What you see is what you get: A guide to editing photos

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

They say a picture tells a thousand words. Or is it a million? I always forget.

No matter what the number is, in journalism, a photo is every bit as important as its companion article. 

Just as it's important to write with professionalsim and integrity, it's equally important to  publish photos abiding by similar principles.  

With great power comes great responsibility. For instance, doctoring a photo to make someone look unfavorable is a photojournalism faux-pas. Here's a classic example:

Time Magazine purposely darkened a photo of OJ Simpson for their cover shot. Coincidentaly (or, maybe not), Newsweek published the same cover photo, but sans any noticable alterations.

Here's some more:

No indication of any post-processing doctoring here. That's because all the fakery happens in the actual concept of the photo. The caption read "Georgians stand next to the body of their son in the town of Gori." The body has clearly been moved through the leafs and dirt. It's hard to believe that any mother would allow that to happen, just for the sake of a photograph. Fake.

Here's a gem from Soviet Russia. Enemies to Mother Russia were not to be tolerated. Anyone not toeing the company line, so to speak, tended to lose their head. To add insult to injury, dissenters also usually lost their place in history. Take Leon Trotsky for example. Now you see him. Now you don't.

Since some of us may one day become editors of papers or online publications, it's important to know the ins and outs of photo editing. So, without any further ado, here is your guide.

1. If you have to think about it, then just don't do it
I use this line for everything, but nonetheless, it holds true. Your first judgement is usually your sharpest. If you think a photo might upset someone, then maybe don't go with it. Although film doesn't lie, it also doesn't tell the big picture. That's what the article is for. As long as the photo is balanced and doesn't portray an honest person or situation in an unfavorable light, you'll have no complaints.   

2. Photoshop is great, but use in moderation
If Rick James were still alive, you might hear him mutter, "Photoshops a helluva drug." Yes, it can work wonders and improve your photos. But don't go overboard with it, and use it with integrity. Making someone look unflattering, or making someone look to good to be true, isn't your role. Your duty is to produce photos in a natural and honest way.  

3. Ask permission
As you'd cite a writer for using their written work, the same goes for photography. Websites such as Flickr and PhotoBucket make it easy to lift photos to use them for articles. But someone did go to the trouble to take the photo in the first place. And if it's a good photo, it was probably taken with an expensive camera with an equally skilled photographer behind the lens. Professional photographers don't take photos for the hell of it. They do it to get paid. If you'd like to use someone's photo for an artcile, just ask. The worse that can happen is that they say no. In that case, take it anyway. Kidding. 


Here's a photo that I found on the Winnipeg Free Press website Sunday morning. There was a fatal car crash on Dugald Road, leaving two people dead. A photographer was on scene, and happened to capture a photo of two men being restrained by Winnipeg Police Cadets. 

According to the article, the men were trying to get to their father, who died in the wreck.

If you're the editor of the Winnipeg Free Press, do you publish this photo? Why or why not?


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