Photo Editing the News

, Photo Editing the News, startachim blog

With the advent of digital photography, news has become closer and more immediate.  A combat photographer embedded with troops in Iraq can shoot a hundred pictures while out with the soldiers, and have them on his editor’s server minutes after he gets back, thanks to the magic of the Internet.

However, with digital photography comes digital photo editing, and the possibility of a photo that doesn’t reflect the truth.

One technique for faking news photos is cloning.  This could be used in humourous ways, like putting Oprah Winfrey’s head on Ann Margaret’s body, as done by TV Guide in 1989.  Several magazines have used this trick to make a point, and they generally document it in the credits (as in, image by one person, and head shot by another).

Cloning is also used to create photo montages–which can give the impression of things that didn’t really happen.  New York Newsday merged images of Tanya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan into one shot that appeared to show them skating together.  Again, the magazine admitted to it, by calling it a “composite image.”

Montages can be deceptive, though.  Los Angeles Times veteran photographer Brian Walski used montage techniques to combine two different photos, making it look like a soldier in Iraq was threatening civilians.  Walski was fired for “improving” on his picture.

Even a simple adjustment in brightness can change the meaning of a photo.  Both Time and Newsweek put OJ Simpson’s mug shot on their covers, but Time darkened the picture.  This made Simpson appear much more threatening on the cover of Time than Newsweek, since Newsweek didn’t adjust the image.  Similarly, USA Today published a poorly edited picture of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.  The eyes of the picture had been sharpened or brightened far past the proper level, and the result gave her a feindish glare.

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