Reuters Retracts Icelandic Volcano Photo

Last week when Reuters released photographs of the volcanic activity at Eyjafjallajökull in Iceland, one photograph stood out to Wade Laube, the photo editor of The Sydney Morning Herald.

After making a few calls, Reuters decided to investigate. Laube writes on his blog,

Reuters had made contact with the photographer, an Icelandic local, and sought access to the original. It transpired that before being acquired by the wire service, the photograph had been in the possession of an Icelandic newspaper and it was there that some fairly liberal digital dodging and burning took place. When a comparison was made with the original, it became obvious that post production had been applied to sufficient extent that it violated Reuters’ very firm position on digital enhancement. So they retracted the picture and supplied the original in its place, and we dropped that image into the Herald for later editions.

Looking at the before and after photographs shown above, you can see that post-processing was done in order to make the plume of ash look extremely dramatic.

What are your thoughts on how far post-processing can go before it becomes too much?

Image credits: Photographs by Reuters

  • Shawn Parker

    Never mind the ethics of it, what about the aesthetics? That image screams “over-processed”.

  • Sewicked

    Cropping to focus on an element is acceptable, as long as vital components are not cropped out; so you do not have the equivalent of taking an remark out of context. For example, cropping part of the above photo to remove a little bit of the landscape, so that the ash cloud fills more of the shot is acceptable.

    If the photo caption reveals that the photo has had post-processing done, and why; I find that acceptable. Using the above example; 'this photo has been post-processed for dramatic reasons'.

  • Nathan Rae

    For a news piece the enhanced photo is way over the line but it would look great on my wall! Is there any way to get a high quality print?

  • Brian Meeks

    I don't believe that the post production went too far in this case. I think that the truth of the photo is still in tact, it shows the event, and it may be closer to what the eye would have seen, than the original. In my humble opinion, post production goes to far when it is used to alter the message of the image, like deleting something crucial to the story. But what do I know?

  • Rodrigo Gómez

    For this kind of photos (the “news” kind) I believe they have to be just minimally corrected, just maybe white balance and minimal contrast and so on. This one surely looks more dramatic (although I won't be more “scared” of this than the original, but I can fairly easy see that the contrast has been greatly enhanced)

    For artistic photos then I would without a doubt enhance the photo as it was presented.

  • patrick huffine

    As I've gotten more into photography, I've come to dislike digitally altering images more and more. To me, its cheap. Being good at Photoshop is a completely different skill than photography, but it seems that as time goes on in our computer-based culture, the two are slowly mixing together. I'm not a fan of this at all. I love looking at photoblogs, but am becoming increasingly disappointed with “40 Amazing Nature Shots” just being “40 Examples of Photoshoping Photos”. I applaud Reuters' decision.

  • chrismoncus

    I feel like the original could use a bit of editing in the vein of contrast, but not like the one on the right. At least in editorial photography, you're presenting reality. Editing should only be done to present the photo as it was seen that day. Things like color balance, exposure, and contrast are perfectly acceptable to modify – as long as reality is the end product. Other than that, things like cloning and excessive dodging and burning, I think it's misrepresenting the subject and leans more toward fine art or fiction, not helping tell a story.

  • Alex Brown

    Reuters are being over-fussy IMO.

    No photograph can claim to be a facsimile of reality, and I don't think the post-processed image falsifies what is – after all – an unreal kind of scene. And I know which one I'd rather look at!

  • Darren Melrose

    I am not against processing, but this has clearly gone too far. Surprising that any photo editor would let this slip, as this is quite obviously highly worked over. Looks like Topaz Adjust going full bore to me, not necessarily unattractive (ok, some), but clearly worked to heighten impact and emotion.

  • Roland Giersig

    I'd guess you would get that kind of picture with a normal HDR shot and mapping. Which was probably what was technically done: enhancing the contrast.

    Given that our eyes have a much larger contrast range that any display method now available (be it print or screen), such contrast enhancements may be valid to give the “wow”-effect that you would have if you saw the real scene.

    Maybe it's enough to add a disclaimer? “This picture has been enhanced in brightness and contrast, but no pixel editing has been performed”

  • jonwarren

    For photojournalism, removing sensor dust spots and small tweaks to contrast & saturation to compensate for the digital sensor's “dulling” (or “flattening”) of the colors to match what the photographer saw with the naked eye is ALL that should be done.

    The original pic is what is a photojournalistic pic of the dust plume should look like, unless it was just slightly brighter to the photog's eyes, then the whole photo would've been brightened.

    The edited one is what that same photo would look like if it was for an artistic purpose — meaning anything non-photojournalistic.

    From Laube's full post, it sounds as if that Icelandic newspaper did the adjustments to compensate for older (low DPI) printing presses. However, looking at both images converted to grayscale, there is still plenty of contrast in the original and the edits look just as “cartoon-like” as they do in color.

  • aaronpatterson

    For news its gone too far and is way too processed.

    As far as the image….. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and if you dont like the “processed” look too bad. Art is art and nobody has a right to discredit someones creation because they dont like it. I personally enjoy enhanced images and being creative in post processing is just as important as photographing. If you dont like it dont do it but if the guy was going for something cool and creative, Kudos to him for trying.

  • Felipe Manga

    The image was for a local newspaper… I've never worked with anything related, but I imagine that, since newspaper isn't exactly white, you'd want to add lots of (maybe even a bit “too much”) contrast for it to look attractive in the final print. Anyway, it should have a note saying the photo was enhanced.

  • jeffpreston

    For “news” I want the image more of less raw. Cropped a bit is fine, but color correction…no. I'm not looking for an “artistic impression”, I'm looking for the news.
    I totally understand making adjustments for certain presses and technical issues. But when you start “correcting” the image, it becomes the “Fox News” version of news and more like entertainment than news. That's my take on it at least.

  • Luis Argerich

    What would have happened if the camera did the processing? Let´s imagine a camera that does HDR, the output is then the processed picture. Would Reuters have accepted that? The process is not reversible so there is no “original”

    Now we'd have to wonder why in-camera processing is fine but out of the camera processing is not.

    As it was mentioned in a previous comments the processed image is closer to what our eyes see than the camera pic, why can´t we say that the camera used a contrast-reducing process and the photographer just reversed it to its natural look?

    My view is that for documentary photography as long as there are no added or removed elements from the pic then any editing is ok and the agency needs to decide if they like the shot or not.

  • Name

    I just don't care !!!

    maybe wire must now send raw file and the papers will process them… on their own rules

    Because any raw must be process and the raw show here is really far from the human eye view on the island ! i'm shure… maybe the retouched photo is a bit to much in my onpinion they not replace or duplication anything in the photo.

    All in the photo can be done in a regular lightroom

  • seriesrover

    Well, it looks like he increased the dynamic range of the whole image. It wasn't selectively cropping or removing anything that I can tell from the small images presented. Its a tad over done for my liking, but its pretty good.

    Two important things to remember :
    * Dynamic Range of reality is much greater than a camera's image sensor. We are used to looking at pictures with less range but real life is nearer to the 'post-processed' image we see here.
    * Why is Post-processing (in this example) anymore “right or wrong” than say altering the aperture, shutter speed, iso, or selecting the field of view ?

    As I say, the photographer went a bit further than I would've gone, but he didn't change any vital information or try to present something that wasn't there.


  • tmoore44

    I don't have any problem with the processing. This is a dramatic event. The original is a bit flat and looks like dirty clouds.

  • GiannisK

    Post-Processing of this picture is totally acceptable. Besides the dramatic color enhancement i don't see any other alteration.

  • in_saner

    First. This is sounds like anti-postprocessed paranoia. The aim of photographer was to show the volcano activity, so he did. When the human eye looks at the surrounding things and the signals goes to the brain, the brain does the same – emphasize the most important things that happening around. In fact that's the gift from evolution that helps us survive. So called original image never could appear into the human brain so, talking about the eye catch the developed image got more relation with natural look. Hey, guys, Ansel Adams did the same into his darkroom! Or may be you'd believe that he really was into BW-word with emphasized clouds?

    Second. Technically, if the sot was digital, the image on left could not be called as original. It could be out-of camera JPEG with default setting of developing, or, default RAW-file conversion out of any raw-processing software, DEFAULT, but never original (it could even be flatten default or whatsoever). Because it's just a matter of processing algorithms of digital signal inside the camera (Jpeg) or RAW software. The film itself could be accepted as original, but even that is always matter of film producer and the developing processes.

    So what is the measure of “originality”? The duller the image the more original it is? Don't you think that it's quite stupid assumption? Photography could be good or could be bad, thats it. Post processing was always the part of photography. Even if you did nothing it was processed. On any stage of it.

  • rovanwil

    put the camera on 'p' and you get left image. put it on Landscape and the right one may appear. Getting the most out of a photo is what can be achieved inside the camera and in photoshop. No different from what you would have done on film, selecting sensitivity, grain and tone curve has always been part of the photographic process

  • fwebster

    In black and white newsprint days, you would have put a red filter on the lens and burnt the sky in and it would have looked just as dramatic and nobody would think twice about it.

  • dcrossnz

    loving what “patrick huffine” says. I too believe many “photographers” have more skills with applications such as photoshop than they do with actually taking photo's.
    In this case, well done to Reuters for keeping their standards and acknowledging instances where these standards have slipped.

  • Wandering Pixie

    For photojournalism, a close approximation of reality would be the aim. Some minimal contrast/white balance/color correction on the left photo would still render an acceptable image for these purposes.

    The image on the right seems a little too unreal. Reuters did the right thing in this instance. However, in_saner raises a good point: the photographer/processor was doing the right thing by emphasizing the main point of this image, ie: the volcano clouds. Indeed, I do find the image on the right to be more aesthetically pleasing and dramatic.

    One way to get around the digital enhancement conundrum is simply to state “This image has been digitally enhanced” or words to that effect in the caption.

  • Craig Damlo

    Over processed or not, the raw image is just as invalid a direct representation as the post processed one. The camera can't capture what we see with our eyes and is doing it's own interpretation work on the image before it rights the raw; and before you argue with me, thing about the fact that the photons are converted to electrons.

  • Silje

    I'm almost expecting Jesus to come rising out of the cloud on the over-processed one…

    I'm also going to have to agree strongly with patrick huffine (maybe because I don't know jack about PS).

  • drbukkake

    This is no style!

  • Whocares

    What's wrong with the original one? In what kind of world would you like to live when you manipulate photos?
    Your real world starts to become very boring when you can only be excited when images are modified.

  • Paulwilke

    The processed picture has some characteristics that can also be achieved by bracketing to enhance the dynamic range. Would that be outside of Reuters' rulebook too? I think the PS was overdone, and something in between might have been better. Or is the problem Reuters' has with burning and dodging? This technique has been used in darkrooms by photojournalists for ages. Nobody complained, unless it was done in bad taste. Arguably, that is the problem here. To be frank, I think its Kitch. But it is still the original picture, Paul Wilke

  • Wim

    To me the processed photo looks like the painting of a mediocre kitsch artist. The same garish colors and overdramatization. Perhaps the original could have had a *little* bit more contrast for dramatic effect, but this is clearly far too much.

  • rwanderman

    It's a great question as the replies in this thread show.

    I think most of us can agree that a DSLR is doing some processing before the image gets written to the card and how a photographer sets things up will determine how little or much is done. There is no “turn off all in-camera processing” as all DSLRs process the image that coms off the sensor in some way, even RAW files.

    Maybe pointing the finger at processing or post processing is a mistake, let's just let photo editors decide what they want and leave it at that. If they want a more conservative look or they want an amped up look, that's their decision.

    As photographers we know that even if we attempt to take and process images that, to the best of our ability channel reality, we all have different eyes and a different sense of what “real” is so it's subjective all the way down.

    As is said above, Ansel Adams put a red filter on to make Half Dome look more dramatic, and it worked. As one who's spent a lot of time both in front of and on Half Dome, I can assure you that while I love the Adams image, it's not the way Half Done looks to most if not all human eyes. Again, great image, but a Reuters photo editor might rightly reject it.

    This remains a fascinating topic that has been “discussed” for years and will continue to be discussed for many years to come.

  • Je' Bo

    Hate to break it to you all. But there is ALWAYS a certain amount of editing done to any picture before it's published. I agree that this image is way over done (for a news story). But, it's not outrageous to think that this could happen.

    Editing can add a certain emotion to a picture. The camera will never be able capture what the human eye actually sees. But we can enhance it with editing.


  • chrishoniball

    Yea… when I saw that picture on The Big Picture (I think that was where I saw it anyway) the first thing I thought was “someone had a little bit too much fun on the post on this one”. I don't really see how they could have thought that was a straight out of camera pic… and although I don't think that there was any cloning/addition or anything like that, skies can easily be made to use surrealistic through a simple use of levels or curves. So, in this case, maybe too much.

  • Osiris

    You see a lot of overly saturated images on flickr! They must think it's HD, like they see on their TVs, and so all the beautiful colours must make the photo that much better. So they add more saturation . . . WAY more than the original image contained . . . they remove that subtle soft contrast and see no end to the vibrance enhancer. Why on earth would you want to make the blue hues contained in the original image and saturate them so much that the clouds turn blue?

  • Henk

    Only some light/dark should be corrected, so we can see anything on the photo.
    No other thing should be changed. So no contrast, saturation, color or other changes.

  • Pingback: Bumper photography issue, boobquake, wasps, Palin DD #20 | Dave Hodgkinson Music Photography()

  • kevjohn

    “No style” says that harbinger of taste, Dr. Bukkake. lol

  • Christina

    The photograph should have been labeled as a photo illustration. Anything that is altered in order to deceive the viewer from reality should be labeled as a photo illustration; especially in journalism where the reporter's responsibility is to be objective and to report the truth.

  • Christina

    After reading more of the comments, I have some last thoughts… I feel like there is no fair argument in this case for the amount of processing that was done. We are not talking about artistic photography, which is completely different than journalistic photography and people need to realize this. I saw the unedited photo in the Boston Big Picture blog before the processed one and I thought it was incredible. There are certain guidelines photojournalists need to stick by. There is nothing wrong with lightly adjusting a photo's contrast, color balance, etc… in a way that still closely resembles the view outside the camera. The post processed photo looks great, I am not against post-processing by any means, but it does not belong in a reputable newspaper.

  • Pingback: Natuurgek » Blog Archive » Was er wel een vulkaanuitbarsting?()

  • R v S

    It is nice post-processing and for personal work I'd have no problems with it, but reuters as a press agency has to offer the “real” thing. I agree with reuters on taking the image down.

  • Worapol

    too…much…local…contrast…my eyes begin to watering.

  • Peter

    I'm sick all this overprocessed and oversaturated crap that clogs the Internet

  • Pingback: Photomanipulation & Objectivity |

  • Pingback: Vulkanische asregen gephotoshopped | Hoax()

  • Tim

    Ethical use of photography in journalism echoes–at least, it should–principles used in the scientific community. Due to the subjective nature of recording photographic data, it's fair to allow post-processing work that treats every single pixel in the same manner. As long as one documents the used method, it's fair to apply any contrast curve, color treatments, sharpening, blurring, etc. to the entire image that draws out the data and/or enhances its artistic impact. That transparency (har har) helps to validate any processing work done. However, once you start selectively manipulating different areas within the image, you change the nature of the actual content. This work includes selective dodging and burning shown above and, of course, any pixel pushing. Since they did apply contrast enhancement to isolated areas (the clouds/sky) to an image used for journalistic information, it's no question that this image should have been pulled. If they submitted and slated it for artistic usage/display, it would have been fine for use.

  • John Vito

    Hmm… What if the photographer used Fuji Velvia slide film.. the image would look like the image on right. If the photographer used Ektachrome 64 the image would look like the image on the left.

  • Nathan Erfurth

    As many have said above, the editing was a bit much on the final, but that's just a matter of personal taste.

    Post-processing photos has been a necessity and requirement of the photo developing process since the invention of photography. Choices about chemicals, temperatures, films, lenses, filters, etc., are all going to get you different results. It is physically impossible to create an “unaltered” or “raw” (different from RAW format, mind you) image. Ultimately, it's my opinion that a photograph should represent the perceptual reality of the event. Guess what: events contain emotion. Adding and removing elements, cloning, etc, I highly disagree with. Tasteful amounts of white balance correction, contrast manipulation, and (oh, horror!) curves are not out of line. The same sorts of manipulations have always been possible through, as someone up above noted, through the use of differing camera settings.

    We need a movement toward perceptual reality, not dullery. The real world is not as dull as that left image; then again, it's not nearly as saturated as the right. Essentially we're going to have to trust photo editors to screen out the overprocessed garbage (and there's plenty of it out there) and bring us representative news.

    Can anybody say that a journalistic article (yes, text) is “raw” or “unaltered?” It is impossible for humans to collect data, visual, auditory, or otherwise, without internal perceptual lensing. This is human nature, and it's nothing to be ashamed of. In the news, we want to limit personal biases, of course, but conveying the “wow” moment through a minorly manipulated photograph should not be looked down upon.

    Objectivity is humanly impossible. Reasonable interpretation should be our goal; convey reality as humans experience it.

  • Pingback: Reuters trekt foto terug. Terecht? « De nieuwe reporter()

  • Pingback: ¡Rechazada por exceso de maquillaje! • Blog Archive • Dieciseis:9()