's the motto of the United States Marine Corps. Newsphotographers should adopt it too.

The monitor and mouse have replaced the easel and enlarger in today's technology dominated world leading to serious ethical questions involving image processing. As journalists we believe the guiding principle of our profession is accuracy; therefore, we believe it is wrong to alter the content of a photograph in any way that deceives the public -- this excerpt from the National Press Photographers Association's (NPPA) Digital Manipulation Code of Ethics outlines the boundaries all professionals should follow. Considering two recent incidents, it's obvious this code is still being ignored.

During a tour of Portland's KGW Channel 8 studios while covering the Oregon Department of Transportation's (ODOT) Work Zone Awareness Month event, I noticed my image alongside weatherman Dave Salesky's in a small TV monitor as we stood against a chroma key background with the weather map so I snapped a quick shot. Amazingly, very few believed the photo was real -- it had to be a composite most everyone thought! The use of Photoshop in the news industry has become so pervasive now that the public assumes most images have been digitally altered or at the very least they challenge the credibility of anything slightly unusual that they might see. But the controversy runs much deeper than that.

Even routine adjustments like color correction can offer the opportunity for abuse. "The colors almost look like they have been sprayed onto the pictures," remarked Peter Dejong after he and the panel of judges for the Danish version of the NPPA's Pictures of the Year Competition disqualified Klavs Bo Christensen's photos from Haiti for image manipulation that they deemed went too far. A rule change allows judges to request a photographer's RAW files if there's any doubt about the images, and a side-by-side comparison of the pictures reportedly invoked the judge's anger. Christensen disagreed with the decision. "In my opinion, a RAW file . . . has nothing to do with reality and I do not think you can judge the finished images and the use of Photoshop by looking at the RAW file," he said. (Note: The contest entry is the top photo, the RAW file is the bottom photo).

Public contempt and distrust -- just a few of the consequences unethical digital manipulation bring. So how do newsphotographers help change that? Semper Fi. By being faithful to the subject, the moment, the content, and the aesthetics . . . always.

There are 3 key things for good photography: the camera, lighting, and . . . Photoshop. - Tyra Banks