Reuters will no longer permit its photographers and freelancers to submit RAW images for publication.
As first reported by Michael Zhang, Reuters instituted the ban on RAW images in the name of both speed and ethics. Photographers will be required to submit original JPEGs instead.
“As photojournalists working for the world’s largest international multimedia news provider, Reuters Pictures photographers work in line with our Photographer’s Handbook and the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles,” a Reuters spokesperson told us via email.
“As eyewitness accounts of events covered by dedicated and responsible journalists, Reuters Pictures must reflect reality,” the spokesperson stated. “While we aim for photography of the highest aesthetic quality, our goal is not to artistically interpret the news. Speed is also very important to us. We have therefore asked our photographers to skip labour and time consuming processes to get our pictures to our clients faster.”
While RAW images provide far more latitude for post-process manipulation, those edits are also harder to disguise. Edits to JPEG images, however, are easier to mask and most pro cameras have JPEG profiles which can boost contrast and saturation without ever needing post process manipulation–which was one of the reasons World Press Photo changed its submission rules in 2015 to require only RAW image submissions for most categories. “The techniques used to reveal JPEG forgeries are not very reliable,” Jessica Fridrich, a professor at the T.J. Watson School of Applied Science and Engineering at the University of Binghamton, told us in the spring for our story on catching image manipulators.
Reuters has in the past used software developed by image forensics experts Hany Farid and Kevin Conner (elements of which are available at izitrue) to verify the authenticity and integrity of JPEG images. Connor told us he wasn’t sure if the software was currently being used by Reuters. When asked how Reuters would ensure the integrity of JPEG images, the spokesperson declined further comment.
“It sounds like a knee-jerk reaction attempting to create a solution to a problem that isn’t really a solution,” said Sean Elliot, chair of the Ethics Committee of the National Press Photographers Association. “If the problem is photographers who don’t understand basic ethical standards of not altering images, then eliminating the use of RAW files will not actually solve the problem….The ease of post-processing with RAW files as compared to JPEGs is certainly real, but I don’t see this as addressing the deeper issues any better than applying a code of ethics.”
The move by Reuters, while abrupt, is not surprising. The manipulation of photojournalistic images has been a hot topic since World Press Photo disqualified 22 percent of images submitted to its 2015 contest–more than double the number of images that were disqualified in 2014. In a recent panel discussion hosted by Adobe during PhotoPlus Expo, New York Times photojournalist Lynsey Addario said she was shocked by how fellow photographers shooting the same scene would turn in heavily processed images that took liberties with the reality she saw before her eyes.