Danish Photoshop Debate Leads To Disqualification

By Donald R. Winslow
© 2009 News Photographer magazine

COPENHAGEN, DENMARK – Ethical questions surrounding photojournalists' use of Photoshop in image processing is not a controversy confined to the American market. Currently the embroilment rages in Denmark, where at least one photojournalist has been disqualified from a contest because it's been determined that his image manipulation went too far.

Jens Tønnesen, the Webmaster for the Danish Union of Press Photographers, attended the National Press Photographers Association's NewsVideo Workshop in Norman, OK, last week where he told News Photographer magazine about the heated Photoshop debate that's going on back in Copenhagen.

"There's a big discussion of Photoshop in Denmark these days because a photographer got disqualified from the Danish version of 'Pictures of the Year,'" Tønnesen told News Photographer magazine. Tønnesen had written about the squabble on the Pressefotografforbundet Web site. "Since the story has now spread to non-Danish blogs, I have decided to do an English translation so that Americans and others can read it," Tønnesen said.

A rule change in the Danish contest a few years ago allows the competition judges to request a photographer's RAW files if there's any doubt about the images. The new rule reads, "Photos submitted to Picture of The Year must be a truthful representation of whatever happened in front of the camera during exposure. You may post-process the images electronically in accordance with good practice. That is cropping, burning, dodging, converting to black and white as well as normal exposure and color correction, which preserves the image's original expression. The Judges and exhibition committee reserve the right to see the original raw image files, raw tape, negatives and/or slides. In cases of doubt, the photographer can be pulled out of competition."

And that's what happened in the contest this year. Judges asked photojournalist Klavs Bo Christensen to provide his RAW files from a story he submitted about Haiti. Tønnesen says that when the judges saw the RAW files, three of the images "invoked the judges' anger." A side-by-side comparison of Christensen's images submitted to the contest and his RAW files are published with Tønnesen's blog.

The judges told Tønnesen that they repeatedly saw images in the competition that were Photoshopped in such a way so as to "deem them unreliable," but that Christensen's photographs "went too far."

"The colors almost look like they have been sprayed onto the pictures," judge Peter Dejong said.

Christensen disagreed with the outcome. "In my opinion, a RAW file ... has nothing to do with reality and I do not think you can judge the finished images and the use of Photoshop by looking at the RAW file," he told Tønnesen.

As a result, Christensen told Tønnesen that from now on he'll participate in contests with photographs that are only "in black-and-white."

Read the entire account by Tønnesen online here.