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paper’s side of the story, explaining that it was them that pointed out the manipulation to the WHNPA and had the photo withdrawn: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)

  • Alexander Karski

    It’s not even well photoshopped hahaha

  • Brett Rosen

    I shoot sports photography freelance on the side. If the head hadn’t been enlarged, I think he would have been OK. Maybe because I grew up in a digital world where digital darkroom is part of the job, I don’t see as much of a problem with darkening the background to produce a more dramatic image.

    The final image is 100% a composite and had the tog not shopped the head, and maybe not burned the ref’s arm, he would be okay.

  • Scott

    His head was not enlarged. Inspect it closer (layers in PS) and you’ll see there was just some dodging on his headgear.

  • Kamil

    Sorry, but I have to disagree with both claims, the removal of the referee as well as the head enlargement. Overlay both pictures in Photoshop and play with the levels. You’ll see that the only technique that was applied here is “dodge and burn”.
    The head appears bigger because of the more visible helmet / ear protectors that were obviously dodged (as well as the arms, by the way).

    In the previous debate about the cloned-out bag many people argued that “burning the bag to nonexistence” would have been perfectly fine. This picture here is a perfect example what happens if you do that.

    I’m not a fan of excessively altered press photos but one should at least keep the arguments consistent about the validity of specific post processing techniques.

  • michaelp42

    More to the point how did this photo even win in the first place. It’s not exactly very good in either version.

  • jrixunderwater

    btw: the head has not been ‘enlarged'; overlay the two images… the perceived “enlarged head” looks larger as it has lighter shadow areas…

  • eraserhead12

    I was wondering about that mysterious pair of floating pants..

  • DLCade

    @d4d64fbe6f30f1cc493061dc367d7662:disqus @a41934821cac2a90ddf364b93b229cd6:disqus @c9cbda3ef513f4ce56bd4f3827950322:disqus Thanks for pointing out the mistake regarding the enlarged head. The wording has been changed to properly reflect the actual manipulations done to the photo :)

  • Padbrit

    Just goes to show you can’t make a rubbish picture better with photoshop.

  • Steven Barall

    The photo is just so mediocre that Woodward is disparately trying to “improve” it. When are these people gonna learn? You can’t turn a nothing photo into a something photo.

  • Mansgame

    This guy should never be allowed to hold a camera again after this shameful act.

  • Sean Curran

    if he went through all the effort to burn out the ref, why wouldn’t he burn out the bright blue section above the guys right hand? That is honestly killing it more than the ref to me. I actually like the photo, and like the idea of burning out the ref a bit, but it was poorly executed and taken too far, a little less would have been fine. I just dont get it, he obviously takes pride in the photo, why wouldnt he do it justice and get it right? I view this as no worse than HDR, still poorly edited, its just as bad as poorly done hdr.

  • justafa1

    photo manipulation has no place in journalism…. period.
    everyone who thinks otherwise has no clue what journalism means…. no wonder with todays blogsphere.

  • Pierre Foucart

    He just adjusted the contrast he did not enlarged the head.

  • Pierre Foucart

    You don’t need to overlay both photos to see that… you just need eyes ;)
    It’s like the author of the article never played the 5 diffences game.

  • Thanassi Karageorgiou

    Amen. When “Dodging into nonexistence” and “digitally altering” produce the same result, they need to take a look at re-wording their rules from scratch.

  • Nikki Comma

    That’s … not the best work in Photoshop I’ve ever seen. The pixels he left around the right arm (winner’s left arm)…?

  • Persio Pucci

    look at the arms and all the noise, that is preposterous!

  • Frank de Leeuw

    It improved the image, without changing the intention. If the photograph was taken 5 seconds later the awarded version was still a prize winner.

  • Anthony J. Mitchell

    It wasn’t even a good photoshop. You can clearly see the anomalies.

  • James Farley

    The age old adage applies: “You can’t polish a turd”

  • Melo

    This is another example of why I don’t enter photo contests. The fact that a group of ‘judges’ consider this an award winning photo is preposterous. I see a thousand photos every day that are a thousand times more worthy of recognition.

    Photo contests have become an industry in of themselves. More about entry fees and pretentious art politics than actual talent.

  • Sarah Bugeja Kissaun

    Isn’t the definition of photomanipulation the use of two or more photos layered over each other? That’s just simple editing which I’m sure any other photographer would have used…

  • Tony L.

    Imagine if there was no Photoshop, and you had to supply negs/raw files… how many “great” photos would turn below average?

  • JoanieGranola

    It’s not a composite. He merely dodged and burned — which is an acceptable practice in film (within reason). Burning and dodging should be acceptable in digital images as well — and in photojournalism they are, within reason. However, if the rules of a contest forbid it, then a contestant shouldn’t do it. These alterations weren’t very good to begin with, and I’m surprised he made them for entry into the contest. I think the image would’ve been fine submitted in it’s original format (though in my opinion, it’s not exactly award-winning, but I’m not one of the judges).

  • Amy

    I think the referee adds to the mood of the photo…?

  • Ivor Wilson

    This photo won an award?!?

    /apologies, michaelp42 beat me to it.

  • Jamie Robinson

    really. wtf?

  • Juan Medina

    well … if rules stayed no manipulation… then there is no discussion

  • [email protected]

    Personally, I don’t have an issue with dodge/burning to a limit (like the head-gear in this instance). But it goes too far when this technique is used to remove elements of the/a photograph for the purpose of awards, showings, contest, etc. Furthermore.. and quite frankly, this is a poor attempt to remove the official from the background. You can still see & make out that this is a persons lower torso.. can see part of the tennis shoe on the right foot/leg area.. and see where there’s a stray brush stroke that extends into the blue curtain area right under the wrestlers left tricep.. I honestly like the original photograph much more.. and probably would’ve only done slight editing (primarily in the facial are of the top wrestler and the head-gear – as done here…. boosted the color a bit and DeNoised the picture a bit). Bottom line.. if this was the winning shot.. there must not have been much to choose from. Sorry to be harsh, but that’s my opinion.

  • Bill Austin Kearns

    “Seventeen players were shot to death at the match”. Ooops, let me WordShop that: “Seventeen players were shooting at the skeet match”.

  • Mansgame

    indeed. even little local contests are about who has the best gimmick.

  • Rob Rivers

    the definition of photo manipulation is to manipulate the photo

  • skyshoes

    Yes. I was really interested in the part of the torso of the ref.. I feel fulfilled now seeing that “important” factor added back in.

  • DamianM

    He could have waited just a bit or moved to the side just a bit and this wouldn’t be a problem.

    Stop relying on Photoshop to make things “better” and make them great in the first place

  • Andrew Felix

    Burning and dodging were around 100 years before photoshop. It’s a legitimate technique when developing photos.

  • mbrobich

    Who cares. It’s not a life and death situation. No one is being sued for defamation or slander. The only thing that matters here, is the joy of the winner and the sadness of the loser………………..

  • Tyler McDanel

    I am a sports photographer and would NEVER opt to Photoshop my images. I can’t say that I haven’t though about it though. There is a lot of pressure to get good images of good wrestlers…sometimes matches only last seconds and it’s done. BTW, the image is only ok, nothing special. Refs are always present, it is just part of the environment. I hate it though, when they get in your way.

  • lolz

    i like how the refs legs are still there… hah

  • Alan Hough

    Mmmm I agree with Michaelp42, an unremarkable photo.

  • Bill E. Lytton

    To what extent is it reportage if you can freely remove what you want?

  • Bill E. Lytton

    Were the pictures on this page screen-capped? From the actual source they have a few more pixels.

  • Robertjm

    You can debate whether there should be any manipulation other than cropping done when it comes to photo journalism forever.

    However, my issue is not that there was a tremendous amount of dodging and burning, but that it was done AFTER the photo had been published unaltered. If it was good enough to publish in the paper that way, it should have been good enough for a PHOTO JOURNALISM contest!!

    The actual manipulation done in this photo did not change the truthfullness of the subject photographed in any way.

  • Mike Dean

    It doesnt matter if it’s photoshop or burning and dodging. If you’re altering the way it really looked its unethical and a fireable offense at most newspapers.

  • Andrew Felix

    You’ve never worked for a newspaper have you? Almost every photo you see in press is edited to draw focus.

  • wilmark johnatty

    Would like to see what it was competing against – it certainly looks very ordinary. Like it was taken by an amateur. Its not shopped very well either. Look at the wrestlers arm intersects with the ref’s arm, its not even masked very well.

  • DSJ

    A photo will ALWAYS alter the way a scene really looks. The lens you choose dictates what is in or out of the periphery (which can significantly alter an image).The film stock or sensor type will affect color and saturation. Processing techniques will do the same, as will paper stock. White balance will change how the image really looks. WHEN you snap the photo is (or can) alter the actuality

    Maybe this guy didn’t win. Maybe his leg is snapped, and the expression is agony. We can see, because the image is altered in the way it is cropped.

    While I certainly understand an expected level of ethics in journalism (as futile as it is), a blanket statement like “cannot be altered at all” is nonsense and impossible.

    Is this image within that scope of ethics? For me, I am on the fence. I am not comfortable with it, though I do not think it damages the integrity of the image. On the other hand, If the wrestler was caucasian, and the ref had a black shirt, and all else was equal, I would not object to a levels or curves adjustment to make the ref go full black.

    While technically different circumstances, you are achieving the same goal for the same purpose.

  • Richard Balonglong

    Photojournalism 101 on post post processing: never ever remove or add elements. Just use brightness, contrast, cropping, sharpening, saturation, sharpness. As for dodge and burning, it should only be used minimaly.

  • Zos Xavius

    what’s so good about it? the skin tones look horrid too. too much green. the defeated wrestler is too cut off too. It doesn’t give enough context. I could go on, but why bother?

    ps: you can still see parts of the ref’s arm along the wrestler’s arm as well as the legs which were completely left in. the shopped version is far worse than the original!

  • Zos Xavius

    MINIMALLY being the key here…..