Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Big Trouble for Image Doctoring

Photo District News reports that Getty Images dropped a freelance photographer for digitally altering a golf photo, even though the transgressing photo was apparently transmitted by mistake.

Dallas Morning News photo editor Guy Reynolds originally alerted Getty to the fact that he had received two near-identical images of golfer Matt Bettencourt, both by photographer Marc Feldman. One showed his caddy over his shoulder (above), but in the other the caddy is replaced by trees (below).

(Read Reynolds' account here.)

Getty immediately issued a "kill" command to subscribers, and in adherance to a zero-tolerance policy on photo manipulation, terminated its relationship with Feldman.

Feldman called Reynolds to explain:

He said he was in the press tent processing the images when Bettencourt and his caddie stopped by to see some of the pictures. Feldman said the caddie, looking at the image in question, said it would be better if he wasn't in it. "So I showed them how easy I could do that. I thought I just saved it to the desktop, not to the send folder," he said. "I certainly did not mean to send both of them to Getty."

"There was absolutely no intent to pass this off as a real image. Only a moron would have sent both," he said. "And I would've done it a lot better, too."

The fact that he sent both the original and the retouched photo is pretty solid evidence that he wasn't trying to pull a fast one. ...

Feldman, 61, certainly isn't the only photographer to make a gaffe and pay the price for it.

"I understand Getty has a reputation to uphold. I certainly don't blame them for letting me go," he said. "I know the ethical standards for editorial clients. I just wish my long relationship with them didn't have to end like this....I've been doing this for 26 years," he said. "Sometimes you make a mistake and it's fatal. I made a fatal mistake."
Another digitally doctored photo is causing a stir, but because it wasn't committed by a journalism institution, the ethical breach isn't as cut-and-dried. However, because it was committed by BP, it has cast a shadow over the beleaguered oil company's claims of communications "transparency."

The snafu was caught by America Blog, and eventually came to the attention of the Washington Post.

The offending photo, of employees gathered in BP's Houston crisis room, is prominently displayed on the company's Website. Essentially, someone did a really lousy job of copying/pasting three underwater images onto a wall display. The blogger took BP to task for the sloppiness of its subterfuge as much as it did for the deceit itself.

BP blamed the photographer, though it's unclear whether the photographer was working at the company's behest, as is usually the case with corporate images. You can follow the brouhaha, in infinite detail, here.

As the Washington Post concluded: "Apparently BP is no more adept at doctoring photos than it is at plugging deep-sea oil leaks."

What is perhaps most startling about both the golf and BP incidents is that the online commenters are split over whether doctoring photos this way is acceptable practice -- even in journalism. Some cite the "slippery slope" warning, other vehemently claim it's no big deal in the grand scheme of things.

Given the technological capabilities of programs like Photoshop, many people apparently presume photos are somehow tidied up before publication anyway. Hardcore ethicists (and professional news guidelines), however, argue that a lie is a lie, and altering reality destroys credibility.

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