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February 6th, 2012

Photo Manipulation Scandal Follows Same Old Script

The Sacramento Bee image at the center of the latest doctored news image scandal.

Surely we all know the script by now: A newspaper photographer gets caught manipulating a photo, the paper runs an apology with a statement about the newspaper’s zero-tolerance policy and a notice that the photographer has been fired; a trade organization villifies the photographer to warn others and keep the whole profession from going down a slippery slope to perdition. Along the way, a contrarian pundit may or may not weigh in.

So let’s fill in the blanks. The newspaper this time is The Sacramento Bee. The photographer is Bryan Patrick. The offending image showed a snowy egret gobbling a frog it had just snatched from a great egret. It was created from two images of the scene, one of which was the decisive moment of the theft, and the other of which had the better view of the frog in the snowy egret’s bill.

The paper published all three images an online correction and apology Feb 1, with reference to policy against photo manipulation, followed by a “to our readers” notice on Feb 4 announcing Patrick had been fired for violating the paper’s ethics policy. The note concluded with a recitation of the paper’s policy against the manipulation of photographs.

The president of NPPA called Patrick’s action a “betrayal” (in a story published by Poynter): “If this photographer in Sacramento can diddle around with a photograph of an egret, how can I know that any photograph I look at is trustworthy?” he asked.

The contrarian this time is On the Media host Bob Garfield, writing for The Guardian. He satirizes Patrick as “the Great Satan” and says “let him suffer the fate of the frog!” He then raises that pesky question: “Don’t all journalists alter reality?” Finally, he asks this rhetorical humdinger: “[d]id he [Patrick] misrepresent the story, or did he perhaps just make it clearer?”

But wait. The ritual isn’t over until Patrick’s peers pile on, either for him or against him. Readers?

December 29th, 2011

Official News Agency of a Totalitarian Regime Doctored a News Photo. Imagine That.

© Korea Central News Agency

The photo of the funeral of Kim Jung-Il distributed by the Korean Central News Agency, the official news agency of North Korea, was stunning: Limousines driving in formation behind a giant portrait of the Supreme Leader, rows of mourners lining their route, snow whitening the ground, a giant North Korean flag billowing majestically at the top of the frame. It was picture perfect. Too perfect, apparently.

Today The New York Times Lens Blog compares the image from the official news agency with one taken at almost the same moment by a photographer with Kyodo News of Japan, and distributed by AP. Working with digital forensics expert Hany Farid of Dartmouth, they show that the image from Korean Central was Photoshopped. The Lens blog goes into lots of detail, showing (with several close ups) that some men standing on the sidelines with a camera were erased, replaced with cloned snow. (Read more about their analytical methods and see the photos here.)

Lens reports that the doctored photo had been distributed by European Pressphoto Agency, Reuters and Agence-France Presse (AFP) before the retouching was discovered by The New York Times (which had also, briefly, run the image on its Web site). Once Lens reported

Undoctored photo, © Kyodo News

that the photo was doctored, the three agencies issued kill notices, Lens reports. “This photo was altered from the source and not by AFP,” the agency noted.

Gee, if you can’t trust an official news photo from the government of a secretive nation with a history of repressing journalism, who can you trust?

Maybe the agencies can be excused for not anticipating that such a stage-managed spectacle would be doctored. The retouching doesn’t seem politically motivated, as in all those airbrushed photos from Stalinist Russia. Why would a North Korean photo editor go to the trouble of Photoshopping out a few anonymous figures?

The Lens blog offers one explanation: “totalitarian esthetics.”

“With the men straggling around the sidelines, a certain martial perfection is lost. Without the men, the tight black bands of the crowd on either side look railroad straight.” When it comes to stage-managed spectacle, symmetry is all.

November 16th, 2011

Benetton Campaign Uses Digital Manipulation to Stir Controversy (Again)

A digital manipulation of Obama kissing Hugo Chavez for Benetton's new "unhate" campaign.

File this under Marketers Who Will Do Anything to Sell Product: Benetton has unveiled a new ad campaign that includes an image of Barack Obama in a lip lock with Chinese leader Hu Jintao, another image of Obama kissing Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, and several other images of different world leaders kissing each other on the lips.

The images are part of the clothing brand’s new “Unhate” campaign, which it unveiled today in Paris and other cities.

Alessandro Benetton, who is the company’s executive deputy chairman, says Benetton means no disrespect to the world leaders, whose passionate kisses are obviously the handiwork of digital retouchers.

“We consider [the leaders] ‘conception figures’ making a statement of brotherhood with a kiss,” he said in an interview, according to the Times of India.

Yeah, yeah. Whatever.

Back in the 90s, Benetton created ad campaigns with controversial images– including a photograph of a nun kissing a priest–to attract attention by whipping up social controversy.

November 11th, 2011

Ad Banned in UK for Showing Super Skinny Model

The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) in Britain has banned a fashion ad that shows a model who appears to be painfully underweight. Ironically, the model, whose upper arm circumference makes us think about malnutrition, appears in an ad for a clothing company called “Drop Dead.”

The British advertising publication Campaign reports that the ASA said the Drop Dead ads declared the ads “socially irresponsible” for showing a model with prominent ribs, hips and collar bones in a bikini.

The ASA is the same agency that earlier this year ordered L’Oreal to pull print ads featuring images of Christy Turlington and Julia Roberts that were so heavily Photoshopped, they were misleading. (See PDN Pulse story.)

Whether any manipulation – in posing, styling or post production– went into the creation of the Drop Dead model’s twig-like arms, jutting hipbones and globular breasts, we leave to our eagle-eyed readers to decide.

Related story

Photoshopped Ads Banned in Britain!

September 16th, 2011

Q&A: Zombie Engagement Photographer Speaks!

©Amanda Rynda

Photographer Amanda Rynda’s “zombie engagement photos” were an Internet sensation this past week, ending up on blogs and websites all over the world.

We caught up with the Los Angeles-based Rynda and asked her a few questions about how it felt to “go viral” and whether she thinks her ghoulishly good photos might start a new trend in wedding photography.

See the full zombie sequence and Rynda’s other work here.

PDNPulse: Please give us some background on you and your photo business.
Amanda Rynda: I’m a color stylist for Disney by day and took up photography this year in my spare time to have a new creative outlet. I’ve been working as an associate photographer with LA-based wedding photographers, Jen Harris and Charise Proctor on the weekends.

PDNPulse: How did the idea come up to do the zombie engagement shoot?
Amanda Rynda: Juliana and Ben asked me to shoot their engagement session but they weren’t into a soft, PDA filled engagement session. They wanted something fun and quirky to show off their fun-loving and creative personalities. Juliana came to me and said, “Ben and I want to survive a zombie attack and then hug because we’re in love.” It was such a fun idea, I knew right away we’d have a great time making it happen.

PDNPulse: Had you ever done anything like this before?
Amanda Rynda: No, I’ve never shot anything like this before. I’m pretty new to photography so I haven’t worked with too many clients of my own yet. I’m just so happy to have been given the opportunity to work with people as fun, creative and eager to open up as much as Ben and Juliana did for this e-session. I hope that trend continues.
(more…)

August 8th, 2011

Photoshopped Ads Banned in Britain!

©Mario Testino--Photoshop shocker: UK authorities consider this image of Julia Roberts misleading.

Britain’s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ordered cosmetic maker L’Oréal to pull two heavily retouched ads–one of actress Julia Roberts and the other of model Christy Turlington–on the grounds that the ads are misleading, according to press reports.

Of an ad for L’Oréal’s Lancôme brand featuring Roberts, the ASA said, “we could not conclude that the ad image accurately illustrated what effect the product could achieve, and that the image had not been exaggerated by digital post production techniques.”

L’Oréal defended itself by describing the ad to the ASA as an “aspirational picture of what could be achieved by using the product.”

The ad featuring Turlington promoted a cosmetic foundation from L’Oréal’s Maybelline line. The ASA concluded that the ad “was likely to mislead” because some wrinkles in Turlington’s faced had been removed digitally after the product had been applied.

Both ads were challenged by Member of Parliament Jo Swinson, who has spearheaded a campaign to halt unrealistic advertising images of models for several years.

Truth-in-advertising laws also apply in the US under the Federal Trade Commission Act. Advertising “must be truthful and non-deceptive,” the FTC says, and advertisers “must have evidence to back up their claims.”

That raises a question: Should US regulators be more vigilant about the use of digital manipulation in beauty ads?

According to the FTC web site, the agency focuses its enforcement attention on ads that make claims about health and safety. “Ads that make subjective claims or claims that consumers can judge for themselves receive less attention from the FTC,” the agency explains. So it’s a question of scarce resource allocation. But it’s also a question of politics. So far, nobody in Congress has taken up arms against the depiction of impossibly young, thin and beautiful models in fashion and beauty ads.

July 11th, 2011

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?

May 3rd, 2011

UPDATED: If White House Releases ‘The Photo,’ Will Conspiracy Theorists Believe?

Helene Cooper at the New York Times has a post today on The Caucus Blog that reports the White House is “leaning towards” releasing photographic evidence of Bin Laden’s killing.

“It looks like him, covered in blood, with a hole in his head,” an unnamed official told Cooper. There are reasons the White House wouldn’t release the photo, including their desire to honor Muslim law, which led to Bin Laden’s burial at sea, and concern that releasing the photograph might provoke Bin Laden’s followers, or perhaps even violate international law.

In her article Cooper notes that in addition to voices on the political right and conspiracy theorists, many ordinary Americans are interested in seeing the photo to provide “closure” to the September 11 attacks and their aftermath.

It’s interesting to consider, however, whether seeing will be believing. The ordinary citizens who believe Bin Laden is dead seem likely to accept a photograph as the final bit of proof.

But a photo, if released, may do little for conspiracy theorists and others who disbelieve the claim Ben Laden is dead, except of course touch off another round of debate and analysis centered on the image itself and its validity.

In an age where a fake photos of a dead Bin Laden were already picked up and circulated by news organizations, much to their embarrassment, it is certainly conceivable that a photo could be created and/or staged. It begs the question: can a photograph alone bear the burden of proof any longer, or will the public require testimony from imaging experts in order to accept the validity of the image? Will a photograph do anything to convince those who already question the US government’s claims?

UPDATE, 5/4/11, 3:15pm EST:

President Obama has decided not to release photographic evidence of Bin Laden’s death, saying in an interview with 60 Minutes, a transcript of which was read today at a White House press briefing, “we don’t trot this stuff out as trophies — that’s not who we are.” Though Obama appears to be positioning the decision as a moral and ethical choice by the government, the fact that a photograph would do little to prove Bin Laden’s killing to those who don’t believe it happened must have played a role, making the release of the photo a decision with more potential downside than upside.

When issued by a government, the decision suggests, photographic evidence isn’t worth much, except to those who would use it as—positive or negative—propaganda.

February 1st, 2011

Photog Glen E. Friedman Suing Artist For Infringement of RUN DMC Image

Photographer Glen E. Friedman is suing artist Theirry Guetta for copyright infringement in a case that echoes the recently settled legal dispute between the Associated Press and Shepard Fairey. To create his iconic “Hope” poster of Obama, Fairey used an image of Obama taken by a photographer working for the Associated Press without permission. The AP claimed infringement, while Fairey argued fair use. The parties settled recently, with neither admitting defeat.

Thierry Guetta is accused of using a well-know Friedman image of hip-hop pioneers RUN DMC as the basis for several artworks, including “posters, lithographs, paintings and other art,” according to the complaint filed by Freidman and his lawyers in a California district court.

Friedman alleges that Guetta’s use of the image has caused “substantial damage to [Friedman's] business in the form of diversion of trade, loss of income and profits, and a dilution of the value of its rights.”

In establishing copyright, the complaint notes that the image of RUN DMC was included in a copyrighted book Friedman published in 1994. The complaint also notes that Guetta has sold products based on the copyrighted image.

In their answer to the complaint, Guetta and his lawyers deny that Guetta had any knowledge that he was infringing on Friedman’s copyright. They claim that Guetta’s work is protected by the First Amendment (free speech) and that if any use of the copyrighted work is proved, it is fair use.

A trial date has not been set.