Poll: Would you…or wouldn’t you?

I RECENTLY RECEIVED an email from a client asking me to offer my opinion on a few photos of the Pope. One of them was to be used as part of a package for the magazine.

Here are two photos from the batch I received.

My reaction to the top pic was: “I wouldn’t use the first photo of the Pope. Looks like he has a crane growing out of his nose!” I also didn’t like the fact that the photo was mostly of the Pope’s back.

On the second photo, I commented: “I retouched it a bit (see retouched photo, below) to take some of the distracting smudges out of the background. Don’t know if you have a policy on that. I think the retouched shot is a lot cleaner, but I leave the decision on its use up to the two of you.”

My problem with the unretouched photo was that it looked like the Pope had a growth or whatever emerging from the top of his arm. And, I reasoned, this was a feature photo, not a timely news photo that couldn’t be altered in Photoshop.

What are your thoughts? Retouch? Don’t retouch? Occasionally? Never?

Take the poll. Let us know what you think! I’ll report on your responses in an upcoming post.

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “Poll: Would you…or wouldn’t you?

  1. Huh? Good question. When I was in book design, I wouldn’t hesitate to “correct” a photo to provide space for a copy, fix a blemish, etc. to provide a clean image for a page. Heck, I even ordered a “wax job” touch-up on a flying ballerina who was wearing no tights. Great photo, worked great in my layout, no other photo would work. But she just needed a “shave.”
    In advertising design, there’s no mercy. If an element doesn’t work in a photo, take it out. Need some more background, put it in.
    But news photography, there’s a gray area. You’re recording history even if it is a kid’s hockey game. But do you remove a stray nose hair or a dark shadow that gives someone the look of a black eye? Perhaps. If it can be done without the obvious Photoshop repair work. The touch-up person has to be good and not an amateur. But if you’re recording the mayor being hauled out of a brothel and his fly is down, don’t fix the photo. Let the world see his boxers.

  2. Pingback: Cast your vote! | Ed Henninger’s Blog

  3. Greg Bilbrey

    AP has a very good policy, which my staff follows. Basically, what it says to me is, “Don’t do anything that you wouldn’t have done in a pre-digital darkroom:”

    
”AP pictures must always tell the truth. We do not alter or digitally manipulate the content of a photograph in any way. 

The content of a photograph must not be altered in Photoshop or by any other means. No element should be digitally added to or subtracted from any photograph. The faces or identities of individuals must not be obscured by Photoshop or any other editing tool. Only retouching or the use of the cloning tool to eliminate dust on camera sensors and scratches on scanned negatives or scanned prints are acceptable. 

Minor adjustments in Photoshop are acceptable. These include cropping, dodging and burning, conversion into grayscale, and normal toning and color adjustments that should be limited to those minimally necessary for clear and accurate reproduction (analogous to the burning and dodging previously used in darkroom processing of images) and that restore the authentic nature of the photograph. Changes in density, contrast, color and saturation levels that substantially alter the original scene are not acceptable. Backgrounds should not be digitally blurred or eliminated by burning down or by aggressive toning. The removal of “red eye” from photographs is not permissible.”

    That said… When I presented these standards to editors and photogs from small- to medium-sized community newspapers in Photoshop seminars I did last year, I was astonished at how many said they would essentially do anything they felt like they needed to do — taking a person out of one image and pasting him or her into another, altering clothing, backgrounds… Yech. I felt dirty leaving the session. I don’t know where they learned that kind of stuff was OK.

    • I, too, strongly disagree with the idea of moving a person (or an object) from one photo to another. That’s like putting words into the mouth of someone you’re quoting in a story. It’s flat-out, drop-dead wrong.

      But removal of red-eye? Burning down a background?

      I notice that AP allows for dodging and burning, changes that photographers were capable of creating decades ago in the darkroom. So, we’re limiting our choices to old technology. Which is to say, we are hitching a horse to a Ferrari and clip-clopping our way through the 21st Century. Seriously?

      No fixing of red-eye? Really?

    • “Changes in density, contrast, color and saturation levels that substantially alter the original scene are not acceptable.”
      Does that mean when I take a photo that does not create what looks like the original scene that I can still digitally correct the image? For instance, when I take a photo with the wrong white balance setting, I can correct it to what the original lighting looking like.
      “Backgrounds should not be digitally blurred or eliminated by burning down or by aggressive toning.”
      But I can blur a background with shallow depth of field by adjusting the aperture on my lens before I click the shutter. Can I not do that in Photoshop after the image is taken?

  4. Chris Wilbers

    The retouches above are unnecessary. No one is foolish enough to believe there’s a growth in the pope’s arm. If that light creates trouble with the layout, choose a different photo, or cut the photo out. And if you have to adjust a photo, make sure the photo is labelled as a photo illustration, regardless of how it’s being used (feature or news).

    • So, then, cutting a photo out—and leaving what is, in essence, a white background—is OK. But it’s not OK for me to do a black background…which is, in essence, what I did by cloning out the brownish mass above the Pope’s arm? I don’t get it: If it’s OK to do the one, why is it not OK to do the other?

      • Chris Wilbers

        Fair point. To me, it’s manipulating the reader if only a small detail of the background is altered, the same as removing a Coke can or anything else, because the reader will assume the photo was taken that way (and I know the staff photographers at my paper wouldn’t allow this). With a consistent background, I think the reader realizes (and assumes) a photo has been touched up. It’s probably a double standard, but that’s the way many have been trained. However, I still don’t think the light in the background is a problem and would like to see how it was used to see if altering it was justified.

        That said, the photo should be labelled as an illustration either way.

        • Good points here. But…do we really, really think that readers really, really care if we erase a Coke can from the background? Excuse me, but I think readers have more important things to deal with.

          • Greg Bilbrey

            Readers are more likely to be presented with issues like this — and more likely to be challenged to care or not care — if only because of the transparency created by online connectedness in general, and social networks in particular. Essentially, there’s nowhere to hide these days; there will always be someone who was on the scene who saw the Coke can and who wants to make something out of it. As we always tell readers: “If you don’t want it printed, don’t let it happen.”

  5. Greg Bilbrey

    I do think the red-eye prohibition is going a bit too far; we fix it.

    AP’s statement on burning (as I read it) prohibits “eliminating” a background by burning; my guideline is to do no burning that would (as AP says) “substantially alter the original scene.” I still burn to add some depth to an image and (as AP says) “restore the authentic nature” of the photo. If a subject really “pops” from a background the way I see it through the lens, and the way it appears IRL, but doesn’t pop in the recorded image, I think “restoring the authentic nature” of the photo can encompass restoring that sense of dimension that I saw on-scene.

    One interesting thing I’ve noticed about digital photography is how much of a scene’s detail can be restored by dodging and/or burning, more so than when we did it in the darkroom. While dodging in the darkroom often left an obviously “bleached” look, lightening without restoring detail, the same amount of digital dodging seems to restore detail more fully and naturally. More of the “information” seems to be captured in pixels than it did, generally speaking, in silver. Interesting.

    BTW, I also agree that cutouts and the like are permissible (though rarely wise) if labeled as “illustration.” But it wouldn’t hurt to explain that to readers once in a while, in a column.

  6. So is AP saying that it is OK for me to add unnatural light to a scene with my flash to make a useable image, but it’s not OK to remove the unnatural redeye that my artificial light creates?

  7. Pingback: Poll results: Retouching photos | Ed Henninger’s Blog

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