Should We Be Worried About the Spread of App-Doctored News Photos?

CNN published an opinion piece yesterday by photojournalist Nick Stern, who has some pretty harsh things to say about the spread of Instagram-style “fake images” in the news:

The app photographer hasn’t spent years learning his or her trade, imagining the scene, waiting for the light to fall just right, swapping lenses and switching angles. They haven’t spent hours in the dark room, leaning over trays of noxious chemicals until the early hours of the morning.

Nor did they have to spend a huge chunk of their income on the latest digital equipment ($5,999 of my hard-earned cash just went on ordering a new Nikon D4) to ensure they stay on top of their game.

The app photographer merely has to click a software button and 10 seconds later is rewarded with a masterpiece.

Stern also states that “Any news photographer worth his or her salt will tell you that the best camera is one that lets you take the photo unencumbered by the technicalities of the process.”

Opinion: Why Instagram photos cheat the viewer [CNN]

Image credit: Citizen Journalism by Oferico

  • Mitcha

    he is a moron

  • MrRocking

    First & foremost the image has to tell the story. A poor image with or without a filter is still a poor image.

    Not a fan of them but they are now part of the photographers toolkit. A voluntary one and if you choose not to use them then you have my respect. But directing disdain or anger at those who use them as a primary method of acquisition and delivery is a waste of energy.

    This is the way of the world.

  • RJay Hansen

    Either the photo captures the event or it doesn’t. A great photo is a great photo whether shot w/an iPhone or a $5000 DSLR. Sounds like whining to me.

  • Shawn Parker

    I would be willing to listen to his point if he made one. That rant is all over the place and feels more like a whiney 4 year old stomping around Wal-Mart than a seasoned photographer with a point.

  • RJay Hansen

    One more thought…if the photo is badly composed all the push button filters in the world aren’t going to make it good. For all his experience, this guy doesn’t seem to understand what makes a great image.

  • Sean Michael Petykowski

    It was my impression that, “the best camera is the one that’s with you”. 

    It is my opinion that the profession of being a photographer is ever changing and with the availability of high end, high quailty DSLRs at a consumer level price this trend is only going to continue.

    It seems like Mr. Stern, much like the failing entertainment industry, is unable to adapt to change and he needs to learn how to stay relevant. Something that he is being faced with for the first time since the switch from film to digital.

    The photo may not win any awards but it certainly holds it weight with having a story to share.

  • Mike Philippens

    Sounds like jealousy to me. Who bloody cares if the ‘instagram’ photographer didn’t spent years training? Oh, and he didn’t spent $6500 on a camera…now that’s a crime!
    What to make of comments like that? I think that the ‘classic’ photographer is annoyed that with the onset of digital photography, a lot of the mystique of photography has gone. People notice that it’s not so hard after all.

    Sure, a GOOD photographer is (usually) somebody with lots of experience. But with a little practise and some help from the digital wizards, (nearly) everyone can make a halfway decent photo. BUT it takes a photographers’ eye to create a good scene, catch the light and so on. Software can’t account for everything. It won’t make you a creative photographer, because all photo’s from such programs will look similar. But when you’re a little bit creative and know how to use the tools, you CAN make remarkable photo’s.

    In the end, all these tools and apps will change photography forever and will create a new breed of photographers. But these conservative minds like Nick Stern need to grow up. They can’t stop what’s been set in motion. Embrace the new technology or go after the dinosaurs… Photography is a hobby for some, a profession for others. Let as many people as possible enjoy the magic of photography if they like. Don’t try to make it in something difficult, it’s not an elite thing. Everybody can take a picture. There’s nothing to it. I know, I can do it…

  • John R

    I recently saw a child’s life recorded on an iPhone using Hispstamatic. These early shots were all processed to look old/stylised/coloured blobs and whatever else. So what the parents now have is a record of Hipstamatic photo processed photographs with a child in the background.

    The subjects are lost in a sea of effects. The effect is the photograph not the subject. These manipulated images are pampering to the idea that old nostalgic photographs are somehow better or more real. Why else would you add a fake film frame?

  • Mark

    RJay have you ever looked at Stern’s work?

  • John R

    I recently saw a child’s life recorded via an iPhone. All the photographs had been processed via Hipstamatic and saved as heavily manipulated jpgs. What the parents now have is a set of coloured blobs, fake frames, blurs, tints and anything else that is easy to do, with the child as an incidental. The desire to enhance a subject is admirable but if your photograph is to have any meaning, credibility or historical value then leave it alone. There are times to manipulate an image and times when you should leave alone. I frequently rescue old images and if the negative is available then the results are startling, but in fifty years these tired hipstamatic jpgs are going to be a trite reminder of

  • John R

    Sorry about the double post the first one vanished

  • Michael

    Who cares if it wasn’t shot with $100,000 dollar equipment (Camera, Lights, Studio rental, and so forth). Photojournalism is about capturing the right moment at the right time with using whatever that’s available at the time.  I can see Nick’s work are great but he is missing the point of photography in wider spectrum.

  • Claudiad

    Does the photographer who wrote that diatribe have a zipper or buttons on his pants?  Technology changes everything – it’s really as simple as that.  You can spend time whining about it, or just get better at your own art or skill set so you can sell more.  

  • Daniel Yu Suzuki

    The point he is also making is about ethics. It’s addressing professional photography, not hobbyists. 

    If you were to study photojournalism in school, you mandatorily have to take an ethics class. The most important thing you learn from that class is about changing the meaning of the image. How, even changing the exposure of an image can be unethical. By allowing an automated program like Instagram control how the image is edited, you effecting the context of the image. 

    By not abiding by the same ethics as every one in the industry, you are not playing fair and should not be published. 

  • Bob

    What a whiner — and it appears he doesn’t even understand his own medium!

    “Just point your iPhone or Android device, click the shutter button and
    instantly you’re producing something not short of fine art.”

    FINE ART???? Those kinds of photos look like overly-processed, cliche garbage. Is he high?

    “But every time I see one of these “news images” — subtly altered to
    resemble images taken on vintage film stock or using expensive lenses
    and filters — I feel cheated. And so should you.”

    He should feel cheated because someone else got to the news first and used whatever camera they had to take a picture of it — and then they gave the photo for free to news media, who doesn’t care if photos look good, cause they are just going up on the web and timeliness is more important than artistic quality

    What is he going to do in five years when even the cheapest phones have a 12 megapixel 1/1.8″ sensor and image quality as good as a point & shoot? 

    But that’s how it is – photography is going to hell in a handbasket. Glad I don’t do it for a living.

  • Chris Wood

    Funny coming from CNN, who fired most their photojournalist so they could use free citizen journalist. 

  • Michael

    Cliche isn’t it, kind of sad really.

  • Mdcollen

    Funny we don’t have the same feelings when it comes to music.  Use auto-tune and you’re a fraud, which you are, but no one is jumping to their defense citing that preforming artist just need to get with the times.   

  • Peter

    I’m sure his Fine Art comment was meant to be sarcastic.  At least I hope so.  As for the rest of the article, it does come across as whining – or at the very least a poor try at making a good point. 

    I do think that passing images created with Instagram, Hipstamatic as authentic is a stretch and they shouldn’t be treated with the same credibility as what most consider an unaltered image (let’s face it, all photos are altered in some way).  It’s not that these apps actually alter the subject matter itself, but who’s to say other future apps won’t if this type of photography is accepted as reportage?

  • RJay Hansen

    I’m not saying he doesn’t make great images himself, but he implies you need a high end camera, multiple lenses to choose from, dark room experience and years learning the trade. Saying the app photographer merely has to press a button and is rewarded with a masterpiece is ludicrous. His list of requirements to be capable of making great images is accurate in that someone with that experience and high end equipment will probably produce great images more consistently but anyone with a good eye for composition can produce great photos regardless of their experience or tools.

  • RJay Hansen

    As someone else pointed out, all digital images are manipulated from the start by the software in the camera. At a minimum, a highlight and a shadow point are chosen and  the contrast and saturation are boosted. These decision have been made by the developers who wrote the camera’s software. Changing the “meaning” of an image can be accomplished simply by how it is cropped with no further processing involved.

  • MadMolecule
  • Minus Manhattan

    It sounds like most of the commenters didn’t read the linked article at all. Yes, the bit quoted above sounds pretty whiny, but within the context of the article it really isn’t at all.

    The author is right: altered, HDR, filtered, etc. have no place in NEWS photography: photojournalists are there to record the scene, not make something look like an old Polaroid. 

  • Scott Mains

    Having a quick glance at the comments and seeing people complain that he is whining, or whatever. He has a point. Ultimately the filters used are manipulating an image. This can manipulate the story and ultimately defraud an audience. 

    There isn’t much honesty when it comes to photography now, with people trying to emulate styles, and over stylising images lose sight of what photography actually is. It isn’t an artistic impression when you let a computer decide the split toning and vignette values. 

  • grungebob

    I honestly think what the article points out too the Hip- or Insta- Filtered images are not photojournalism. If you shoot with a $5000 D-SLR and added a filter other than Dodging, Burning or Sharpen… you would be run out of town for modifying it past photojournalism. I personal don’t care how the photo is captured… but is a news story if you Hip- or Insta- Filter the photo is the question?

  • ohno studio

    Personally I prefer my News photos straight with no chaser. Nick doesn’t seem to know who to blame here. It’s not the fault of the people with their phone cameras, but the editors who publish them. And just like the crowdsourced filter happy fauxtographers, real editors with high ethical standards are also becoming a rare breed today.

  • T R

    Just imagine if Velvia 100 looked THAT crappy! :s The hipsters can have those useless “Apps” all for them selves, I prefer the real thing.

  • Lpassannante
  • Sergio Alonso Rodríguez

    If a want a bad photo, like one i could take with a forgery camera made in USSR
    in the seventies, i never spend 500$ in the last toy made ​​by apple. Funny people.

  • JB

    I don’t really understand in which context Nick made such statements. Photography is and remains a land of freedom. The same photograph could be sad, jun, crap, great depending who is watching independently on the gear used.
    Why does he feel it is necessary to spend hours learning photography if some don’t want to. Why not just having fun and user all tools availalble (ranging from low end mobile photo to the most expensive professional lenses).

    Does he mean that nobody should play football unless you spend years in training and enrolled in national teams?

  • Gavin Stokes

    Photojournalism has nothing to do with pretty pictures its 1st goal is to tell the story honestly, any editing of the image after the fact (including selective cropping) is considered a big no no (or was). 

  • Gavin Stokes

    Your point being?

  • Jake Asher

    Nobody is ever going to win a Pulitzer for taking shitty crowd photos that have the same exact cliché, faux-nostalgic look as every other app-photo out there.  People who take good photos and win awards do so by being good at taking photos and getting in the right place at the right time.  The above photo could be Hipstamatic, positve film, B&W, and it wouldn’t matter because WHAT is in the photo and how we see it is the most important thing, even more so now than ever when literally any @$$hole with a couple hundred bucks can buy a camera and record everything in sight.  

    I don’t give a toss if the writer feels cheated that he’s paying thousands of dollars while everyone else can get the same thing for a tenth the price.  He should let his talent as a photographer speak for itself, and give the rest of us some credit for knowing quality work when we see it.

  • jdm8

    I would echo that the snippet doesn’t represent the entire article.  There is a lot going on in the opinion piece.  He makes some valid points, some other things shouldn’t have been in it, and the snippet is a dishonest clip.  Frankly, the heavily altered photos are getting annoying.  It’s unfortunate that some of them are making news because of the content, because it does significantly alter the feeling of the photo.

  • Don McMahan

     Nick Stern’s statement that  “Any news photographer worth his or her salt will tell you that the best camera is one that lets you take the photo unencumbered by the technicalities of the process.” is probably true enough but any news editor worth his salt will tell you that the best camera is the one that is there when news happens.In todays picture driven environment a story without a picture is not a story. If the editor had his choice he would prefer that a pro with a D4 was there. The editors second choice would probably be that the guy with the iphone were not using instagram but he his hardly going to say no to a picture. 

  • via_jangwat_statenisland

    um, who is Nick Stern?

    ’nuff said.

  • Anne

    “The app photographer merely has to click a software button and 10 seconds later is rewarded with a masterpiece.”

    .. really. ok then. but WOW I can’t believe people would instagram news photo

  • via_jangwat_statenisland

    you still have to be there, point the camera in the right place, and press the button at the right time to make the news photo. there isn’t an app that creates the news or puts you where the news is.

    people today get their news from facebook, twitter, etc. i guess you can call that a fad.

    so some news photographers are experimenting, mixing it up, using a “vernacular” that is “popular with the kids”, a stylistic app to photograph the news… as long as that process and method is stated, WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

    so if something makes you pause to look at it, why not?

    never heard of this Nick Stern before.

  • via_jangwat_statenisland

    I think Mark is saying given Stern’s work, he’s far from any authority or known entity to speak about this.

  • Aus_Guy

    Today if you were to buy a quality pair of trousers they’ll still have buttons, not a zip. Just thought I’d put that out there ;)

  • Christopher Shelton

    “Any news photographer worth his or her salt will tell you that the best camera is one that lets you take the photo unencumbered by the technicalities of the process.”

    He must mean the one that fits in my pocket and requires none of “waiting for the light to fall just right, swapping lenses and switching angles,” or “hours in the dark room, leaning over trays of noxious chemicals until the early hours of the morning.”? Because those do sound like the kind of technicalities that might encumber the process of capturing a fleeting moment.