Getty photographer fired over altered golf photo

by on Jul.20, 2010, under Insights

Peek-a-boo — now you see him, and now you don’t.

Read the full story here.

One of Getty’s freelance photographers, Marc Feldman, took multiple photos of golfer Matt Bettencourt at the same moment during the Reno-Tahoe Open golf tournament. In one he removed a distracting person from behind the golfer, in the other he left the photo as is. Photojournalistic policy and ethics follow the rule that the content of a photo should not bet edited, only exposure, contrast and minor color correction.

Should the photographer have altered the image? Was Getty right to hand him his pink slip? Should the truth of the situation take priority over aesthetics? Is Getty’s reaction appropriate? How important is the integrity of the photo?

I understand where Getty is coming from with my background in photojournalism. In the end he probably should be terminated since he took reprehensible actions regarding the manipulation of the photo. However, I don’t think this is as serious an infraction as others that have happened in recent years where photographers misrepresented a photo and the events transpiring it supposedly captured. Taking out the distracting figure doesn’t try to suggest something happened that didn’t. It looks better, but he shouldn’t have done it.

When I shoot a sport sometimes all my photos won’t be perfect and I just have to deal with it. Things happen very quickly and you just have to react. There isn’t always time to change position or get the ideal composition. A lot of times you have to do the best you can with what you have to work with.

This makes me wonder why the photographer made the change to the photo. Why alter the image? Was he not confident about his work? Did he realize what he was doing and the repercussions it might have?

If this wasn’t done for news purposes I wouldn’t really care what was changed to get a good photo. For a news or journalistic photo only the minimum should be done during editing. I definitely admire and respect a photographer more if they can get quality photos without much editing being done after taking them.

Take a look at this softball photo I took a while ago. This one I edited in a similar manner to the Getty photographer in Photoshop a few years ago. At the time it was a challenge to myself and a test of my Photoshop skills to see if I could edit the girl’s body out and it was never used in print or online. In other words for journalism it is ok to crop the pitcher to a vertical image, but not ok to remove the head from the horizontal photo. The logic here is a bit of a gray area. The ultimate goal is to uphold journalistic integrity.

Reporting and photographing anything for journalism is about telling the truth of what happened. Try and compose the best possible photo when taking the photo. If you have to do too much editing or change the background after taking the photo, then you didn’t take a high quality photo.

With everything we as photographers can do with Photoshop it has become a crutch. It’s hard to believe Photoshop is 20 years old and it has become second nature to use as a tool of photography. We can’t forget what it’s really about as a photojournalist. The truth, reality and accuracy of a photo are the most important aspects of reporting on an event. Film photography never allowed the creative liberties of Photoshop.

As Ansel Adams once said, “Not everybody trusts paintings but people believe photographs.” The line is constantly blurring between art and truth in photography. This photographer being fired is an unfortunate example of upholding photographic standards. People have to trust that the news they are reading about is really an honest account. If they cannot then we are compromising our integrity and virtues as journalists.

[Editor’s note: Jeff Levy is a freelance photographer based in the central New Jersey. His work has appeared on D3football.com, D3hoops.com, NewJerseyNewsroom.com, Ultimate Athlete Magazine and the Erie Times-News just to name a few. You can find his photography portfolio on his website at jefflevyphoto.com]

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