World Press Photo Eliminates 20 Percent of Images for Manipulation

World Press Photo Eliminates 20 Percent of Images for Manipulation

Along with the announcement of the World Press Photo winners, TIME reported that 20 percent of the images that reached the second-to-last round of judging were disqualified for “excessive post-processing.” Particularly problematic was the sports category. Last year, James Estrin reported in the LENS blog that 8 percent of the finalists’ images were disqualified for manipulation.

Stepan Rudik's 2010 3rd Place winning entry was disqualified for excessive burning that eliminated a foot in the background.

Stepan Rudik’s 2010 3rd Place winning entry was disqualified for excessive burning that eliminated a foot in the background.

World Press Photo managing director Lars Boering told TIME, “It seems some photographers can’t resist the temptation to aesthetically enhance their images during post-processing either by removing small details to ‘clean up’ an image, or sometimes by excessive toning that constitutes a material change to the image. Both types of retouching clearly compromise the integrity of the image.”

World Press Photo has been the leader in addressing photo manipulation with frank discussion of the issue and a requirement for winners to submit RAW files dating back to 2010. In 2013 following controversy over Paul Hansen’s winning image, WPP hired forensic experts to make an assessment on the levels of processing. In 2014, they commissioned a report entitled “The Integrity of the Image” written by David Campbell. Among the findings was a general agreement that “excessive” processing was unacceptable in news imagery, but the industry has yet to more succinctly define what acceptable and excessive really mean. Campbell also argues that continuing to use darkroom analogies for digital photography is outmoded, and I agree.

World Press Photo of the Year 2013. Photo by Paul Hansen.

World Press Photo of the Year 2013. Photo by Paul Hansen.

Given that the detection of manipulation in 2014 and 2015 occurred in different rounds, it’s impossible to tell whether there has been an aggregate increase, but a few key issues remain:

  • Did the jury subconsciously respond positively towards the manipulation – or more specifically, would the same images have made the cut without the manipulation?
  • How can WPP provide visual guidance for acceptable manipulation? It would certainly be controversial, but the eliminated photographers should consider allowing WPP to publish their unprocessed/processed images as an educational contribution to the industry. This is the only way to have a substantive discussion of the issue with a governing body, photo editors and photographers participating.
  • “Acceptable” processing is a moving target, but if World Press Photo wants to become a think tank of photography as Boering has stated, then it needs to do more than simply report on a percentage of disqualified images. It ought to help the industry move closer to a detailed description so that the disqualifications are more than an opaque decision where the jury is “the ultimate arbiter of these standards.”

The on-going discussion of manipulation shouldn’t detract from the wonderful work that deservedly won awards, but given that 1 in 5 images was disqualified, it’s clear that there is a wide divide on what is acceptable. We hope World Press Photo continues to lead the way on this issue.

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This article was written by

Allen Murabayashi is the Chairman and co-founder of PhotoShelter.

There are 12 comments for this article
  1. Pingback: World Press Photo Eliminates 20 Percent of Images for Manipulation | PhotoShelter Blog | The Click
  2. Enthusiast at 3:08 am

    As soon as you press the shutter the photo the image is manipulated by Sony, fuji, etc.’s digital algorythyms. The conversation is as absurd and outdated just like whether music file sharing should be legal. Go back to the 20th century. Would HCB, Gene Smith, or Paul Strand been disqualified for their excessive post work? What about Koudelka? One could go on and on. Good luck World Press. Photo journalism is dying and youre in the corner debating this ridiculous nonsense that was never a conversation to begin with.

  3. k.c. at 9:25 pm

    Did I miss it, or was there absolutely no explanation of how the images were reviewed for ‘enhancement’? Was this done one-by-one analytically by a person, by a machine, or by ‘gut’?

  4. Pingback: World Press Photo Sets The Bar For Allowed Image Adjustments | A Photo Editor
  5. David Campbell at 8:27 am

    As Secretary to the General Jury, I have laid out the WPPh rules and criteria here: https://storify.com/davidc7/what-are-world-press-photos-rules-and-standards-on The key point to make is that disqualification occurs for manipulation, the addition or subtraction of material content, not toning or even an aesthetic judgement of “excessive processing.” Only when sections of an image are made opaque black or white, such that material content in the image is obscured, is there an issue of manipulation vis-a-vis processing. A careful reading of the Storify will make this very clear.

  6. Stephen Walter at 4:19 pm

    This is totally absurd! Even Ansel Adams manipulated his photos with dodge and burn! This is typical of elitist snobs who think they know better than everyone else. Sickening …

    • Allen Murabayashi Author at 6:22 pm

      Ansel Adams wasn’t a photojournalist. That’s a big distinction between how the images are made and how the public perceives them.

      • J at 12:29 pm

        The likes of Selgado and W. Eugene Smith were/are considered preeminent “photojournalists” and clearly have very elaborate processing techniques that skirt the lines of “manipulation” with respect to burn/dodge/toning use in the darkroom, and no one questions their credibility. I also think Kevin Bennett is missing the real crux of the discussion in where we are really talking about a distinction between “photojournalism” and “social documentary” rather than Fine Art. Many of the works such as Selgado and Smith are lumped into social doc, but skirt the very grey line of photojournalism in certain efforts. So the real question is where is this “fine and very discernible line” and how do you judge it? If we’re talking about “removing/adding elements” perhaps very easy.. (not to speak of removing something from the original image via cropping which is also a very grey subject for some and black/white for others) but when we make statements such as “or sometimes by excessive toning that constitutes a material change to the image. Both types of retouching clearly compromise the integrity of the image” I think you put both judges and photographers in a very challenging situation both journalistically and artistically; Because to say that journalists should include artistic interpretation in their work is foolish. The minute you lift the lens and frame your subject you have composed the image and have placed your own cultural/ethnic/experience/artistic-based interpretation on what you see regardless of how “neutral” you’d hope you are being. Is using a wide angle lens to stretch the frame artistic interpretation, or telephoto to compress a starving child against a looming buzzard representative of the actual scene? Cmon’ folks we’re making images not taking them right?

    • Lily at 11:08 am

      The rules for photojournalism images have been established by major world photographic Associations, Academies, Press Ass., etc. They are very precise and clear. So, it is not an “elitist snobs” matter. Photojournalism images are considered as documents and if your image is ruined by the peace of garbage or unwanted street light or something else, then, don’t submit it for the competition.
      You can find some of the rules at : PSA and FIAP websites

  7. Kevin Bennett at 7:19 pm

    These images are supposed to be photo journalism. As such, journalism, should accurately portray/report what was there and not be an artistic interpretation. Accordingly, there should be a fine and very distinct discernible line for excess manipulation. With that thought in mind, I believe that the judges correctly disqualified images. Without that occurring; how could a determination be made that this manipulation is acceptable, but that manipulation is not? Journalism standards must be high, tight and not forgiving. Otherwise it could be acceptable to remove a cigarette butt, but not a gun. And, I would argue that, depending on the image, either could be equally offensive to remove. Therefore, in journalism, image manipulation rules are critical to the integrity of the image, what it portrays and the story. Much of the above discussion seems to look at journalism and fine art to be synonymous. They are not. Journalistic images must remain pure to accurately/honestly depict the situation; while a fine art image plays by a completely different set of rules.

  8. Pingback: world press photo eliminates 20 percent of images for manipulation | DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY I

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