Rules of Manipulation

April 22, 2011 § 2 Comments

The photo Stepan Rudik submitted to the World Press Photo Contest on the left. Original on the right.

Medical photographers strive to document a clinical condition as truthfully as possible. Photojournalists strive to document most aspects of life truthfully. With digital photography it is easier than ever to manipulate the truth. Global news agency Reuters has recently issued a comprehensive set of rules for image processing, that’s interesting to take a look at.

These rules were made after the so-called “Reutersgate”, where it was revealed that photographer Adnan Hajj had manipulated several of his photos from the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict. Too much photoshopping was also the issue when 2010 World Press Photo winner Stepan Rudik was disqualified (see photos above).

A photo can of course never be an objective snapshot of reality, and it’s difficult to determine where to draw the line when it comes to manipulation. As Stepan Rudik has argued, making a color photo into a black & white one could in itself be considered a large manipulation. It’s interesting to see that Reuters has tried to draw the line anyhow. Their set of rules will no doubt be debated by photographers all over the world, photojournalists or not. Here they are:

  • No additions or deletions to the subject matter of the original image.
  • No excessive lightening, darkening or blurring of the image.
  • No excessive color manipulation.


  • Cropping
  • Adjustment of levels to histogram limits
  • Minor color correction
  • Sharpening at 300%, Radius 0.3, Threshold 0
  • Careful use of lasso tool
  • Subtle use of burn tool
  • Adjustment of highlights and shadows
  • Eye dropper to check/set grey

Not Allowed

  • Additions or deletions to image
  • Cloning & Healing tool (except dust)
  • Airbrush, brush, paint
  • Selective area sharpening
  • Excessive lightening/darkening
  • Excessive color tone change
  • Auto levels
  • Blurring
  • Eraser tool
  • Quick Mask
  • In-camera sharpening
  • In-camera saturation style

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§ 2 Responses to Rules of Manipulation

  • Geoff says:

    For reportage photojournalist photography it is reasonable
    to limit manipulation. However Art photography is different,
    manipulation should be unlimited

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