Is HDR Ethical?

Black Star Rising poses an important question: “Is HDR Imaging Ethical for Photojournalists?” Note that this question applies specifically to photojournalists, not to artists and amateur photographers, who couldn’t care less.

Most news outlets have a code of ethics that will not allow images to be manipulated in any way. The New York Times specifically forbids HDR imaging in news coverage.

Which goes to show how people do not understand what type of HDR is OK and what type isn’t. This is a controversial issue but I am going to take a stab at it.

OK/Ethical HDR has to do with capturing a scene the way our eyes see it, and in this particular instance, with the dynamic range that our eyes are able to see it — but a camera cannot in only one picture.

To capture the scene, a photographer will usually take 3 photographs of the scene at different exposures, exposing for the shadows, midtones and highlights, respectively. The only variability between the images are the different exposures — nothing else. The images are then merged (in camera or in post processing using an image editing software) to produce one picture (remember all 3 pictures are of the same scene) that accurately portray the scene as our eyes saw it.

Note this does not include preserving detail all over the photograph, going beyond what our eyes saw in the scene. It is possible to take lots of pictures of the same scene, each one optimized to a different part of the scene and produce a result that is impossible for a normal person’s eyes to have seen. For example, you could be in a dark cave facing the entrance. Though your eyes can see the scene at the entrance and some detail in the dark cave, it is possible to use HDR to create a scene where every part of the cave and outside is clearly detailed.

Also not under OK photojournalism HDR is when photographers see a beautiful scene but are unable to capture it in their photographs, either because they are not technically competent enough or missed the opportunity. They then resort to Photoshop it to add color, saturation, deleting, cloning, cleaning up, manipulating, etc. to attempt to recreate the scene. With the newest Photoshop CS5, you can now even move a subject’s hands and feet and delete out backgrounds easily and no one would be none the wiser.

Yes, deleting a hand that projects into the picture is digital manipulation. You did not capture the photo without the hand; you removed the hand. [Also unethical (though not falling under digital manipulation) is asking your subjects to pose and doing something they are not doing (e.g. hold a gun or point it at someone).]

Remember we are speaking of photojournalism, with an emphasis on the true depiction of news items. I have no problem if HDR is not allowed in news reporting because a good photographer will return accurate and beautiful images anyway.

Read the article at: Black Star Rising.