Rishi Sankar: Ah Trini Travelogue

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The huge lie of Adobe Photoshop in travel photography …

Posted by Rishiray on April 2, 2010

As a budding travel writer/photographer, I get comments from readers such as ” I love your pictures”, “That picture was amazing” and so on. Once in a while, I will get an e-mail from someone saying something like this, “What a great picture, but if you fixed it in Photoshop, it would be so much better”.

Comments like this totally piss me off, because they feed into the travel marketing lie that we have been fed by National Geographic, Conde Nast and other “travel porn” magazines. I firmly believe that Photoshop has no place in travel photography for online or print publication, since it creates unnatural images and expectations that travelers will have of a location.

There is enough beauty on the road, to easily take a great picture without having to send it to some post-production process and enhance the picture with filters and over-cropping. For instance, there was the case of Stepan Rudik being disqualified from the World Press Photo contest for enhancing his picture with photoshop, which goes back to the ethics of  “photojournalism”. It’s unfortunate that he got disqualified, because his base image wasn’t terrible, but in competitions one needs every edge they can get – here is the original photo and altered image.



Some selected comments in the response thread, go to the very heart of the problem … are photographers capturing the moment or are they digital artists who are free to recompose the reality of what they see?

This is so much more than a question of aesthetics. The manipulation of images has no place in photojournalism and press photography. All photojournalists lose a little bit more credibility with our viewers (the very people we are trying to reach through our images) each time a photographer choses to manipulate an image like this. We have nothing if photojournalists and documentary photographers can’t be trusted to make images.

On the sanctity of photojournalism …

Jeff C

I don’t think anyone is arguing that photojournalism is pristine. However, it is the job of all journalists to keep their work as honest as possible. What the judges of photojournalism contests like this are doing by requiring the raw files (unedited) along with a contestant’s edited images is essentially what fact checkers do for writers, they try to catch lies and inconsistencies before they are presented as news for the public (or, unfortunately, expose it after it has been presented as news). Photojournalists operate under strict rules which necessarily differentiates their work from fine-artists. There is absolutely no place in photojournalism, nor should there be, for “cleaning up” an image of “distracting” elements in post so it is more pleasing to the eye. That sort of work is reserved for the art gallery. There seems to be a misunderstanding about the difference between the goals of journalism and the goals of art. Journalism ideally attempts to present the raw truth in a subject or situation, the aesthetics of the image are not necessarily a priority. These rules are not arbitrary and unfair, they are there for good reason. They are there to try to protect the public’s faith in honest journalism. The removal of the foot in this case is a tiny fiction, maybe, but a fiction nonetheless. The public doesn’t care if it is a big lie or a small lie, what they remember is that in something presented as documentary journalism there was a lie. Every instance like this one, whether big or small, hurts the profession of photojournalism. These things chisel away at the public’s trust that what they are looking at is what the photographer actually captured. Every photojournalist should be aware that there is a zero-tolerance stance on this kind of manipulation, there is no excuse for it.

Other viewpoints make the claim that cleaning up poor exposures isn’t cheating, hence Pam Hule’s opinion on her work and why it is “Photojournalism”. One could argue that I am not a “professional journalist” and I am not trying to sell my work, hence the reason I can sing from my “Ivory Tower”. To think this would be flawed logic, since digital manipulation is exactly that … something is either the way it was or it wasn’t … over-cropping a picture after the fact is a lie, enhancing the lighting after the fact is a lie. If I wanted to be a digital photo artist, I would just sample other people’s work and then modify it to my whims to create a new work – but it wouldn’t change the fact that as a traveler, I would be creating a false moment – which is the antithesis of travel.


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