Award-Winning Washington Post Photo DQed for Excessive Photoshopping


There have been several controversies surrounding award-winning photography of late. First there was photographer Harry Fisch, who had his Nat Geo Photo Contest award stripped for cloning out a bag. Then Magnum photographer Paolo Pellegrin’s ethics were called into question when he was accused of misrepresenting the subject of his award-winning photo.

And now another controversy has come to our attention, this one revolving around the photo above, taken by Washington Post staff photographer Tracy Woodward. The above photo was the version that was submitted to and won the White House News Photographers Association’s (WHNPA) ‘Eyes of History’ stills photo contest, but not before it was significantly manipulated in Photoshop.

Here’s the original:


As you can see, the altered version burned out (for the most part) the referee in the background, while dodging the winning athlete’s headgear — the first of which is specifically prohibited in the contest’s rules.

Although the photo was published unaltered in the Post itself, the paper still considers Woodward’s submitting an altered version to the contest a breach of their policy. In an interview with News Photographer magazine, the Post’s photography director MaryAnne Golon gave the paper’s side of the story, explaining that it was them that pointed out the manipulation to the WHNPA and had the photo withdrawn:

Once Post editors saw that it had been altered from what had originally been published in The Post, we withdrew the photo from consideration. The Post’s ethics policy prohibits the manipulation of photographs, and we have taken action in accordance with that policy.

As of now, no statement has been released by the Post or Golon in regards to Woodward’s current status with the paper, other than to say that they are “taking action that is consistent with [their] photo manipulation policy,” and that “it’s an internal personnel matter at this time.”

(via Deadspin)

  • gunman

    1. Out-of-focus.
    2. Poor editing.

    What are the other criteria????

  • Pete Charlesworth

    Mainstream media are guilty of manipulating and modifying/layering their images, either subtly, or extensively without exception, often by proxy….simply to sell more sh*t >> advertising and papers.

    That apples to suppliers using lenses, cameras, filters and flash and strobe/modifiers, right through to software and the materials and media used to reproduce the photographs. Rarely would a newspaper publish an unedited or modified image somewhere along the supply chain.

    To then take the high moral ground regarding the editing of these particular great images (on the basis of running a competition that suggests value judgements of artistic merit) is a bit ripe.

    The real issue is that modification was visibly quantified. The media eat up modified images so long as the are sound and they don’t get seen to be doing it. The word “Image” is apt. Crop an image, it is modified, burn it, its modified, make it monochrome, its modified…..etc.

    From camera to camera, color profiling differs, and post processing is incredibly complex, and very easy to execute. Some of the most notable images in history had extensive and clever manual retouching done in the darkroom – that is art? Yes? Do a Google search on many of the bulk images pumped out by the stock agencies and you’ll see all sorts of variations of the same shot…all tweaked to the needs of the user (Another great word in this instance).

    Avoid contests & rules made by boffins… make Art instead.

  • Tron Sheridan

    And a bad photoshop at that.

  • Florian

    So in what part does the referee add to the message in the picture? Or changes the message of the picture? Yea that’s right, he is completely meaningless for the picture. So get a hold of yourself, manipulating photos is part of journalism since pictures have been invented.

    Nearly every iconic photo that comes to our mind has been altered in some way. Or completely staged in the first place. Or shows only a tiny little fraction of a bigger scene.

    Photographing something is BENDING reality, not showing it. Get used to it. You should get upset if he is altering the message of the picture, not if he is removing something that is meaningless.

    So if he had made the picture one second earlier, or later it would have looked exactly this way. Of course this would have been WAY better (yea, that’s irony).

  • oogabooga

    I don’t see the problem with photo manipulation as long as it is properly done – with a decent amount of time, care, knowledge and attention to detail. There are a lot of things about the original image that could have been fixed without the need to remove the ref completely. Ugh, the amount of inexperience you can see in even a scaled down copy of the image hurts my brain.. I can’t even imagine how bad the original looked on her pc !.

    This photographer should at least watch the “you suck at photoshop” video series on youtube, its cheesy but free and they would learn a lot :). There is no excuse for half a$$ed photo editing these days considering the amount of free training available these days.

  • sandipb

    A photo journalism contest is about skill, and so technique is a valid criterion. However, for news purposes, I would agree with you. If the the photo editing doesn’t change the facts presented, it is purposely ok to burn away.

  • Swade

    How can you see parts of the refs arm on such a small picture. I call BS. Now you’re just looking to find.

  • Swade

    I agree, but the altered photo wasn’t for the news, it was for a contest. The unaltered photo was ran in the newspaper.

  • Jun-Kai Teoh

    There’s some merit to your argument, but I feel that the nature of the contest should be taken into consideration as well. It was a White House News Photographer Association contest, which implies… well, news photography and photojournalism.

    But, maybe I’m just reading too much into it. It just isn’t my style or approach.

  • backyardigan

    Because much U.S. newspaper photography is awful and is lost in the 90s somewhere. There are countless people that could shoot circles around the vast majority of newspaper photographers. I know because I used to be one.

  • backyardigan

    The nail has been hit on the head

  • Christian DeBaun

    I always try for the “up the nose” shot myself…

  • Dave Robertson

    I concur with most, the picture is not that great in the first place. I know it is easy to say this from the peanut gallery, but this picture is not good; and to have won a contest.. :|

  • Dave Robertson

    True, can you imagine a Ansel Adams not using dodge and burn? Yep he did use it and he used it a lot, but I digress his photography was classified as “art” and not photojournalism.

  • Ivor Wilson

    … yeah, and it would still have been a mediocre (at best) image.

  • karoladesrosiers

    before I looked at the bank draft which had said $7387, I did not believe …that…my mother in law woz like they say truly earning money part time on their laptop.. there neighbour has been doing this less than 15 months and resantly cleared the dept on there condo and got a gorgeous Mini Cooper. go to, — Buzz80.ℂOℳ

  • Zos Xavius

    Because I can see a pink blob clearly above his arm despite the small size of the picture.

  • Samuel

    How in the name of god did this win an award ? Does anyone know the EXIF for this it ? it looks like a 2004 cybershot. Is it even in focus ?

    As for editing in photojournalism its really very simple, ask yourself “Does changing this feature change the message of the photo?” if yes, then dont do it.

  • Bismark

    A photog who wins an award for his picture based on
    his talent and his ability to “eye” a good shot should
    never be allowed to alter it from his original subject (s)
    There are categories for that.
    If it’s not good enough for honesty it’s not good
    enough for an award.

  • dbur

    Face it people. ALL digital photos are manipulated, whether by the photographer intentionally, or by the processing and user choices made right on the camera. If you submitted an unmanipulated RAW, which is the only truly unprocessed representation, the best photo would look terrible.

    So where do you draw the line? Obviously for journalism any manipulation that changes the relevant content is a No No. It seems removing dust specs and correcting exposure and contrast and other benign content neutral processing should be OK, and even beneficial to presenting the highest fidelity content. Removing objects maybe not so much. Who knows what signifance a random object may have in representing an actual factual event?

    For artistic representation it’s in the judgment of the photographer, there is no right or wrong answer. Some may process until it best represents what they feel their eye saw at the scene. I’d call that the truest form of artistic photography, but it might even require the use of HDR techniques and more to accomplish. After all the eye is a much better camera than any other on the market.

    For photo contests they can set any rules they like and you can choose to comply or don’t compete.

  • dbur

    Easy to say after fact. Not so easy in real life.

  • dbur

    Sure you can, but there is a limit, and crap can’t likely be made into a prize winner.

  • dbur

    I think I would have liked his result much more if he had just toned down the ref and blue light so that the informational content was still there, but the distraction was reduced. Don’t know if that would have satisfied the contest rules or not.