Photo manipulating

Do it in ads, but don't screw up. Look
close and see the reflection of a lower
capacity card (8 on top, 4 on bottom).
When it comes to photo manipulation, in advertisements, features, pretty landscapes and portraits, almost anything is acceptable. Photoshop all you want, take wrinkles out, add more people, put a halo on a head and add birds in the trees, but just don’t screw up (which is done more often than you may notice).

However, in journalism, don’t even think about it.

The end. See you next week.

The long discussion is that some photography manipulation in journalism is acceptable and understandable, such as contrast, cropping and sharpening, but the fine line is crossed when an editor or photographer fudges information because they either believe it is necessary, doesn’t matter or that they won’t get caught.

I have fudged the rules a little and justified it (gasp!). I have had indoor news photographs where my flash caught glass in the background and made a glare and I Photoshopped the glare out. Call me a sinner, I don’t care because I was not changing the information. I have also printed photos that the lighting above was too bright to raise the contrast of the whole photo without burning in, so I selected the glaring light, added grey, and then raised the contrast of the whole picture. Bad me.

I once Photoshopped a news photo where one of the people covertly flipped the bird on his sleeve. I should have Photoshopped his stinking face too, but I resisted.

When I think of my minor photo transgressions I remember a photojournalism class I took at TCU sponsored by the Texas Press Association. During a class discussion I disclosed my glare eliminating techniques and my flipping the bird story and the guest speaker, a photo editor from the Fort Worth Star Telegram, completely freaked, condemning my actions saying only cropping, contrast and sharpening are acceptable and nothing more. My response was, “but it is OK when you crop someone completely out of a photo, and that is manipulating the information. Right?” He had no response.

I attribute his Photoshop paranoia to the fact that his paper got in trouble for photo manipulating earlier that same year. It happened during the internationally famous America’s Cup boat race when a boat sank and another team abandoned the race to go to the rescue. The neighboring Dallas Morning News printed the only photo available to the media, which was a frame from the television broadcast, and the Star Telegram printed the same picture but Photoshopped out the network emblem on the television screen and gave no credit to the contributing network, making it appear it was a Star Telegram photograph.

Contrast, although acceptavle, can also be a transgression, as Time Magazine learned. Former football star O.J. Simpson was arrested and accused of murder and the front page of Newsweek featured Simpson’s arrest mugshot, and the cover of Time had the same photo but darkened with sinister, evil looking shadows. Time was ridiculed in journalism circles for the biased blunder (see Simpson covers here).
In the early years of the Iraq War, a couple of Associated Press photographers were fired for different incidents of manipulating to make their photos look more dramatic in hopes of getting their work chosen for release. A stoic soldier was photographed looking over a valley but smoke was added to bombed out trucks, and another altered a picture to bring frightened citizens closer to a soldier.

In media, manipulation feature photographs is acceptable if you are trying to be artsy and not altering information, like the Time/OJ Simpson incident. For instance, I took a normally dull posed group photo of marching band members for an award they won and swirled the background with the school’s colors and it looked very cool in the newspaper.

There are transgressions outside journalism that have little consequences. In a photograph of President George Bush at a table signing a bill, corporate bigwigs who financially supported the bill are standing to the president’s left and right. One company took that photograph and moved their company big cheese from the end to just over the president’s shoulder and printed it in their company newsletter. No harm no foul, but it was embarrassing for the company when the photos went viral in photography and journalism circles.

In journalism, the acceptation is feature photos in some cases, but don’t go too far and don't alter information. In news, if you can't get the perfect shot just try harder next time. That is part of the challenge of being a Ninja photojournalist.


Expose yourself

One of the best ways to become a better photographer is to expose yourself to a lot of good photography.

In this post I share some of the people and websites I look to for inspiration. Click on the highlighted name to access the website. I hope you expose yourself to as much photography as you can and ask yourself these questions:

How did they do that?
How can I do that?
What would I do different?

Something I do when I study a photograph is to look all over the work and imagine I am that photographer looking through the lens at that moment. What am I seeing? What is the “right now” moment the photographer was waiting for?

Someone who continues to influence me is landscape and humanist photographer Tim Sutherland. Tim is an amazing person who has helped me morph from being a good news photographer to a photographer who can capture beauty and feeling and not just a story. Just being around Tim is an experience.

During a show at his gallery I examined each piece the way I described earlier and when I had a moment with Tim I took him to my favorite piece in the show. It was Tuskany Trees, a black and white of tall trees, which we now have hanging in our home. Knowing Tim meticulously hunts, frames and waits for the perfect shot, I told him how impressed I was at his alignment of the trees and the perfect angle of the light source. He grinned and said “Oh, Yeah. I took that one out the window of a moving bus while traveling in Italy.” I wanted to bow and back away.

Another photographer I love is Chrystaline Randazzo. Chrystal photographs nature and landscapes beautifully. However, her skill in capturing emotion in portraits is startling. She is of the Tim Sutherland School of Awesome and her mentor shows in much of her work.

Daily Dose of Imagery is a photoblog project by award winning photographer Sam Javanrouh, who posted a photograph every day for 10 years until he suspended the project July 2013. This is a good way to study a lot of work on different themes from one artist. From his main page you can subscribe to receive a photo each day by email or, if you dare, access the massive archive.

Subscribe by email or Face Book to Frameplay and you will receive an email each day featuring a fantastic photograph and a brief description of the photographer. This is a good way to expose yourself to a lot of different photographers and themes. Frameplay will sometimes post "Three On a Theme," which is one photograph from three different photographers on the same theme.

And finally, Mark Hirsch created That Tree, a collection of photographs of the same, single tree taken every day for 365 days but from different perspectives. That Tree is not only beautiful and insightful, but a useful project to show how the same subject can be photographed in a kaleidoscope of ways.

Get your imaginations cranking, Ninjas, and shoot something cool today. And let me know if you have favorite photography sites you would like to share.


One hour with Fox News

I had to watch Fox News today while waiting for my car to get an oil change and an inspection. I want my hour back.

Writing and reporting must be thorough, fair and balanced with no slanting of facts. Hard news, in contrast to editorials and feature stories where you have editorial freedom, are to be reported dry, unbiased and without manipulating the audience’s emotions.

My ignorance of the way Fox News operates is because normally I get my news by listening to NPR, watching PBS news, reading the AP wire or watching local network news. When National Public Radio and Public Broadcast Service report news they have multiple persons directly involved with the stories presenting different perspectives. If there are opposing views, NPR and PBS have persons from each side present their information. This umbiased type of reporting irritates some, but that is another story for another post. In contrast, Fox News has multiple Fox commentators and Fox reporters readings stories from Fox writers and often sprinkled with comments to exaggerate the facts. During my hour in the waiting lounge I cringed every time a Fox reporter or anchor tried to make a story more horrific, drastic or pathetic than it actually was. This was done with stories large and small.

There was a story of an engine blowing on a Spirit Airlines jet leaving DFW airport and returning to the airport. One of two engines blew, smoke came into the cabin and the plane returned and landed.

The anchor read her introduction “…The Airline exploded shortly after take-off…” which is an exaggeration to paint a picture of a disaster in the sky. Then, a reporter read a statement from the airline that they and the FAA are investigating the incident and planes are designed to fly with one engine if needed and …"the plane landed normally.” The Fox reporter followed that with an enthusiastic, “I tell you what! That was no normal landing!” Oh really? The plane did not land on foam or crash land, the passengers walked out through the exits and did not hop out on a slide and none were hurt, but the Fox reporter made it sound like something terrible happened.

There was a story of people who videoed a large shark beside their boat offshore. The people said it was exciting and I know I would have been awed to see the animal up close in the wild like that. However, the Fox anchor ended the story reading her script, “They saw the shark kill a seal before it tried to kill them.” Really? It tried to kill them? Shame on you, Fox News, for lying and sensationalizing.

These little things go right past some people, but to me they are like a car horn.

A major story today is the re-opening of the government after political blah that shut the government down. Unlike NPR and PBS news, who have been reporting the subject with multiple persons from both sides including congressmen, senators, Washington-based reporters, The Washington Post and The New York Times, Fox reported the stories with Fox commentators, Fox reporters and several video clips of senators from one of the parties. At no time in the hour did Fox News play a clip of someone from the other party, nor did they have an opposing commentary.

No matter what your views are, if you chose not to hear all sides of an issue you chose to be stupid. This is true with education, abortion, religion (all of them), gay rights, race, alternative languages in public schools, poverty, taxes, the wars, Obamacare, immigration, or anything. Have a strong conviction, but if you plug your ears every time you hear an opposing view, you are a puppet waiting someone to gather your strings.

I put Fox News in the same category of other shows that are distortions of reality for for the sake of entertainment, like Real Housewives, Keeping Up With the Kardashians and Honey Boo Boo.


Take My Picture

This post has little to do with journalism, but it is a fun story and this is my blog, so here it is.

Some of the most memorable incidents that have happened to me in photojournalism have nothing to do with reporting or photography.

Many years ago I was covering the Moritz Basketball Classic and dozens of high school teams were converging on all the gyms of an area campus. A typical occurrence when you are carrying a bigass camera in a school is to hear “Hey, take my picture!” from some of the little kids. I usually at least quickly pretend to take a picture so as to not disappoint the youngsters, but one round face kid with a big grin kept showing up wherever I went that day. I believe he was the son of one of the volunteers because when I went from the high school gyms to the middle school gyms a few blocks away he would be there playing in the lobby or laying upside-down in the bleachers, “Hey man, take my picture!” It got to be a joke all day to see who could say it first.

When I had to do other stories on the campuses I would occasionally see him in middle school and later in high school and we would give each other a smile and a “Hey! Take my picture!” as we saw each other. I did not know his name and it was just “Hey! Take my picture!” for years.

Fast forward more years and I am getting out of my truck at a store and I hear this deep voice, “Hey, man. Take my picture,” behind me. I turned around to see this same round face leaning out the window of a pickup. It was Dan Pennington, the “Hey, man!” kid. We talked for a while about work he was doing with area kids and it sounded interesting enough to finally take his picture and do a story about him in the paper.

Hey, Dan. Take our picture!
Fast-forward even more years to last week. I was hanging out on a couch in a church and I hear (drum roll) “Hey man…..” Yes, it is Dan Pennington again, and he attends the church where I work (cue spooky music and fade to black).


Photography: Field Angle

Today I share two examples of how I use “field angle” or “field composition” to compose a picture. If you are shooting still life you simply reach down and move the apple closer to the pear, but field angle is simply moving yourself to align objects in the foreground and background where you want them. You can use field angle with portrait, landscape, sports to an extent and any kind of photography, but today’s examples are photojournalism.

In this picture, I came upon an accident on I-35 south of Fort Worth right when paramedics arrived on the scene. As usual, I was using my long lens to stay out of the way. I took maybe 15 shots while moving down the embankment until I aligned the car in the foreground and the subject behind and facing the camera. I popped off five of my last shots at this angle while the first responders and a concerned citizen in military uniform raised the woman on a backboard and the photo I chose to print won a first place news photography award from the North and East Texas Press Association.

Depending on the competition, judges are fellow journalists from other parts of the state or from another state and are asked to write brief reviews of the first place winners or sometimes the top three winners. Here is the note from the judge.

Division 4
Semiweeklies 5,001 or More
1. Burleson Star — Christopher Amos. Car Accident: Very nice job. You showed enough of the car for us to understand what happened and you were in the right spot to show her emotion. An excellent news picture that has it all in one frame.

The second example is one of my favorite photographs. I call it “Teach Your Children Well.” I entered it in the feature photo category of the Texas Press Association newspaper contest and earned a second place award.

I was at a local cemetery photographing Cub Scouts placing flowers on the graves of veterans the morning of Memorial Day, 2010. While taking the usual pictures and writing names I noticed a man and his son walking away to another part of the cemetery where a color guard troup was rehearsing for the graveside service of a WWII veteran. I had my short lens on photographing the Scouts, but fortunately had my long lens in my fanny pack. As the pair stood respectfully, I began shooting pictures while stepping to my left to align the picture. I spoke with the man as they walked away to get their name and permission and learned the man lost his brother in Iraq and was using the moment to teach his son respect.
Of the many photos I took here I chose this one that was not framed too close and I believe it makes the viewer feel distanced from the subject, like you are standing back in respect and not looking over their shoulder.

When I see this picture I think of teaching children respect and honor.
Notice in both of these examples I did not get in place and then start shooting, but I began shooting as soon as I could and continued to shot while I moved into position.

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