The Ultra-Orthodox Hasidic newspaper Der Tzitung published a photo of President Obama and his national security team in the White House Situation Room. This photo was taken as the team watched a raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Prior to publication, the paper removed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Director for Counterterrorism Audrey Tomason from the photo. In response to criticism, the paper responded, in part: “In accord with our religious beliefs, we do not publish photos of women, which in no way relegates them to a lower status. Publishing a newspaper is a big responsibility, and our policies are guided by a Rabbinical Board. Because of laws of modesty, we are not allowed to publish pictures of women, and we regret if this gives an impression of disparaging to women, which is certainly never our intention. We apologize if this was seen as offensive.”
Though photo manipulation has become more common in the age of digital cameras and image editing software, it actually dates back almost as far as the invention of photography. Gathered below is an overview of some of the more notable instances of photo manipulation in history. For recent years, an exhaustive inventory of every photo manipulation would be nearly impossible, so we focus here on the instances that have been most controversial or notorious, or ones that raise the most interesting ethical questions.
We’ll continue to update this gallery as more incidents come to our attention, so if you come across any notable ones you think we should include, feel free to send us an e-mail at
[Click thumbnails to view complete images.]
Entries in Photojournalism ethics (43)
The Associated Press announced that it would no longer work with freelance photographer Miguel Tovar, and that they were eliminating all of Tovar’s photos from its archives. This move came after Tovar removed his shadow from a photo taken at a soccer match in Argentina. Following the incident, the Director of Photography at the AP, Santiago Lyon, sent the following memo to all AP staff:
On Sunday we were faced with a case of deliberate and misleading photo manipulation by a freelancer on assignment for the AP at the Copa America soccer tournament in Argentina. Miguel Tovar chose to clone some dust from one part of a feature photo to another in order to obscure his own shadow, which was visible in the original photograph showing children playing soccer. An alert photo editor noticed that the pattern on the dust repeated itself in an unlikely way and subsequent investigations revealed the visual fraud. There is no indication that Tovar’s other images were manipulated. However, we have severed all relations with Tovar and removed him from the assignment. He will not work for the AP again in any capacity. In addition, we have removed all of his images from AP Images, our commercial photo licensing division, and its website. I would remind you of the AP’s policies regarding image manipulation, which can be found within our Statement of News Values and Principles: http://www.ap.org/newsvalues/index.html. Please be sure to read carefully the section on Images reproduced below and make sure that it is well understood — not only by staff photographers and editors, but also by freelancers or occasional contributors to the AP. Our reputation is paramount and we react decisively and vigorously when it is tarnished by actions such as the one described above.
Under the headline “Russia refuses to recognize Libya rebels as legitimate government, clashing with West”, Saudi-owned English news website Al-Arabiya published a photo into which fighter jets were digitally inserted. The original photo (by Marco Longari for AFP/Getty) shows Libyan rebel fighters near a checkpoint on the outskirts of Ras Lanuf.
The Syrian Arab News Agency (SANA) released a photo purporting to show President Bashar al-Assad swearing in the new governor of Hama after the previous governor was fired in response to anti-regime demonstrations. Critics quickly noticed the myriad problems in this crude Photoshop job, including the table shadow that doesn’t change as it moves from the glossy floor to the soft carpet, the nearly nonexistent shadows from the two figures, and the distorted perspective.
The Associated Press withdrew a news photo supplied by the Korean Central News Agency after it was determined that the photograph was a digital composite. The image depicted North Korean citizens wading through high floodwaters, but critics noticed that the people looked crudely pasted into the scene, because their clothes were not wet. It was speculated that the photo was an attempt to gain sympathy for North Korea so that they could receive more international aid.
ESPN published an article about African-American quarterback Michael Vick, posing the question “What if Michael Vick were white?” Though the content of the article itself was relatively non-controversial, ESPN received substantial criticism for publishing alongside the article a photo illustration depicting the athlete as a caucasian.
Photographer Terje Hellesö won the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency’s Nature Photographer of the Year award for his stunning photos of endangered animals. Several of Hellesö’s photographs of the lynx, however, were digitally created by compositing stock photos into nature scenes. This photo manipulation was first noticed when conservationist Gunnar Gloerson noticed that one of Hellesö’s photos, taken in July, showed a lynx with a winter fur. When first questioned, Hellesö denied the allegations of photo tampering, but later admitted “not all of the pictures are manipulated, just a few of the lynx pictures.” Ultimately, the deception was found to be widespread, with more than 100 manipulated images of various subjects over a six-year period, as well as fabrication of stories about his photography.
Several major wire services had to pull a photo of Kim Jong-il’s funeral procession issued by North Korea’s state news agency after it was determined that the photo had been manipulated. A separate photo taken by Japan’s Kyodo news agency revealed that a small cluster of people standing around a camera tripod on the left side had been removed from the “original” photo. It was unclear why the people had been removed, but there was some speculation that it may have been for purely aesthetic reasons. The standalone cluster of people disrupted the otherwise regimented lines of mourners.
Pakistan’s Press Information Department distributed a photo of prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani speaking with two generals in which his fingers were extended in an awkward pose, and partially clipped. Further investigation determined that the original photo showed him holding a teacup, which had been removed prior to publication of the photo. The department eventually replaced the modified photo with the original.
A Russian newspaper distributed by a pro-Kremlin group printed a photograph showing blogger/activist Aleksei Navalny standing beside Boris A. Berezovsky, an exiled financier being sought by Russian police. The photograph was revealed to be a fake within hours when the photographer declared that it was doctored and the original image was published on other websites. The incident quickly led to a flood of image parodies in which Navalny was depicted alongside a range of unlikely companions, including Stalin, Putin, and an alien.