Nov 7, 2005


Navigating the Slippery Slope of Digital Manipulation With Eyes Wide Shut

Source: The Digital Journalist
Written By Robert Trippett

The moment a photojournalist releases the shutter a sacred threshold is crossed. The instant after the shutter blinks open and closes, whether it is for a thousandth-of-a-second to freeze the impact of a baseball bat on a ball, or several hours to soak up the faint glow of a passing comet, the door also shuts for a photojournalist to manipulate that captured representation of reality. Any technical choices made before that moment – whether a choice of cameras, light, lenses, filters, exposure settings, or simply where to stand – are generally accepted as tools for achieving the photographer’s vision. Any digital post-processing beyond the accepted darkroom techniques of yore, such as burning or dodging, are usually considered a prohibited manipulation of that sacrosanct moment of exposure.

Adobe Photoshop is an ingenious, powerful, and insidiously seductive tool, offering total control of a photograph down to the subatomic level of individual pixels. We have all heard the career-ending horror stories about photojournalists who have used this dynamic tool to flagrantly alter their photographs. Others may just fudge the line a little as they attempt to enhance their images. Where does one look for guidance in delineating this murky line between vision and manipulation? The career of W. Eugene Smith casts a cautionary shadow on the subject. Smith, a darkroom wizard whose credo was “Let Truth Be the Prejudice,” had no compunction about sandwiching two photos together into one to create his famous Life magazine portrait of Albert Schweitzer. Smith’s undeniable passion for his subject left his creative impulses unchecked, and in this case he lost his bearings and strayed grossly over the line.

In light of a discussion about the post-processing of one of the entries in this year’s White House News Photographers’ Association “Eyes of History 2005″ contest, I thought it might be useful to pose a few simple questions:

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