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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Photojournalism Ethics

The photographer is the creator of the image and maybe it sounds idealistic but the editor(s) should consult with the photographer if they plan to alter the image in the publication. What would a journalist say if his/her article would have another meaning in the published version? Media and journalists have a symbiotic relationship, therefore editors and photo reporters should work together to (re)establish media credibility.
If I can help it, I do MINIMAL editing on my images- cropping and dodging. I strongly believe that the editors should not repurpose a photograph because it is UNETHICAL towards the photographer and his/her subjects. However, I think the photographer should have the free choice to use camera distortion (high shutter speed, low shutter speed, wide angle, telephoto etc) for artistic purposes.
I also believe that the photos do not present reality but they present reality the way the photographer sees it. Here is my take on ethics in photojournalism.

1.Present the facts as accurately as you can. For instance, if you cover a demonstration, take a couple of overall shots to let the readers know about the crowd that attended the event.
2.If you are interviewing people, provide different views/photos taken from different angles and use the one that fits the assignment (for news pick a clear image that represents the subject accurately).
3.Have your own ethical guidelines and see if your guidelines are in conflict with the organization’s guidelines you work for. For instance, I consider ethical to alter in Photoshop elements in the picture that were caused by the camera’s failure. Using the CLONE STAMP tool I get rid of the circle of confusion which is caused by a strong light source bouncing around the elements inside your lens. Because this ball of light is caused by the camera, it's perfectly ethical to retouch OUT of the image.
4.If you have a hard time deciding whether it is ethical to shoot certain image try this: put the image in general context. Would the image add to the media discourse on war for example? If you were a soldier, would you think it is fair if certain images appeared of you in the media? If you think you do more good to more people by presenting the reality, then take the image.
5.Cropping/Perspective (Kennerly vs. Newsweek)
The editor of Newsweek took an image out of context and the creator, David Hume Kennerly was not happy about it. Kennerly went to shoot photos at Dick Chenney’s family dinner and the editors at Newsweek cropped the photos and gave them a DIFFERENT connotation. To me it is like rewriting someone's article totally and destroying a journalist/photographer’s credibility.
But cropping or perspective may enhance the photograph IF the photographer chooses to use these tools. For instance, I tilted the camera and shot a volleyball event. The tilted angle caused geometrical forms in the image. It was OK because I specifically wanted to create a different perspective and I did not alter the meaning of the image/the event. However, the use of long angle in taking the photograph of a politician is also unacceptable because it shows him powerful.
6.I find the use of a long lens in animal and sports photography acceptable because if the photographer gets to close, he/she may interfere with the subject. I use a wide angle lens for “anything else,” including portraits, feature, and environmental portraits. The wide angle lens lets me get close to the subject and depending on the assignment I blur the background (portrait) or clear background (personality portraits). However, I try to avoid using the focal length if I can see that it compresses distance between the subjects/objects too much. For instance, if the photographer portrays two boats that are about to collide using focal length, that means the photographer altered the reality.
7.Shutter speed is used to stop the action (sports) or blurs the action and it is used for artistic purposes. But how likely is that the audience will see the ball stop in the air, the player jumping up or the bird flying?

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