World Press Photo of the Year Was Manipulated — Does it Matter Anymore?

The World Press Photo is an Inter­na­tional non profit orga­ni­za­tion that runs a pres­ti­gious con­test that has been around since 1955. Every year they choose a win­ning pho­to­jour­nal­is­tic image from among thou­sands of entries from dif­fer­ent cat­e­gories and name a sin­gle image as World Press Photo of the Year.  Many of the past win­ning images are iconic photographs.

This year, the win­ning image called Gaza Bur­ial by Paul Hansen has under­gone a lot of con­tro­versy. Some are say­ing that the 2013 World Press photo of the year image is fake, that it is a com­pos­ite image and should be dis­qual­i­fied. Oth­ers are say­ing that the image is not a com­pos­ite image but is very manip­u­lated. Another ver­sion of the same image has been dis­cov­ered on Flickr which is only adding to this controversy.

World Press Photo denies that the image is a com­pos­ite but agrees that it was retouched with respect to both global and local color and tone.

Wel­come to the new pho­to­graphic world where real­ity is sub­jec­tively mas­saged by the pho­tog­ra­pher, even in pho­to­jour­nal­ism. If you think that this should not be the case, in the­ory I’ll tell you that I agree with you.

I’ll also tell you that cling­ing to these purist notions gets you nowhere and that the vast major­ity of qual­ity pho­tographs that I see today, in any and all pho­tog­ra­phy gen­res have been manip­u­lated in some way.

Even clas­sic pho­to­jour­nal­is­tic images have been manip­u­lated in the past. Tokomo Uemura in her Bath from the Min­i­mata series by Eugene Smith was bleached for exam­ple to make the whites whiter. But that was a black and white pho­to­graph. The aver­age per­son does not know how skin tones should ren­der in black and white so these images were more sub­tle in their manip­u­la­tion. Way eas­ier to spot unnat­ural look­ing colours in colour photojournalism.

Pho­tog­ra­phers them­selves are on the fence about what level of manip­u­la­tion they feel is accept­able in Pho­to­jour­nal­ism. Even for World Press Photo the line is grey. Accord­ing to one of the con­test rules which I could NOT find on their site (but is repeated on many other web­sites),  “con­tent of the image must not be altered. Only retouch­ing which con­forms to the cur­rently accepted stan­dards in the indus­try is allowed”.

And THAT my fel­low photo lovers is the prob­lem. “Accepted Indus­try stan­dards?” Are they for real?  There AREN’T any stan­dards any­more. They vary from news agency to news agency. Remem­ber manip­u­lated O.J. Simp­son pho­tos…That was nearly 20 years ago and it’s obvi­ously still going on daily.

In this case, the answer is very very very sim­ple. Clearly write out the stan­dards you expect for your par­tic­u­lar contest!!!!

Here are the two images in ques­tion. It’s likely obvi­ous to any­one that has been shoot­ing for a while that both of these images were mas­saged in pho­to­shop. I do not think the image is a com­pos­ite. But the colours of the faces in par­tic­u­lar do not look nat­ural. The light­ing does not look nat­ural. It has been mas­saged to draw atten­tion from one ele­ment in the image to another ele­ment. Doing this actively guides the viewer’s eye.

I do this type of active guid­ing all the time (lev­el­ling the image, selec­tive dodg­ing and burn­ing etc. ) in 99% of the images I make. I used to do it in the dark­room. It was part of my pho­tog­ra­phy edu­ca­tion — it was con­sid­ered an essen­tial part of cre­ative pho­tog­ra­phy. But I am not a photojournalist.

So what do you think? Was this photo (s) “too” manipulated?

Gaza City Burial by Paul Hansen - Nov 2012 from

Gaza City Bur­ial by Paul Hansen — Nov 2012 from


Gaza City Burial by Paul Hansen - Feb. 2013 from

Gaza City Bur­ial by Paul Hansen — Feb. 2013 from


Restrictions on Aperture — I Felt Restricted

Ten days or so ago I posted on Face­book that it was going to be an f/2.8 day (using large aper­tures) and a strange thing hap­pened —  it was quite unex­pected actu­ally. What hap­pened was that I found myself hand­cuffed — unable to shoot. This seemed strange to me because I’ve put restric­tions on myself for fun a few times in the past but never an aper­ture restric­tion. In the past it was shoot­ing with a spe­cific focal length or delib­er­ately using an extra-high ISO or shoot­ing with a spe­cific theme in mind.

But this aper­ture restric­tion was dif­fer­ent for me and in ret­ro­spect I can see why. It depends on what play­ground you hang out in. If you are mainly a por­trait per­son, you shoot cre­ative por­traits wide open; that’s cool and fun…but it’s eas­ier because there is already some guid­ance with regard to sub­ject mat­ter. But when you go out ‘just to shoot’ and you’ll shoot just about any­thing that’s visu­ally inter­est­ing, then it gets harder.

For some crazy rea­son I found myself search­ing for scenes that I felt were wor­thy of what f/2.8 can do bokeh wise. I was plac­ing this sin­gle aspect of the lens above all else and it was taint­ing my expe­ri­ence of look­ing for scenes to shoot. It was slow­ing me down and suck­ing from the joy of pho­tog­ra­phy for pure pleasure.

So for this rea­son — I didn’t like this par­tic­u­lar aper­ture restric­tion exer­cise even though I DO like the con­cept of restric­tion exer­cises in gen­eral. Maybe it’s also because I feel like I should have been able to over­come the restric­tion more eas­ily. Truth is, I really didn’t feel like I had any­thing of value on day 1. Then life gets busy and so I took a few days and waited more patiently for scenes where a large aper­ture seemed more appro­pri­ate. Here are a few that I liked. These were all taken near f/2.8 (I say near because I used a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent lenses whose largest aper­tures were near f/2.8).

Vorsky - ISO 200 f/1.8 1/100

Vorsky — ISO 200, f/1.8, 1/100

Beer Kitteh - ISO 3200 f/2.5 1/80

Belle Gueule — Beer Kit­teh — ISO 3200, f/2.5, 1/80

Not Recommended - ISO 200 f/2.8 0.3

Not Rec­om­mended — ISO 200, f/2.8, 0.3

Light Trip - Palais Des Congres - Montreal - ISO 200 f/1.8 1/2500

Light Trip — Palais Des Con­gres — Mon­treal — ISO 200, f/1.8, 1/2500

Past Reflections - ISO 200 F/1.8 1/200

Past Reflec­tions — ISO 200, F/1.8, 1/200