World Press Photo Disqualifies Winner

World Press Photo has disqualified one of the winners of this year’s contest after concluding that the photographer digitally manipulated his work. The disqualified entry “Street fighting, Kiev, Ukraine”, shot by Stepan Rudik for the Russian news agency RIA Novosti, had won 3rd prize in Sports Features.

This year, for the first time, photographers were required to submit RAW image files if the judges suspected that photographs were manipulated beyond what the rules allowed. The rule states:

The content of the image must not be altered. Only retouching which conforms to the currently accepted standards in the industry is allowed.

According to the British Journal of Photography, the manipulation involved removing the foot of one of the subjects in a photo.

(via Amateur Photographer)

Update: Stepan Rudik just contacted us with the original photograph and the version he entered in the contest. He says,

Your website gave information about disqualification of my material at the World Press Photo contest. I do NOT argue the decision of the jury.

At the same time, I would like to present the original photograph, from which it is clear that I haven’t made any significant alternation nor removed any important informative detail. The photograph I submitted to the contest is a crop, and the retouched detail is the foot of a man which appears on the original photograph, but who is not a subject of the image submitted to the contest. I believe this explanation is important for my reputation and good name as a reportage photographer. I’d like this picture to be published.

Here is the photograph in question:

It was actually a crop of the following photograph:

It wasn’t the crop, nor the post-processing, that caused the photograph to be disqualified, but the removal of the portion of the foot that is visible between the thumb and fingers of the hand being bandaged. We’ve cropped it ourselves here (Hover your mouse over the image to compare it to the version Rudik submitted):

Do you think the disqualification was justified? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

Image credit: Photograph by Stepan Rudik

  • thenapkin

    If he had waited to take the photo, he wouldn't have had the problem in the first place.

    I think the disqualification is legitimate.

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  • Eugene Doggett

    This whole fiasco seems a little immature to me. The photography industry needs to stop kicking and screaming as technology advances and incorporates itself into the art. Its use is only going to become more and more pervasive.
    That being said, I do agree that the ramifications it will have on accountability in photojournalism are unsettling, but a photograph like hardly deserves this much criticism.

  • jwright1

    I'm not sure about the judges qualifications. The shot is not impactful. Overproccessed, grainy black and white does not equate to high art or storytelling. The photo is a dud either way.

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  • juice

    Rubbish rule. Love the armchair critics above decreeing “nothing should be changed”, and especially loved the “should have got closer” comment. Yeah, because everything happens where and when you want it to in the real world. Good shot after the crop.

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  • dave666

    The contest is press photos. Any press photographer would know that's out of line for this sort of thing. Granted it improves the photo and didn't alter it in a way to convey a falsehood, but still that's just a media standard isn't it?
    Personally I don't think it's all that great an image anyhow.

  • rief00zero

    I'm disgusted at the extent to which the photo was cropped, toned, and lacking the foot. It's manipulated to the point that I can't see it as a worthy photo now that I've seen the original take. The photographer should have simply gotten closer and used a better angle. I'm sure he had a good 3-5 minutes to work with.

  • craigleffel

    The comments here surprise me. I'm an ex-photographer working as a colorist for the last 20 years. It's odd to me that rules are that nothing can be removed, yet cropping, by it's nature, is *removing* parts of the image. Those that mentioned “Documentary” or “Photojournalist” style photographs seem to be forgetting that the difference in creating pictures is that one style of photographer “Makes” a picture, using whatever tools or manipulations necessary, and we typically think of that as an “Art” photograph. The other style of photographer literally “takes” a picture, and we assume that they did not alter anything that happening in front of the camera. Yet, we know this is not true. Many of the best Documentarians of the 20th century set out with an idea in mind, a point of view, maybe an idea to prove. Through editorial, camera angles, and obscurity they lead us to “believe” something about the picture in front of us. The same is very true of Photojournalism and “press” photography. Images are cropped, dodged or burned, changed in many ways, so that our focus is on what the photographer intended, or what the assignment was. Meaning is unarguably changed based on what the viewer sees in the frame, or more importantly, *perceives* in the frame. It is naive to assert that there is anything out there of a commercial nature ( someone is paying for it ) that is “true” to what was happening in front of the camera. There are some purists out there, but the historical record of famous photographers includes many “photojournalists” and “news” photographers that created images out of their own captured material that contained a point of view and a clear intent to manipulate the viewer.

  • jonliebold

    Excellently said.

  • sascharheker

    The problem with the picture, for me, is that the crop gives you the impression that the photographer was close to his subjects. But when you see the rather boring and commonplace picture from the RAW-file, you realise that he wasn't that close to the subject but that he faked this intimiacy by cropping.

  • Strongstreamswimmer

    Photojournalists and documentary photographers may be trusted to make images, but the tools of the trade are designed to eliminate information. Choices are made at all stages of the process to restrict the viewer to a consciously edited visual story. The process has not changed, only new tools have been added. There's no use to stand on a high-horse and pretend that photojournalism is or ever has been pristine. That would be the biggest lie ever sold to the public. There's a difference between an outright visual concoction and a cleaned up image. Rudik merely removed a distraction and did not in any way compromise the truth of the story he illustrated.

  • Brian Rose

    This incident just shows how bankrupt these kind of contests are to start with. They award photographs for calculated affect, false sentiment, misleading context, you name it.

  • Strongstreamswimmer

    Wow Jeff C, did you even bother to read the article on the link you supplied? Rudik's change would most certainly be called an “accidental change” (a change of meaningless detail) as opposed to an “essential change” according to the NPPA.

  • Strongstreamswimmer

    I agree and admire your points. See mine above.

  • Name

    Most definitely. I'm amazed that such an amateur frame ended up winning after a heavy dose of Adobe's finest

  • jeffphenderson

    I think this whole issue is overblown and frankly ridiculous. The cropping and other modifications such as converting to B&W, adjustment of contrast and addition of vignetting, all allowed mind you, dramatically changes the context, mood and message of the image. Removing the shoe in the background, which appears as a small white blotch in the final image is trivial compared to the other alterations and hardly effects the integrity or message of the image. The photographer could have just as easily moved over the the left 3 inches and the shoe would have been hidden, yielding virtually the same image. It seems to me that the World Press Organizations rules are misguided at best and down right hypocritical. Allowing dramatic alterations and cropping are no better worse or different than dodging out a distraction in the background of the image. They can't have it both ways. If they are looking for integrity, maybe they should require all images be shot in .jpg format and submitted as shot out of the camera with no external alterations. And while they are at it, to level the playing field, maybe they should specify the camera body, lens and all camera settings, time of day the image can be shot and the specific lighting conditions that all images should be shot under!

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  • krandall

    I think if removing the foot was against the rules, it should be disqualified, without any further judgment as to the photographer's integrity or whatever. HOWEVER. Seeing the original and seeing the final image which was considered for the award, I am amazed and at the same time inspired to know that turning lemons into lemonade is the stuff awards are made of!!!!

  • Jan Andersson

    Photojournalism? In Haiti, after the earthquake, if you find 90 % of a street scene unaffected by the calamities, you still shoot a closeup of the rubble from the only demolished house, don't you? Preferably with an arm or leg of a victim showing.
    The same goes for the tsunami misery, of every major cataclysm since Pompeii.
    Don't tell me that journalists of any kind are unbiased. It's all about making an impact on the unlearned newspaper buyer so he/she will put the coveted money on the newsstand's desk asap. Educational activities? Naah! Entertainment? Yeah!

  • Jeff C

    I don't think anyone is arguing that photojournalism is pristine. However, it is the job of all journalists to keep their work as honest as possible. What the judges of photojournalism contests like this are doing by requiring the raw files (unedited) along with a contestant's edited images is essentially what fact checkers do for writers, they try to catch lies and inconsistencies before they are presented as news for the public (or, unfortunately, expose it after it has been presented as news). Photojournalists operate under strict rules which necessarily differentiates their work from fine-artists. There is absolutely no place in photojournalism, nor should there be, for “cleaning up” an image of “distracting” elements in post so it is more pleasing to the eye. That sort of work is reserved for the art gallery. There seems to be a misunderstanding about the difference between the goals of journalism and the goals of art. Journalism ideally attempts to present the raw truth in a subject or situation, the aesthetics of the image are not necessarily a priority. These rules are not arbitrary and unfair, they are there for good reason. They are there to try to protect the public's faith in honest journalism. The removal of the foot in this case is a tiny fiction, maybe, but a fiction nonetheless. The public doesn't care if it is a big lie or a small lie, what they remember is that in something presented as documentary journalism there was a lie. Every instance like this one, whether big or small, hurts the profession of photojournalism. These things chisel away at the public's trust that what they are looking at is what the photographer actually captured. Every photojournalist should be aware that there is a zero-tolerance stance on this kind of manipulation, there is no excuse for it.

  • Jeff C

    @ Strongstreamswimmer

    You are wrong. I suggest re-reading the article and examining the author's stance on the pretty specific example given. Here is the full quote from the article on the NPPA website which you yourself are referring to:

    ” It takes only a few seconds with the cloning tool in PhotoShop to remove these lines. Removing the lines is an Accidental change, a change of meaningless details. If we had changed the flag to a Confederate flag, or removed a couple of the ladies, this would have changed the meaning of the photo and it would have been an essential change. But if we just remove the lines, what is the big deal? Who is harmed? As far as I am concerned, we are all harmed by any lie, big or small. I do not think the public cares if it is a little lie or a big lie As far as they are concerned, once the shutter has been tripped and the moment has been captured on film, in the context of news, we no longer have the right to change the content of the photo in any way. Any change to a news photo – any violation of that moment – is a lie. Big or small, any lie damages your credibility.”

    The author clearly states, “…we are all harmed by any lie, big or small” and, “Big or small, any lie damages your credibility”.

    Also, “No one has the right to change these photos or the content of any documentary photo. It is our obligation to history to make sure this does not happen.”

    John Long
    NPPA Ethics Co-Chair and Past President
    September 1999

    I think you may have misinterpreted the NPPA's position on this kind of manipulation. If you read further, and I would encourage you to, the NPPA has a pretty informative section on “Ethics in the Age Digital Photography” (here is the link:…). Their position on the use of the clone tool and the editing (adding or removing) of content from an image seems pretty clear.

  • Jeff C

    Let's get this out of the way. We all understand that as human beings, regardless of training and the promise of adhering to a code of ethics, journalists (and journalism) cannot be 100% objective in reporting the news. Try as they might. That being said…

    Where do we draw the line? Do you argue that there should be no line? Should we do away with these rules and controls which attempt to maintain as much honesty as possible in journalism? Should we fire the fact-checkers and the guys at the photo desk and let writers and photographers manipulate their work to their hearts content and have a really attractive and entertaining work of fiction delivered to our doorstep every morning? I understand that there are many people who don't have very much faith in the integrity of journalism and we all know that no journalist operates in a moral vacuum but can we not agree that the line should be drawn somewhere in terms of what kinds of manipulation is considered inappropriate for material presented as news? Should we not be concerned at all with the integrity of the documentation of our history? I guess maybe I don't understand your point. Is your argument that because documentary journalism cannot be totally objective that we should abandon any attempt to present it as objectively and honestly as possible?

  • Jeff C

    I will concede that you are right that the NPPA would call this an “accidental change” as opposed to an “essential change”. However, they still consider this kind of change inappropriate and a “visual lie”.

  • Jeff C

    The rules are pretty clear. Cropping and changing exposure are within the rules. Cloning something out of the image is a violation of the rules. If you violate the rules you are disqualified. That's it.

  • Jeff C

    The rule is absolutely appropriate. Photos in this contest must adhere to the same standards as photos submitted for publication with a reputable news organization. I don't take issue with the image itself but it is not a responsible journalistic effort.

  • Kevin Coughlin

    I had to look hard – like everyone else – and at first thought: “No, big deal. So he cropped in and burned in a bit “, like one would do in a dark room with a negative. Then I looked harder and thought “Hey, you can't clone out a foot in the darkroom!” I'm sorry kid, but that does not cut the mustard in photojournalism.
    Let this be a lesson to all: don't give in to temptation to manipulate even ONE photo that can disqualify and otherwise impressive package. KUDOS to WPP for requesting raw images.
    That being said, ALL photogs have made faux pas and I think the photographer here should be remembered for his body of work, and not ONE instance.

  • Jan Andersson

    As an old man, I don't understand all this hard-core journalistic fundamentalism. If I don't find some publication trustworthy, I don't buy it. Soon it's out of the market anyway. Many times during the years, newspapers have covered stories that I had some insider knowledge about. Every time, the writing was at best biased but most of the time, unrecognisable. The photographers shot anything but the real subject of the story, always with 21 mm cover-all lenses. When the reporters wanted a fast opinion, they interviewed the village idiot, who only wanted to figure in the papers. I believe the world now is becoming more restricted, and actually more morally and ethnically fundamentalistic. This a dangerous movement. We love to set up rules for others to follow. The authorities love surveillance cameras and email scanning. We get “shocked” if we see a naked body (some can't stand the sight of some underwear). Have you got the swine flu shot? If I drive 59, I am a responsible citizen, but a criminal at 61. Draw the line? I can draw my own lines, thank you very much, it has worked for me. What we need now is a new “summer of love” when we break all the rules, only to save the few that's really essential. We must not limit the creativeness and job satisfaction for anyone, really, included reporters and photographers. This is the only way to achieve better and more interesting media. If I want to look at “unaltered” photographs, I can log on to Flickr, where millions of extremely boring pictures can be seen. In the discussed photo, the “shoe” could be mistaken for another finger — of course it had to be removed. Otherwise, it should have distracted the readers and taken some credibility from the story. All you rulemakers out there, cool down a bit! We have come a long way in the west, don’t turn the dial backwards!. Things will take care of themselves, left to the judgement of common sense.

  • craigleffel

    My point was that it is ridiculous to assert that the majority of “Photojournalism” is in any way unbiased, truthful, or factual to what *actually* happened in front of the lens. I completely agree with the points that Jeffphenderson and Jan Andersson make below.
    This contest is a joke, the rules are hypocritical and senseless. The photograph in question is a lazy photographer hoisting a camera and fishing for an image. He manufactured an image from essentially nothing. That is actually a fairly decent skill. I don't consider it award worthy, but it's a decent exercise in skill. *finding* an image inside an image is as valuable a skill commercially as is making or taking a quality photograph… but it doesn't make one a good photographer. It makes one a good editor.

  • Strongstreamswimmer

    Jeff C, I'm flattered, of all the comments dismissing Rudik's minor changes mine seems to have ruffled you the most. The point I make is that no matter how high-minded you may be in your quest for journalistic perfection you are doomed to failure. You may quote the NPPA, but bureaucracies are notoriously timid. A photo is a version of the truth (a lie, possibly) that starts in the camera and continues from there. The question is, how egregious is the lie? You take the stance as “Photo Police” and claim that no lie is acceptable. But you yourself will most certainly lie the next time you snap the shutter. All I hear you saying is that Rudik is not an accomplished enough liar to work in your world. What I hear many others saying is that Rudik illustrated his story well without misleading anyone. Extreme cropping is the main culprit here but that was allowable for some unknown reason. I have no doubt that under your totalitarian regime many of histories finest photographers would suffer exposure (no pun) as charlatans.

  • sonyahebert

    Why do we do journalism? It's not for ourselves, nor for other photographers. It's part of the democratic tradition of free flow of information. It allows exchange of ideas. Our code of ethics is in place to protect all of this. Trust today with our readers has to be earned more than ever before. Why jeopardize this already-strained trust with frivolous actions like cloning. If readers believe that images or written stories might be fabricated, how will they trust what they are looking at. This trust is central to our mission. When one person does this, it devalues all photo stories, all journalism. We have to protect this trust. Furthermore, just because you can, doesn't mean you should. We do not create something that isn't there. Period. This again goes back to the perception by readers that an image or story is untruthful. A major principle of journalism is to NOT create something that isn't there. We are not in advertising. It is a journalist's ethical responsibilitty to readers and the community to promote truthfulness. What you are talking about is egoism. If a photographer can't capture a scene in the camera, he/she should work on his/her photography, or let the image stand as it was shot. This is a terribly slippery slope.

    Are you a journalist?

  • Strongstreamswimmer

    I think the argument here is larger that what the rules are, it is about what the rules should be. It's about whether to limit photo reportage to a set of rules that are forbiddingly severe, or to take the time to actually judge how well a photographer used what he had to tell the story. I agree with reviewing the RAW image to see if major changes have been made. But the “this is the slippery slope, we better dig in our heels” attitude is destined to fail. History shows that those comfortably ensconced in their positions do not react well to technological challenges. What can be done with new devices will be done, and the rules of the game had better reflect that fact or uncertainty will prevail. Allowing only what was done in the darkroom in the past is not a good standard going forward, either.

  • Peter West

    Nonsense. Back in the “old days” of the black and white newspaper darkroom we did all kinds of things to make our images more representative of what we actually saw with our own eyes. Cropped, burned, dodged and pushed was the order of the day. Now if the contest rules stated “no nothing” then I'd agree. Was there an intent to deceive? Is it propaganda? Don't think so. Does a toe cropped out affect the meaning? Of course not. I think the B&W rendition is more manipulative than anything else and I liked it. I agree with Jan Andersson about “hard-core journalistic fundamentalism”. That's way more scary to me than a cropped toe.

  • Strongstreamswimmer

    Of course it's for ourselves and for others, and for money too, if not it wouldn't exist. But never mind, see my comment to Kevin Coughlin below.

  • Strongstreamswimmer


  • tonymastres

    This is the perfect answer, thank you and I'll second it .

  • tony mastres

    So you would be of the mind that any lie no matter how small is unacceptable?
    This is as foolish and impractical in photography as it is in real life.

  • Jeff C

    Jan, it seems that in the same paragraph you are complaining about sloppy and biased journalism AND against “rules” or oversight for truth in journalism. This seems to me to be a contradiction. I think that every responsible journalist in the world would agree that oversight and certain rules are necessary not only to protect the public from being lied to but to protect the integrity of journalism as a profession. No one is trying to stifle creativity here. Any writer or photographer is free to produce whatever creative material they like, however if it is fiction it has no place being presented as news. Documentary journalism derives its power and purpose from the public's faith that it is as real and honest as possible. Otherwise it has failed. Most rules exist for good reason, to protect people. Try doing a Google or Wikipedia search for Stephen Glass as an example. If little lies are allowed to slip through the cracks and into publication as news it is very easy for this kind of thing to snowball to where, like in the case of Stephen Glass, people are creating work that is completely fictional and presenting it as documentary news. This cannot be allowed to happen. Like I have written earlier in this forum I think there is a big misunderstanding with many people here concerning the difference between the goals of journalism and the goals of art. Photojournalists are certainly allowed to make certain adjustments to enhance their images within reason but there are some kinds of manipulation which does not, and should not, have a place in documentary journalism. Besides that your argument borders on an argument for anarchy. I think your worldview is far more idealistic than my own. In my world things like this do not “take care of themselves” when left unchecked, to the “judgment of common sense”. In fact they get worse. These rules are not in place because of some unfounded paranoia or a misguided obsession with creating rules, they are there based on many many instances of infractions which have occurred in the history of journalism. Journalists are human and imperfect like the rest of us. Therefore I think it is absolutely right that their work is filtered through a series of checks for accuracy.

  • Jeff C

    Once again, an argument based on what was done in the “old days”. It's 2010. I don't understand why people don't see why it is a terrible idea to let photographers delete whatever they like from news photos. Don't you see what a slippery slope this is?

    Also, why does every major reputable news organization and organization of journalists disagree with you? Are they all fundamentalist crazies? If the authorities in the journalism industry all agree that this is inappropriate, don't you think they have probably thought this through. What is it that some of the people here think they understand that the journalism industry doesn't grasp? I'm baffled. Not only should many here read up on ethics in photojournalism but maybe you should read the rules of the competition this photo was disqualified from.

  • A guest

    So, it's OK to remove several persons, but not a tip of a shoe? Ridiculous. Just ridiculous.

  • Jeff C

    No. Of course not. Photojournalism by definition cannot be 100% objective or unbiased. I just argue that the line has to be drawn somewhere as far as what we put out there as news. We are talking about photojournalism, not photography in general.

  • giulio

    Sadly…I think that half, maybe more then a half of the awarded pictures should be disqualified because of manipulation of colors, over post-production and other photoshop tricks.
    Maybe I'm exaggerating but I don't think photojournalism need these things, Don Mccullin or Larry Burrows are just memories but maybe should be good to keep them (that kind of photojournalism) in mind.

  • Jeff C

    Don't be too flattered. There is plenty of crazy-talk in this particular thread. I just happen to have the day off and too much time on my hands. I don't think I'm all that high-minded, I just agree with the rules which have been agreed upon by most every reputable news organization in the world. They make sense to me. I would not necessarily describe the NPPA as a bureaucracy, they're an independent organization who try to protect the integrity of photojournalism, teach young photojournalists, and generally help photojournalists around the country to improve in their field. I have repeatedly stated in this thread that it should be obvious that every photo taken is subjective, taken from the perspective of a person making personal as well as professional choices about what to shoot. This is a case of principle. The line has to be drawn somewhere in terms of photo manipulation. In terms of journalism in general, I would hope everyone could agree that no lie should be acceptable. Lies happen, but they should be fought against. If you you prefer dishonest journalism, consider a move to North Korea where you can assume that everything in the news is complete nonsense controlled by the government. The freedom of speech we enjoy is very powerful, and with great power comes great responsibility. In this case the responsibility is to report the news as truthfully as possible. I count myself lucky that I live in a country where journalists have busted and taken down corrupt presidents, where we can embed journalists with military units at war. We have more freedom to report the truth about what is going on in the world than many other countries dream of. This is what I'm talking about protecting here. Journalism is an honorable profession and it is only honorable as long as journalists out there follow a code of ethics. These are not rules I made, not my “totalitarian regime” (ha), these are rules put forth by the international news organizations so that hopefully people can believe what they see in the newspaper.

    I study and respect all of histories finest photographers. Every day actually. However, we live in a different world today and photojournalism is different that it used to be.

    I also hope the photographer in question here learns from this and goes on to have a successful career. I have no serious beef with him. Like I said, this is a case of principle.

    I'm indulging myself a bit too much here. I get the feeling you don't really know what you're talking about. I'm fairly certain you will never understand why these rules exist in order to protect photojournalists and the profession of journalism in general.

  • Name

    The “if it can't be done in a darkroom” argument holds no water. Google “Jerry Uelsmann.” Everything he produced was in a darkroom.

  • ixan

    this is no journalistic picture at all. it's art. that has nearly nothing to do with reality. reality is only a starting point for this kind of PP.

    so the man in blue on the left side back, darkened, is ok. cloned he wouldn't?

    those rules are useless.

  • Strongstreamswimmer

    Thanks for the mind numbing string of platitudes and slogans. I'm surprised you didn't find it necessary to state that “freedom isn't free” as well. I'm not advocating the dispensation of an ethical code for journalistic photography. My creed isn't fauxtography for the masses. I'm saying whatever code is used should honestly reflect what anyone using common sense would find acceptable. The line you appear to be drawing somewhere (in sand, I believe) is “not one pixel shall be changed.”
    I think that is unworkable, however, if my goal was to protect myself and my profession I probably wouldn't feel that way. Your concern, it seems to me, is to cover your ass when someone in your employ is caught in a real lie, by saying “we have strict rules” and most importantly “it's not my fault.” In the process of protecting your turf you arrogate to yourself the responsibility to decide what is in the publics best interest. OK, nuff said, I have other things to do too.

  • Kaleidos

    This has become some sort of mental self satisfaction… Where is the common sense? No Stalin opponents have been removed, no missiles or smoke added, wtf? Are the judges of this “competition” stupid or are just acting stupid?
    Regular (writing) journalists have it easier: omit details, add some, play with adjectives, be biased… hey you can even invent things and get away with it… Hahaha!

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