Ethics & images

  • Associated Press.
    AP pictures must always tell the truth. We do not alter or manipulate the content of a photograph in any way. The content of a photograph must not be altered in PhotoShop or by any other means. No element should be digitally added to or subtracted from any photograph. The faces or identities of individuals must not be obscured by PhotoShop or any other editing tool. Only retouching or the use of the cloning tool to eliminate dust and scratches are acceptable. Minor adjustments in PhotoShop are acceptable. These include cropping, dodging and burning, conversion into grayscale, and normal toning and color adjustments that should be limited to those minimally necessary for clear and accurate reproduction (analogous to the burning and dodging often used in darkroom processing of images) and that restore the authentic nature of the photograph. Changes in density, contrast, color and saturation levels that substantially alter the original scene are not acceptable. Backgrounds should not be digitally blurred or eliminated by burning down or by aggressive toning.
  • Reuters:
    No additions or deletions to the subject matter of the original image. (thus changing the original content and journalistic integrity of an image)
    No excessive lightening, darkening or blurring of the image.
    (thus misleading the viewer by disguising certain elements of an image)
    No excessive colour manipulation. (thus dramatically changing the original lighting conditions of an image) 
    Only minor Photoshop work should be performed in the field.
    (Especially from laptops). We require only cropping, sizing and levels with resolution set to 300dpi. Where possible, ask your regional or global picture desks to perform any required further Photo-shopping on their calibrated hi-resolution screens. This typically entails lightening/darkening, sharpening, removal
    of dust and basic colour correction.
    When working under prime conditions, some further minor Photo-shopping (performed within the above rules) is acceptable.
    This includes basic colour correction, subtle lightening/darkening of zones, sharpening, removal of dust and other minor adjustments that fall within the above rules. Reuters recommendations on the technical settings for these adjustments appear below. The level of Photoshop privileges granted to photographers should be at the discretion of the Chief/Senior Photographers within the above guidelines. All photographers should understand the limitations of their laptop screens and their working environments.
  • Getty specifies file formats and camera functions that can and cannot be used.
  •  National Press Photographers Code of Ethics Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images’ content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.”


Racism and racial slurs are objectionable, and aren’t funny as jokes. Reporting on the flight of Asiana 214 in the  summer of 2013 is one example:


The TV station that reported the names of these pilots actually double-checked with the NTSB, where a mischievous intern confirmed the names. Even so, the most basic common sense should have alerted reporters to a problem.


Photo manipulation presents us with ethical dilemmas of varying degrees of severity.  In some cases, the photographers or editors are fired when unethical images are used. In other cases, such as this first magazine cover from the Economist, the ethical issue is debatable.

Photoshopped photo of Obama after the BP spill

Mother Jones Photoshopping the News

Originals versus composite – False light

This first photo is the composite, in which a soldier appears to be telling a man with a child to sit. The two photos from which this is drawn tell a different story. The photographer responsible for these photos was dismissed from the LA Times two days after the composites came to light.

Two photos from Hurricane Katrina, 2005


Compare these captions

Two residents wade through chest-deep water after finding bread and soda from a local grocery store after Hurricane Katrina came through the area in New Orleans, Louisiana.(AFP / Getty Images, Chris Graythen).

A young man walks through chest deep flood water after looting a grocery store in New Orleans on Tuesday, Aug. 30, 2005. Flood waters continue to rise in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina did extensive damage when it made landfall on Monday.(AP Photo/Dave Martin)

OJ Simpson. Newsweek and Time, 1994

Did Time Magazine act unethically when it darkened the face of OJ Simpson to make him seem more sinister? 

Mug shots in Iowa, 2015  

Racism is often built into the crime reporting  system.   Take for example the selection of mug shots to illustrate arrest stories.  In March of 2015, the Cedar Rapids Iowa Gazette newspaper reported on two groups of people who were arrested for two burglaries.  The police mug shots of one group were posted, while yearbook pictures were posted for the other group.


After this comparison showed up in social media, the Gazette went back to the police department and got the mug shots for the second group