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Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Is This Photo Real?

Controversy struck when photojournalist Paul Hanson received the 2013 World Press Photo Award for the above photo, taken at a November 2012 funeral procession in Gaza. The lifeless bodies and emotional expressions make this an incredibly powerful photo, the kind that a photographer might only take once in a lifetime.

Bloggers and journalists, however, quickly began speculating as to how much this photo had been edited. Every journalistic photo that appears in a publication is edited to some degree, but critics accused Hanson of over-manipulating. Not only was the timing and composition almost too good to be true, the lighting is not consistent. For example, if you look at the window, it appears the sunlight is coming from the upper right of the photo, which raises the question as to how the left sides of the men's faces are illuminated?

Before computer applications like Photoshop, photos had to be manipulated manually with tedious darkroom techniques. The process has been accelerated tenfold in the last decade or two, allowing editors to easily add or remove elements in a photo with minimal effort. Not only did Hanson almost certainly edit his photo before it was published, but it passed through another photo studio before being submitted to the World Press' contest.

Some have gone so far as to declare Hanson's photo a composite. "Here's what likely happened," Dr. Neal Krawetz writes, "the photographer took a series of photos. However, the sun's position made everyone dark and in silhouette. So, he combined a few pictures and altered the people so you could see their faces." Krawetz later blogged again on the photo, elaborating on the editing techniques and confirming his original conclusion.

What do you think? When does photo editing go too far? There's certainly a difference in standards between photos for advertisements versus photos for journalistic purposes. Do you believe that Hanson's photo is over-manipulated?

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