Ethics in the Age of Digital Photography

An editorial by Tracy Scherer.

I have read several recaps recently concerning ethics in the age of digital photography. I am not a photojournalist and am just now learning how to use my digital camara; however I do have my opinions on such matters.

What are yours?

John Long, chairman of Ethics and Standard committee for the National Press Photographers Association and a past president of NPPA, has updated educational materials on photojournalism in a new DVD. He states: “Since the first tape was made, I am unhappy to report, far too many new examples of ethical breaches have plagued our profession. In order to bring the discussion up to date, we have created a new version of ‘Ethics in the Age of Digital Photography,’ version 2.0, a DVD that incorporates many of the classic examples of digital manipulation along with some of the more notable new transgressions.”

He continues go say, “Much confusion can be avoided if we differentiate between taste issues and ethical issues. Most of the problems with Iraq and Katrina have not been ethical in nature, but rather issues of taste.”[1]

I personally like being able to manipulate photos to a degree, but is it ethical for the photojournalist? Looking at the recent firing of Patrick Schneider as a result of him “toning” photos[2] has made me take a personal look at what is ethical and what is not.

Let’s say you were present at a bank robbery, the cameras at the bank did not get proper film footage of the robber, you just happened to be there.You get the photo of the criminal; however it is a photo that is not that great. In order to “see” his face, the photo needs to be lightened up a bit. Is that okay? Is that color-changing/toning? AND is it okay for the press to use the photo to help in the capture of the man/woman using a color changed photo? There could be several scenarios like this.

Quoting from the American Society of Newspaper Editors :

The National Press Photographers Association, a professional society dedicated to the advancement of photojournalism, acknowledges concern and respect for the public’s natural-law, right to freedom in searching for the truth and the right to be informed truthfully and completely about public events and the world in which we live. NPPA believes that no report can be complete if it is possible to enhance and clarify the meaning of the words. We believe that pictures, whether used to depict news events as they actually happen, illustrate news that has happened, or to help explain anything of public interest, are indispensable means of keeping people accurately informed, that they help all people, young and old, to better understand any subject in the public domain. NPPA recognizes and acknowledges that photojournalists should at all times maintain the highest standards of ethical conduct in serving the public interest.[3]

For more on “Ethics” please see:


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