World Press Photo Controversy Shines Light On How Much Digital Editing Is Acceptable

Digital editing is performed by all photographers. In fact, the more WOW! Factor a photo has, the greater the likelihood the photo has been digitally edited, perhaps even to the point of “manipulation.” This is the dirty secret that most point-and-shoot photographers never learn: your camera, however sophisticated and expensive, will never take these pictures out of the box; you have to post-process the pictures.

So, when readers pointed out that the winning entry in the recent Word Press Photo contest looks obviously digitally manipulated (with a very pronounced tone enhancement), World Press Photo got defensive and, after submitting the photo to Fourandsix Technologies for “forensic analysis,” declared the winning entry’s digital editing totally acceptable.

Just what did photographer Paul Hansen do to his winning photo to stir such controversy?

The experts at Fourandsix Technologies found that though Hansen’s winning photo was “retouched with respect to both global and local color and tone,” they “find no evidence of significant photo manipulation or compositing.” So, what is the problem? Why is there even a controversy?

It is because the tonal enhancements applied to the photo is so very obvious to the naked eyes. Many photographers who have played with so-called HDR photography can spot the over-the-top digital enhancements right away. However, World Press Photo has officially given its blessing that such heavily enhanced photos are acceptable as journalistic photos and so falls within their rule that “retouching which conforms to currently accepted standards in the industry is allowed.”

Even without any digital editing, the content of Hansen’s winning photo packs such a punch as to stop you in your track and elicits a reaction. In our view, that photo deserves to win but requires zero to minimal digital editing. It is sad that the controversy about how much digital editing is acceptable has relegated the content of the photo into the background.

View the before and after pictures.

via Imaging Resource