A Thousand Words

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Earlier this month, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard released a photograph of a missile launch, which Agence France-Presse distributed to news organizations around the world. It showed four missiles, in the air, shortly after ignition. As it turns out, that picture had been doctored. Another — almost identical — photograph, of the same site, showed three airborne missiles.

And just a week before, FOX News aired two manipulated photographs — of Jacques Steinberg, a reporter for The New York Times, and Steven Reddicliffe, an editor at the newspaper. Their eyes had dark circles around them, their teeth had been yellowed, and their faces had been stretched.

Hany Farid, who teaches computer science at Dartmouth College, studies digital image forensics. His article, "Photo Tampering Throughout History," has dozens of examples of creative — and dubious — cropping, dodging, and blurring.

We'll hear from Farid and Vincent Laforet, a commercial and editorial photographer, based in New York. For many years, he was a staff photographer at The New York Times.

Do you care if the photographs you see in your newspapers and magazines, or on the Internet, have been changed? If only slightly? If so, why? And if you have any questions for Farid or Laforet, we'll take those too.



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I know you are talking about photographs being manipulated. What about the manipulation of digital TV signals real time with computers. How will we know?

Sent by Howard J. Flint P.E. | 3:08 PM | 7-23-2008

Here's a great example from earlier this week. The British paper The Sun photoshopped a black man out of a photo of Prince William in a Navy boat. Here are the before and after photos:


Sent by Dan Weir | 3:21 PM | 7-23-2008

The thing that always bugs me about this discussion is that it is assumed this is a new problem with the advent of photoshop. Granted, there are now new techniques available, but photography has never been as true as its reputation. Eddie Addams, the photographer who took the famous Vietnam photo that helped end the war, has been quoted as being upset at how the photo made a villain of the soldier. The situation, all situations, are far more complex than can be summed up in a mere millisecond. Photography is the ultimate in news sound bites. They are "visual bites", and I'd like people to take all photos with a grain of salt. I am a professional photographer in Denver.

Sent by Adam Welch | 3:24 PM | 7-23-2008

Even when photography is done in a darkroom the photo was still open to changes by burning and dodging the image to get the desired results you need. A photo that prints at a 85 or 100 line screen papers print on their presses. One of the most famous is a photo of the Wright Bros. flyer with a
blade under the airplane.

Sent by Harry Donnermeyer | 3:24 PM | 7-23-2008

Simply choosing what to photograph is a form of editing, and--it could be argued--a form of manipulation.

So, I have to disagree with one of your guests, who suggested that is it OK to "shoot a scene from another angle", but not OK (according to that guest) to edit out power lines or other 'noise' from the image.

An undoctored image of a 'staged' scene (such as the controversial images of supposed-Iraqis tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein, or Arabs allegedly rejoicing after 9-11) could represent every bit as much 'manipulation' as any 'doctored' image.

A photograph is not the thing being photographed, just as a map is not the territory. One should never simply trust that what appears in the photograph is 'the truth', whether the image has been altered, or not.

What lies just outside the frame has been edited out, just as much as any PhotoShop tricks that may have been applied within the borders of the image.

Sent by Keith Russell | 3:25 PM | 7-23-2008

As to the faked photos of celebrities as seen in check-out stand racks, I think that probably making them obvious fakes is necessary for the publishers to avoid libel suites: "It's clear that's not a real picture of Brittney/Jessica/Madonna, etc, so how can you sue us?"

Sent by John R. Peterson, Salt Lake City | 3:26 PM | 7-23-2008

The first caller, a freelance photographer, is a great example of the problem. Manipulating images to remove content for use in a newspaper is completely inexcusable. Good intentions doesn't justify it. Just about everyone busted for manipulating images had some some sort of rationale for doing it. No excuses. That's the difference between photographers that make good choices and bad choices..the difference between good photographers and hacks.

Sent by Eric C. | 3:27 PM | 7-23-2008

I think the intent of the image is the primary point. Is it a photo showing "What happened" or a record of an actual event? Is it a picture of a battle, or an illustration of the horror of war? re: the pool of blood image mentioned.

When I was in school the local paper printed a picture of a brightly colored umbrella perfectly framed by a traffic arrow. It was on the front page to illustrate that it rained that day. He was accused of setting it up...now you could just photoshop the umbrella to any color you wanted. I think that doing that sort of thing while in that case was fine...it did rain, but when one publishes that image, or similar ones, then you will soon be perceived as the sort of source that publishes pictures graphic pictures of celebrities, the kind that also publishes pictures of a Martian lifeform head on the body of a Jupiternarian...


Sent by John W Clark | 3:30 PM | 7-23-2008

Hello, great topic.
One of your guests mentioned magazines and their need to sell copies, sometimes maniulating images as part of the draw in order to do so, but aren't newspapers and news magazines doing the same thing with selective image doctoring in order to sell more copies?
Petaluma, CA

Sent by Joe | 3:34 PM | 7-23-2008

The caller who mentioned he was the creator of the first digital image... I found him online!


I really like what he said when he called in!

Sent by Nathaniel Styer | 3:34 PM | 7-23-2008

EVERY photo is edited - intentionally or otherwise. The first time it is edited is when it is taken. What is included and what is not? This is called 'framing.' (A similar idea is included in debates where a question is expressed. What is included and what is not.)

Framing can be altered via cropping. Again, this results in real world data being lost or being enhanced by being included.

There is a famous billboard in the London underground of a black man chasing a white man. a question is asked: "What do you see here?"

Farther down the platform, a more complete version of the photo is shown. It includes a bobby just behind the black man who is identified as a plain clothes policeman. They are chasing a shoplifter. This is a perfect example of 'framing' and the implication of wht is included and what is not is left to the viewer.

Dick Swenson
Wlla Walla, WA 99362

Sent by Dick Swenson | 3:35 PM | 7-23-2008

Susan Sontag wrote a book "On Photography" Discussing how images and the impact on the viewers especially war images has been watered down because people get use to seeing the horror. Also, images in war photos have been manipulated since the civil war, when the photographers would rearrange the bodies. I am thinking of Sullivan? not sure. Can your guest comment on the unbelievability of images to viewers.

Sent by Susan | 3:36 PM | 7-23-2008

I have to disagree with the caller who implied that because a generation has grown up with digital manipulation via photoshop that this will result in its members being somehow more critical when faced with digital images.

I am a teacher of this generation. They are just as likely to believe something simply because they see it in print, or more likely, see it on the internet.

Altered reality is not reality. Growing up with photoshop isn't going to change that

Sent by DeAnna McDonald | 3:36 PM | 7-23-2008

I'm a graphic artist and photographer with a background in prepress. I'm weighing in here to concur with your guest. Any change of content to an image via Photoshop or any other tools of the trade are absolutely prohibited especially in the case of hard news.

With this in mind, Photoshop is held as the trade standard for "optimizing" images for print production in an effort to compensate for paper characteristics via colour correction, dot gain and sharpening.

Sometimes people simply become intoxicated by the features found in this program, but for those like me, it's just another hammer in the toolbox.

Sent by Morgan Tyree | 3:38 PM | 7-23-2008

A logical way to know if images have been photoshopped would be to require that photo editing software add a digital marker to images saved from the editing program.

Sent by Michael Bankston | 3:39 PM | 7-23-2008



In your discussion you do not mention the irony that journalists and photojournalists are not being held to the same standard. You describe a new standard where the editor or photographer is not allowed to alter one pixle, but no similar stringent limit is ever placed on what a reporter decides to report.

Jan Boles
Caldwell, Idaho

Sent by Jan Boles | 3:41 PM | 7-23-2008

As an artist-astronomer, I have called into Talk of hte Nation many times to to talk to Neal Conan and his excellent guests. I have spent much time with the public and public astronomy that I perform. As such a scientific and artistic medium of photo-realism, artists and scientists in my feild are perhaps the most critical in imaging as distant space is so difficult to properly capture in photographs. Much of the public does not understand how a camera, whether old world film with silver halide emulsion or new world digital CD chips, even operates. They would not know that say, observing through a telescope into distant space is not anywhere near the photographs that they see in the news taken by the Hubble Telescope or even an amateur astronomy instrument. This goes light years beyond the term "manipulated images".

Mark Seibold,
Portland Oregon
If images desired, please see to define fine artwork from photography >

Sent by Mark Seibold | 3:42 PM | 7-23-2008

While I strongly agree with your guests that news organizations should never significantly alter images because of the "slippery slope" issue, they should also recognize that photography simply IS losing the reputation that it once had for truthfulness. People are becoming more distrusting of photographs, if not more sophisticated in their interpretation of them. So in addition to avoiding inappropriate manipulations of images, news organizations should strive to provide more information at how each image was acquired. For example, when I first saw the photo from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard I was suspicious that it had been altered, but I also assumed (because the newspaper had not explicitly told me) that the image came from the Iranian government or military and, therefore, should be taken with a large grain of salt. It is not practical to report every minor alteration that could be made to a photograph and that should become the reason not to make the alterations. More generally, some photographs should simply be presented as an artist's representation rather than factual reporting. The darkened O.J. Simpson photo is a prime example of this case.

Sent by Greg Marshall | 3:45 PM | 7-23-2008

As a multi-media producer of 10 years with a background in TV and radio journalism, documentary films, fashion photography and TV commercials I find this discussion important but naive. New reporters, photo journalists & documentarians all have their own idea of reality. To paraphrase the philosophers Derrida and Foucault, language and power are barriers to a true experience of reality in the first place.
Historians and news reporters a) are employed by people in power who have a fixed political viewpoint. On some level while you are recording an event you understand the limitations put on you by the person who signs your paycheck. b) tell their stories in the only forms of storytelling that have existed since the creation of language. One can tell as story or "history" as either a Comedy, A Tragedy, or A Romance. Depending on which format you work in the story structure will inherently highlight certain facts and distort or downplay others. In closing, computer retouching is not that different from a documentarian editing out what doesn't work in his visual storytelling device to support his thesis. A historian runs into this problem with recounting facts in the form of a written storyline. And often they will both have editors who will cut out some of what they meant to include in the first place. Beyond these handicaps, ALL institutions, companies and organizations have an agenda. The consumer/audience must be educated to understand the complexity of "reality" and to use multiple sources and their own conscience and common sense to determine the course of his or her own reality.

Sent by Amanda Anderson | 3:53 PM | 7-23-2008

This reminds me why I get my news from "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central (where I can assume the images have been photoshopped) and NPR (where there are no images to worry about).

Sent by Erika in Ohio | 4:35 PM | 7-23-2008

Usually, if a photo makes it into print it is legitimate. That is what editors are there for, but yes, on occasion one may slip through but I doubt that it would be for the purpose of manipulating the public opinion.

I believe the below link is for the original image of the launch.


Sent by Kevin Schlomo in Hawaii | 7:41 PM | 7-24-2008

I would like to point out one important oversight on the Kent State photo and the removal of the pole. The impression that Mr. Farid left with the listener was that the pole was removed on the original Pulitzer winning photograph. This is not true. The photographer, John Filo, transmitted the photo out with the pole intact and this is also how it was entered in the Pulitzer contest.

LIFE magazine, at the time, airbrushed the pole from the photo and it was published in LIFE with the pole removed. That print remained
in the LIFE archives and has been subsequently published again by LIFE like this.

Please do not impugn the reputation of John Filo and leave the impression that he manipulated this photo. He did not.

Sent by Pete Souza | 5:59 PM | 7-25-2008

I am a working newspaper photojournalist.

Above my PhotoShop workstation is an invisible sign that simply states "Don't Do It:" don't delete elements from an image, don't add elements to an image, don't edit an image to change it's mood. That's the state of photojournalism ethics that I live and work by.

In Photoshop I perform the same techniques I did in the film/print darkroom - crop, dodge, burn - to bring an image in line with the technical needs of the printing press.

There will always be editing on the fly, in the camera, on the scene, whether defined by the assignment or my assessment of what is in front of my lens.

I won't be shamed to think that how I shoot an assignment in terms of lighting, composition and story telling elements that I choose to include in an image is the same as heavy handed, unrealistic PhotoShop manipulation.

Sent by C.T. Kruger | 7:51 PM | 7-25-2008

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