Ethics question in sports photojournalism


No longer a newbie, moving up!
Jan 22, 2012
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South Australia
Can others edit my Photos
Photos NOT OK to edit
I would like people's opinions on the ethics of photomanipulation for sports photos destined to be printed in a newspaper.
Are there guidelines about what is permissable and what is not?
Some scenarios:
#1 - a player's arm/leg intrudes in the background and is not close or involved with the action. Would it be OK to clone out that arm/leg for a cleaner image?
#2 - you have a great action photo but the ball is a bit too far from the player for it to be included in the final newspaper cut (as they tend to crop tight). As a result, if the photo was to be used with a tight crop, the ball would be cropped out and the image has less impact. Is it OK to move the ball closer to the players so that it will be seen in the final crop?

I understand that photojournalists are limited ethically and morally as to how they portray their images.
Do sports photographers for magazines/newspapers have limitations on what they can/can't do with an image ... and if their are restrictions, what are they?

Curious to know.
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#1. NO - but many bend this rule. Ethics = no, reality = maybe. There will always be that one prerson who WILL call you out.
#2. NO. no no no no. Photojournalism is REALISM. you are selling what really happened.

Ethically - you may clean up image for ISO, clarity, color, but never content. EVER.

Me: when I wrote my column, and about town, I am very open that I bend the rules for the following: nasal matter and TEMPORARY blemishes such as acne and um, hickies (sp). Hickies as a courtesy to grandmothers everywhere, and to their future children. :)

My two cents.

..second part of the question - depends on the quality of the paper. Think.. national geographic v national enquirer.

I will not freelance/contract or allow my work to be shown in papers that allow the public to be deceived. THAT SAID - I am very, very kind. I have thrown away potentially award winning shots to spare a kid humiliation.

to me, that's ethics.

Now I"m curious - why do you ask? These are good questions to have.

Thanks for that.
Why? I was looking at a weblink the other day about truth in photographs and how some famous photos have been doctored in history (eg head of Abraham Lincoln was put on the body of another in a staged setup, Stalin had a junior officer removed from an image he was in because he had fallen out of favour).
I remembered reading about the ethics in photojournalism with regards to war reporting, riots and significant events and I have seen limitations on manipulation for photojournalism photo competitions.
It got me thinking about the sports photos I see in the newspapers ... do they operate under the same code of conduct or are they allowed some more latitude, and if so what IS acceptable manipulation.

Here is one link:
And another:

I generally clone/clean up kids acne - my rationale is that it is transient/temporary, it often is embarrassing to them and doesn't need to represent them for ever more.

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....tired.. 4:45 am here, gotta either work or sleep :)

...I remember the first one.. that was a major scandal.. I was still in school at that time, it was a HUGE scandal on the East Coast of the US, enough that our history teachers at our school lectured us for days about ethics, duping the public, etc. No idea whatever actually happened to that photog, but remember hearing that his/her career was destroyed (now I wonder...?)

..was in Europe and the South US when that OJ Simpson came out.. again.. scandal... how racist it was to make him more sinister by making him more "negro" as they said even 20 short years ago... ..again.. recall that the person's credibility was destroyed... (so.. now again.. I wonder.. if these really were ruined, or not?)

13 and 12 weren't news stories... they were user submitted photos that had news stories surrounding them - but not photojournalism.

my word.... I still can't look at that second one without feeling sick inside... I was there the day of the first, failed attacks in Dec. 1992 (bomb in basement.)

no clue about the mid-photos..

the Lincoln one shown here is NOT the iconic version of the U.S. President.... This one was a very famous prank at that time - a political satire, and well wrought, too.

The others, either don't know anything or nothing to say... maybe lesson is that people have been trying to pull fast ones since the snake deceived Eve.. but it upsets people when they are duped.

the Kent one.. the way I learned it; there was so much concern that the readers would think that the sceaming was pain from the girl being impaled that they made the call to delete it. right or wrong. Today, I would leave the post in and clarify in the fat cap. What would you do?

didn't look at second one - better get something accomplished.

interesting stuff, thanks for sharing
You can adjust contrast, light/dark, spot out any dust that may be on the sensor, straighten the horizons, colour adjustments and crop. Things can't be removed or added. This is where getting it right in the camera is important. There have been photographers that have lost their jobs over changes to photos that have ended up in the papers. There is a case where a photographer added a puck to a hockey shot with a goalie to give it more impact, problem was that the real puck was also in the frame, photographer failed to see it hidden in the goalies pads.
I was under the impression that most editing calls were made by the editor rather than by the photographer when it came to newspaper work. The editor got the shot right from the camera (not always in RAW either, oft JPEG mode is used so that shots can be taken and transferred fast - esp in sports where shots are needed almost as soon as they are taken at the matches).

Thus the photographer isn't part of the final editing stages - the page designer/editor/technician in the newspaper offices might make small alterations to the original and might crop to fit the page, but they probably have a strict code when it comes to methods like cloning - even a minor cone that changes nothing but simply cleans things up might be frowned upon and a discouraged practice.

You'll also have to remember that there are rules and "rules" - some are going to follow them without question - others will be a little more bold. The newspaper itself also matters - certain ones will be more "honest" than others.
Honestly? the newspapers print anything. Crap or not. Usually they seem to select the crappiest of the crap lately.
I would also think that this is something that falls into the editor's wheel house. It's up to them, rather than the photographer (I would think).

I remember back in grade school, a field near the school flooded and froze. My buddy was walking across it, playing around like a typical kid. A photojournalist stopped by and took a few photos, got his name etc. The photo that ran in the paper had a colorful sunset in the background...which certainly wasn't there when the photo was taken. That's what really opened my eyes as to what you see in the paper/media.
...There are surely newspapers out there internationally and w/ini USA that this happens with.. but the majority of editors are (stereoscopically) trained to edit print, not photos, and lack the skills to manipulate photoshop/similar program as well as a photographer stereotypically is. Personally, I'd never give control of my work to an editor in that fashion.... just like i'd never put in one of my articles without editor reviewing it to catch any mistakes and for style. The ONLY time I've ever handed over my card wired w/o editing myself for clarity, levelness, was on extreme deadlines and the photo could be used SOOC.
As the chief photojournailst for a daily who has to teach people about ethics pretty regularly, there is absolutely NO time in which it is ok to alter a journalistic photo in sucj a way that changes the reality of that moment. A couple of years ago the winner of the World Press Photo sports photo essay category had his award revoked because the edited a tiny foot from the background of an image because it showed between the fingers of the subject.

Just a couple weeks ago a long time, award winning SacBee photog lost his job because of photo manipulation. It is COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE. The only time it is accepted is for photo illustrations and that must be clearly stated.
Question f or the group - am I really going to get nitpicked via private message fora typo made during an all-nighter? I mean, really? I have hand in a bandage, dude, back off. :)

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