ABC News is carrying a thoughtful report from Der Spiegel about the controversial World Press Photo award-winning picture by Paul Hansen from Gaza. It comes along after a fresh round of accusations have been leveled at the photographer, including this provacative headline at a website called ExtremeTech: How the 2013 World Press Photo of the Year was faked with Photoshop.
Hansen’s quoted in the Australian press vehemently denying any fakery
“In the post-process toning and balancing of the uneven light in the alleyway, I developed the raw file with different density to use the natural light instead of dodging and burning. In effect to recreate what the eye sees and get a larger dynamic range,” he says. “To put it simply, it’s the same file – developed over itself – the same thing you did with negatives when you scanned them.”
Michael Shaw at Bag News Notes offers a stinging, back-hand critique: Hansen’s World Press Winning Photo Not Fake… Just Unbelievable. In short: The WPP image begged for scrutiny.
“This wave of drama over Paul Hansen’s World Press winning photo would never have happened if the photo wasn’t processed to the extent to make almost anyone question — the second time in the past couple months — whether it might not be real,” Shaw writes.
As a way of helping people understand the ethical boundaries of how and why this type of manipulation takes place, the Spiegel article profiles the Italian post-production house 10b, which was co-founded by the photojournalist Francesco Zizola.
For 10b, there is a clear definition of what constitutes impermissible manipulation of a journalistic photo. It includes, for example, moving around pixels within a photo. But the choice of development techniques, as well as modifying contrast, saturation and density, are all allowed in principle.
As the reporter watches, that exactly what they do. The end result looks like something familiar to any photographer who has ever spent any time in a traditional darkroom, working with contrast filters, developer solution ratios, and dodging and burning.
I watched a demo recently at an Online News Association presentation of a process quite similar to the one Hansen used; the photographer made copies of the original RAW file, then adjusted each copy to balance for different lighting, one output for highlights, one output for shadows. Software then combines the versions so that the final image has the same kind of highlight and shadow detail the eye would detect in the actual situation.