Another Photo Manipulation Case Raises Question: Is the Penalty High Enough?

Just firing news photographers who manipulate images doesn’t seem to be doing the trick, because photographers keep doing it.

This time it was freelancer Miguel Tovar, who was on assignment for the AP at the Copa America soccer tournament in Argentina. His crime, as Poynter reports, was to obscure his own shadow in the foreground of a picture he shot of some kids playing soccer.

Poynter obtained and published the “Dear Colleagues” memo that AP’s Director of Photography Santiago Lyon issued after Tovar was caught. “An alert photo editor noticed,” he wrote (translation: don’t think we won’t catch you, too). Lyon then went on to describe the consequences as if he couldn’t punish Tovar enough:

“We have severed all relations with Tovar and removed him from the assignment. He will not work for the AP again in any capacity,” it says. “In addition, we have removed all of his images from AP Images, our commercial photo licensing division, and its website.”

It seems like a minor manipulation when you look at it, although a pretty ham-fisted one. But the industry has zero tolerance for this sort of thing and Lyon goes on to explain why.

“Our reputation is paramount and we react decisively and vigorously when it is tarnished by actions such as the one described above.”

But photographers keep on doing it, despite the warnings and consequences.

So what else, if anything, can be done?

22 Responses to “Another Photo Manipulation Case Raises Question: Is the Penalty High Enough?”

  1. Another Photo Manipulation Case Raises Question: Is the Penalty High Enough? | Global Community of Photography Says:

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  2. Marvin Says:

    That’s how you weed out the professionals from the amateurs. If photographers keep doing it, keep black balling them.

  3. Walt Stricklin Says:

    I do not think it is a matter of whether the penalty is high enough. Miguel Tovar is joining a list of photographer whose images I will never trust again. If you will change one small thing to make the picture a little better, why in the world wouldn’t you change a big thing to make it a great picture. He has lost his journalistic integrity.

    For the AP, it is a matter of continuing to hold the high ground. I appreciate Santiago Lyon’s quick and decisive action. While I know photos can sneak by the editors, they are letting their staff, their freelancers and the world know there is a price to pay for lying.

    As a photojournalist for 35 years I can tell you that one of the most important things I have to offer is my integrity.

    In this day of easy manipulation (it has always been done-it’s just easier now) and image bombardment on the internet, I want our newspaper readers and viewers on our internet site to know our picture are true, honest and fair. If there is one thing you can believe on the internet -PLEASE let it be the pictures shot by the real photojournalist of the world.

  4. Andrea Says:

    @Walt thanks for saying it so well.

    It’s beyond frustrating when you think you’ve found the perfect photo only to notice it’s been (often poorly) photoshopped.

    Photo editors and agencies alike just need to continue to be vigilant.

  5. Thomas Toohey Brown Says:

    In an “anything goes” world of communications, this remains the sacred cow. It appears that there are no rules known or followed anymore.

  6. Anthony Hereld Says:

    I think Walt said it best.

    Journalism in general has lost its integrity, thanks to a biased news media, the AP included. At least the photography end is trying to maintain some sort of standard.

    Truth be told, it wasn’t a great photo anyway. Why would someone risk losing all credibility to edit a shadow out of a subpar shot? My guess is, this isn’t the first edit for Tovar…just the first time he got caught.

  7. AP Photographer Fired For Editing His Shadow Out of a Photo · NEWS on the Dreamspace Says:

    […] a hamfisted edit, they didn’t change the substance of the content, which is prompting some debate about if this ruling is too strict, appropriate, or even not strict enough. While most […]

  8. Phil Indeblanc Says:

    He could have simply cropped to the white shoe just before /in the shadow, and he would have a impactful photo and no edit needed in a square or 4×5 ratio. The ball above horizon is what makes for interesting composition. But it would have been honest.

    Cropping is allowed, right guys? :-)

    The job is not how to make the best image you can using any tool. The job is to make the best image with what you actual see, at the click of the shutter.

  9. Naheed Choudhry Says:

    It is far too easy to manipulate photos these days. News companies should create a standard for their photographers and retouchers on how far they can go. They should also keep a watchful eye to create a more trustworthy environment. If photographers and retouchers know they are being watched for integrity control these incidences will happen less.

  10. Paul B. Goode Says:

    I think these rules are mostly ridiculous. Every photograph is already a manipulation of the truth. Should we stop using wide angle and telephoto lenses? AP should give every photographer a camera with a fixed 80mm lens and a camera set to asa 400. Anything else is already a lie.

  11. Another Photo Manipulation Case Raises Question: Is the Penalty High Enough? | PDN Pulse « A Flick of Light… Says:

    […] Another Photo Manipulation Case Raises Question: Is the Penalty High Enough? | PDN Pulse. […]

  12. Don Says:

    The punishment was justifiably severe and sets an appropriate standard for the reasons set forth by @Walt, but it raises a question for me. Would the AP reaction been the same if the result was to expunge an earlier unretouched image that captured a definitive (and lucrative) historical moment? Making a relatively painless example is easy. Will the industry hold the line if it means withdrawing a previous iconic image that is unshopped?

    That said, the practice is fraud and can result in both civil and criminal penalties. That is the “anything else” that can be done.

  13. Wayne Swofford Says:

    As a non-journalist, this whole approach to editing photos is bizarre and over the top, and frankly silly. There are no real ethical or professional issues related to Tovar’s editing out a shadow. It does not change the substance of the photo. It is perfectly consistent with decades of practice in cropping, dodging, and burning, to produce an image where the content can be seen, often in response to the limitations of the technology. In myt opinion this is more a case of trying to create a black and white rule as a subsitute for editorial responsibility and judgment. It also an artificial attempt at being holier than thou and thus making an image of integrity versus the reality of integrity. Again, because the real bias and manipulation is in the choices made in taking the photo and in publishing.

    That being said, if the absolute rule is no change, then why would you risk losing a stream of income over one photo?

  14. Mark Gamba Says:

    Are you kidding? Removed his shadow? If he had used a small flash to do the same thing would that have been against the rules? Did it change the content of the image? No! Ridiculous! You manipulate the image with lens choice, f/stop, shutter speed, camera angle, time of day, what you choose to leave out of the image. A photographer is commenting on an event just as readily as a writer is, just different tools. I’m glad I’m out of the dying photojournalism world – it has become pathetic.

  15. Robert Hudnall Says:

    Well, there ya go some more stupid zero-tolerance BS. The guy cloned his shadow out of the foreground of the photograph. I reckon they should hammer him for not having it done well enough that it couldn’t be detected. I guess if he simply cropped the shadow out everything would have been hunkey-dorey. This zero-tolerance stuff is becoming……intolerable. Somebody git a rope!

  16. Robert Hudnall Says:

    I just looked at the picture with the shadow and it looks enough like a man on a gallows that perhaps Tovar should go back and paint in a noose…that would be appropriately ominous considering the stupid actions of the AP.

  17. Mark Sluder Says:

    Was anyone offended (personally or professionally) by NEWSWEEK’s recent cover of Princess Diana at age 50?
    I was stunned (and a little disgusted). Maybe inside a feature story in Vanity Fair but not the cover of NEWSweek!
    And a tiny, inside ‘photo-illustration’ credit doesn’t begin to justify it.

  18. Bruno Schreck Says:

    A “Right On” to Wayne Swofford’s comment.
    The “lie” regarding the shadow only concerns the presence of a camera. There is no one who doesn’t understand that a camera and photographer were there. His toning down of the shadow is just a poor attempt at giving clarity to the action. We used to do that by choosing a higher contrast photo paper and some dodging and burning.
    The presence of a shadow has no effect on the story portrayed. But we know that the presence of the media at events does indeed effect the proceedings. Perhaps then, editors should forbid their photographers from attending. They could go back to hiring illustrators who draw upon eyewitness reports (under editorial guidance of course). How honest or outraged were the editors in those days?

  19. Another pictures Says:

    […] PDN Pulse В» Blog Archive В» Another Photo Manipulation Case Raises … Jul 11, 2011 … 16 Responses to “Another Photo Manipulation Case Raises Question: Is the Penalty High Enough?” … […]

  20. Business News Blog » Blog Archive » STOP Using Freelancers! Says:

    […] freelancers. Poynter did a good job of reporting on this here, and PDNPulse reported – Another Photo Manipulation Case Raises Question: Is the Penalty High Enough?, and PDN also reported on a Getty freelancer here – Photographer Cut by Getty for Altered […]

  21. Bil Says:

    A shadow, really? Doesn’t the editor know how to crop?

  22. Larry Flake Says:

    I am not a photojournalist but I do keep up with the news, politics and our culture. For me the AP lost it’s reputation years ago. What little they may have left is spent on dismissing poor little photographers? Glass houses!