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4-2. Guidance for Journalists

Photojournalists in the civilian community, as well as the military services have established guidelines to lead them through the ethical decision-making process.

For the armed forces, DoD Directive 5040.5, August 29, 1995, subject: Alteration of Official DOD Imagery, provides official policy and guidance.   One of the most important aspects of image handling, and crucial to implementation of the directive, is understanding the difference between enhancement and manipulation.


Enhancement vs. Manipulation

Enhancement. To make greater, (more attractive), "intensify," i.e., density, contrast, etc.  Repairing mechanical defects (dust, scratches, etc.) or optical defects ("red-eye," etc.), caused by the photographic process is authorized and considered enhancement.  Enhancement does not alter the content of the photograph.

Manipulation. To change by artful or unfair means to serve one’s own purpose.  Electronic images are made up of pixels, which can be rearranged, changed, duplicated or eliminated.  We can alter an image in almost any way imaginable: retouching, adding or deleting visual elements, creating montages and creating entire imaginary scenes.

Pixels, unlike traditional photographic materials, can be radically altered with no evidence (to most observers) of alteration.  Once manipulated, photographs lose their "reality" and become no more informative than an advertisement or illustration.


Potential Areas of Abuse

Newspapers and magazines wishing to set ethical standards for their publications need to look at areas where abuse can occur and then decide the appropriate response for their circumstances.

  • Contrast Control.  A traditionally accepted darkroom technique, which is acceptable when done electronically unless, used to alter reality.  (The O. J. Simpson photograph on the cover of Time magazine, which altered his skin tone.
  • Dodge and Burn.   Basic darkroom skills normally used to compensate for the under- or over-exposure of a portion of a photograph.  These only become a problem when they change the meaning of the photo or misrepresent reality.
  • Flopping.   (To facilitate page layout)  We have always been able to put a negative in the enlarger backwards but it was considered unethical to do this in the darkroom and it will continue to be unethical when done electronically.  One indicator of flopping is the reversal of lettering on signs or name tags.
  • Cut and Paste or Electronic Cloning.  To move or add an element to change the nature of a picture is unethical.  The cloning tool may be used to remove dust spots, scratches or other mechanical imperfections caused by the photographic process.
  • Color Correction.  Considered correct procedure in all color printing.  It’s unethical to change one color, or on part of the picture by itself.

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