Photojournalism: What Is Too Much Post-Processing?

Posted on 4/3/2015 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

A photojournalist’s goal should be to supply the publications they work for with the best possible image that accurately reflects what they saw. If readers are to trust newspapers and magazines they must know that the images and information provided are an accurate representation of what really happened.

But what is too much post-processing? For that matter when we were working with B&W film what was too much dogging and burning in the darkroom before a print was produced?

What is a material addition or subtraction to the content of an original digital capture? Was the digital capture altered by the image creator in the placement of a light or by the choice of angle used to take the picture? And, if so, to what degree does that alter the viewer perception?

It is all in the eye or the beholder.

At the World Press Photo of the Year 2014 competition recently, 22% of the final 92 stories and single images that were being considered for photo of the year were disqualified for alterations that broke the contests post-processing rules. (The finalists were asked to send the unprocessed files for comparison and analysis during the penultimate round of the judging.)

The contest’s Managing Director Lars Boering said, “This year’s jury was very disappointed to discover how careless some photographers had been in post-processing their files for the contest. When this meant a material addition or subtraction in the content of the image, it lead to the images being rejected from the contest.”

What Do Editors Want?

When it comes stock photography, it seems the rules are very different. Recently, in the Albany, New York Times Union Thomas Palmer, who is charged with “exposing contextual misuse in photojournalism,” published a story entitled “Renegade misuse of stock photo by N.Y. Daily News creates classroom from Hell.”

In this story Palmer points out that the New York Daily News used the same photo of a classroom to illustrate six different stories. With caption alterations the newspaper’s online readers were given the misleading belief that this classroom was ground zero for several newsmaking events.

In fact, the picture was supplied by iStock photo and taken by Gilles Glod, an ESL teacher, who photographed the empty classroom in Luxembourg.

Palmer also found the same photo used to illustrate education stories produced by other publications including Yahoo! News, WIBC in Indianapolis, WGRZ in Buffalo and The photo is often used without the iStock credit or any indication that it is a stock photo.

Palmer’s story is worth reading to get a little sense of how much misinformation is being foisted on the public. If editors are only looking for beautiful, attention grabbing illustrations, not accuracy, why should photojournalists be held to a higher standard?

Copyright © 2015 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


Be the first to comment below.

Post Comment

Please log in or create an account to post comments.

Stay Connected

Sign up to receive email notification when new stories are posted.

Follow Us

Free Stuff

Stock Photo Pricing: The Future
In the last two years I have written a lot about stock photo pricing and its downward slide. If you have time over the holidays you may want to review some of these stories as you plan your strategy ...
Read More
Future Of Stock Photography
If you’re a photographer that counts on the licensing of stock images to provide a portion of your annual income the following are a few stories you should read. In the past decade stock photography ...
Read More
Blockchain Stories
The opening session at this year’s CEPIC Congress in Berlin on May 30, 2018 is entitled “Can Blockchain be applied to the Photo Industry?” For those who would like to know more about the existing blo...
Read More
2017 Stories Worth Reviewing
The following are links to some 2017 and early 2018 stories that might be worth reviewing as we move into the new year.
Read More
Stories Related To Stock Photo Pricing
The following are links to stories that deal with stock photo pricing trends. Probably the biggest problem the industry has faced in recent years has been the steady decline in prices for the use of ...
Read More
Stock Photo Prices: The Future
This story is FREE. Feel free to pass it along to anyone interested in licensing their work as stock photography. On October 23rd at the DMLA 2017 Conference in New York there will be a panel discuss...
Read More
Important Stock Photo Industry Issues
Here are links to recent stories that deal with three major issues for the stock photo industry – Revenue Growth Potential, Setting Bottom Line On Pricing and Future Production Sources.
Read More
Recent Stories – Summer 2016
If you’ve been shooting all summer and haven’t had time to keep up with your reading here are links to a few stories you might want to check out as we move into the fall. To begin, be sure to complet...
Read More
Corbis Acquisition by VCG/Getty Images
This story provides links to several stories that relate to the Visual China Group (VCG) acquisition of Corbis and the role Getty Images has been assigned in the transfer of Corbis assets to the Gett...
Read More
Finding The Right Image
Many think search will be solved with better Metadata. While metadata is important, there are limits to how far it can take the customer toward finding the right piece of content. This story provides...
Read More

More from Free Stuff