Pulitzer Prize-Winning AP Freelancer Fired Over Photoshopped Syrian Conflict Photo


When it comes to major Photoshop alterations, serious news organizations have a zero-tolerance policy, as AP freelance photographer Narciso Contreras recently discovered. After admitting that he had cloned out a piece of a Syrian conflict image, the news agency was forced to ‘sever ties’ with the Pulitzer Prize winner.

The photo in question was taken in September of last year, and shows a Syrian opposition fighter taking cover during a firefight with government forces. In the original, a colleague’s camera can be seen in the bottom left corner of the image, a camera that Contreras decided to clone out before sending the picture in.

The revelation led to a massive investigation during which the AP pored over all 494 images that Contreras had submitted since he began working for them in 2012, and even though no other instances of alteration were discovered, editors still decided to give Contreras the boot.

Mideast Syria

“AP’s reputation is paramount and we react decisively and vigorously when it is tarnished by actions in violation of our ethics code,” said AP Director of Photography Santiago Lyon. “Deliberately removing elements from our photographs is completely unacceptable.”

For his part, Contreras realizes that what he did was wrong. “I took the wrong decision when I removed the camera … I feel ashamed about that,” he said in an AP article. “You can go through my archives and you can find that this is a single case that happened probably at one very stressed moment, at one very difficult situation, but yeah, it happened to me, so I have to assume the consequences.”

To learn more about the situation, click here or here to read both of the AP articles on the incident.

(via TIME)

Image credits: Photograph by Narciso Contreras

  • aher

    there is a size in pixel on the photo for alteration? like: you can remove max a radius of 10 pixel… <_< wait, what if i have a dust spot of 20 pixel ?

  • Morgan Glassco

    Do you even understand what I am saying? Fox is bias because they have a predetermined course of action with their information. I am expressing an opinion which I have no expressed interest in other than reporting my findings.

  • OtterMatt

    He’s REALLY excited about his Instagram account.

  • Anthony Flores

    Don’t be lazy and clean your freaking lens.

  • Bill

    I’m going to assume, by asking me the question “Do you even understand…” that you don’t understand what I’m saying. Let me, if I may, explain to you what I mean, it is that you as an employee of a news service are, it would appear, not aware of your own bias. By impugning Fox News, that has as its motto “Fair and Balance” as having some nefarious intentions is like saying that MSNBC has those same, or worse, objectives. That’s not the case as I see it, one has a Conservative bias the other leftist. I take issue with the likes of cnn, washington post, ny times and others that pretend to have no bias, when any rational person can see that they clearly are left. MSNBC wears its imprimatur proudly, I have no problem with their leftist views, I know where they’re coming from, but when one slams an organization, like Fox News then tells me “I am expressing an opinion which I have no expressed interest in other than reporting my findings.” I find that dubious, to put it mildly.
    AP as a news gathering service should hold tight to their rules, because to a lot of us Conservatives they lost credibility long ago.
    Lookup “journalist” and the Fifth Column if you don’t know what those are.

  • Morgan Glassco

    ^ have you read what you wrote? I am done with this, and it started with another gentleman anyhow. According to you, somehow I am relegated to not having an opinion but Fox is. I hear the words you are saying, but they do not make sense.

  • KattFloka

    Aher, I assume you haven’t worked on a news magazine.
    Most of them wont let you remove or add any elements in the picture.
    For example, I took photos of a kid in her room for an inteview. She had small pictures of princesses on her wall, which framed her nicely except for one picture. The photo would have looked much nicer without that annoying princess, but I wasn’t allowed to remove it. And that was only a little Cinderella picture ( or something like that ), comparex to his editing it was nothing.

    Do you understand now why dust spots has nothing to do with this kind of editing?

  • ninpou_kobanashi

    I’m curious of the “Cropper”. Can’t we just assume the image IS in fact a cropped version of reality? We should all know that there could be something outside the frame, even for non-modified photos.

  • Andres Trujillo

    probably yes

  • Morgan Glassco

    Cropping is already allowed, so this would just let you know it was.

  • Ali


  • clean your fn sensor!

    every time you leave your sensor filthy SHOULD be illegal. are you a photographer or another pointless whinger?

  • Alex

    It may seem harsh to let him go but the rules that you lay are the rules that you must obey. I respect AP for ensuring that the pictures are not tampered with. A good example of what happens when you skirt a foundation can be easily seen with our country and the constitution.

  • Kurt Langer

    What I keep seeing is a boring picture. Who would use this? Who would even submit it?

  • Rabi Abonour

    Yes, it would. It’s a matter of principle; once you start removing things from the scene the validity of the whole picture comes into question.

  • Bob

    Not really changing the final image in any significant way. It’s sad that they would give the boot to a good photography because “rules” that they have in print that they can’t seem to get around. Simple and foolish-minded from the art directors stand point. I’m guessing it’s the higher ups that manipulated the art director who couldn’t actually stand up for him or herself. Again sad.

  • Rabi Abonour

    It’s amazing that photographers still try to pull this kind of thing. It’s so firmly against the rules, and you will get caught. It doesn’t matter whether or not you think the alteration is significant. By all standards of photojournalism, you just can’t do this. Everyone knows that.

  • Rabi Abonour

    I’m not so sure. Getting fired for image manipulation is pretty much a career-killer for a photojournalist.

  • Rabi Abonour

    The AP allows for cloning out sensor dust. Under their guidelines, that is the *only* acceptable use of cloning.

  • Sundra Tanakoh

    That’s not all he did, look carefully at the shadows and skin tones.

  • Joseph Farrugia

    It’s OK to be stupid, but it’s not Ok to post a stupid comment like yours……learn the what it takes to get photos like these before posting babble

  • chphotovideo

    My guess is the man was earning fair pay for amazing work. They needed an excuse to fire him and pay a new guy half what this guy was making.
    Just guessing. But sounds about right wouldn’t it? lol

  • Surge

    I think having the camera in there is important for the interpretation of the image. With the camera there, you know it’s not an action scene, for example. In other cases, a small detail can mean a lot. The AP rule is basically saying that they don’t want to present fiction as news. Changing the photo for artistic reasons, or to better represent an image the author intends, is basically creating a fiction. AP doesn’t want fiction for obvious reasons.

  • ISO640

    There are enough ways to “skew” a story without having to manipulate digitally. I’m not saying this photojournalist was trying to skew the story but others have I’m sure by just choosing an angle that doesn’t tell the whole story. Photojournalist Kevin Carter learned this the hard way and it followed him the rest of his career.

    I have great respect for war photographers and I count on their images to tell as unbiased story as they can. That said, you never know what the image has left out or how it’s been framed that doesn’t tell more of the story.

    And dude commending Fox News for it’s “fair and balanced” reporting, you need to stop drinking the Kool-Aid. If you want fair and balanced reporting, then you need to get it from more the one source because all cable news outlets are biased one way or the other and more often than not, it’s not news they’re relating but opinions based on news. That isn’t news.

  • Marius Viken

    Removing the camera is changing the story which is wrong because one should be able to trust that a photojournalist tell the full and true story. Why does a war image have to look beautiful and esthetique when the truth is people suffer and die?

  • Gav

    If only he’d just cropped it instead…

  • flightofbooks

    gotta start somewhere, I guess

  • flightofbooks

    And your opinion has no bearing on the how the AP enforces its guidelines, though it seems you feel it should.

  • flightofbooks

    “the truth of the image” lol

  • flightofbooks

    I don’t think you understand what “bias” means.

  • flightofbooks

    While the AP is absolutely in the right here, your idealistic representation of photojournalism and it’s relationship to “The Truth” is rather comical. Photojournalism has never been particular concerned with truth even while swearing up and down that “The Truth” is paramount, that there is such a thing as objective truth and that photojournalists are guardians of it (Hah!).

    The fact is that photojournalism has been chock full of liars this whole time (by your standards, at least). How many years did you guys present staged shots as candid reportage before finally labling those kinds of images “editorial”? (a distinction I’m quite sure is lost on the average news reader) Robert Capa’s “death of a loyalist soldier” is still under a cloud to this day, and he basically invented the term “photojournalism”. Photojournalism has never lived up to the lofty standards guys like you have set for it. Never ever, not even close.

    So yeah, photojournalists shouldn’t go around digitally removing or adding to the content of their photos, but don’t stand here and act like “The Truth” is as simple as your sophomoric representations of it, much less something that photojournalism actually is as concerned with as you would have us believe.

  • flightofbooks

    Or how about before the image was even exposed? Staged photos, editorial pressure, personal bias, etc etc etc have all affected published news images at one time another. When you hear a photo journalist like that guy up thread waxing poetically about “The Truth” or “Objectivity” or whatever else you know you’ve found some one in deep denial about the very old problems and actually very well known problems with photojournalism. Unfortunately, this means they’re also in denial about the history of their profession which leads to it’s own sort of factual manipulation…

  • flightofbooks

    From an artistic prospective he ripped a hole in his image and plugged it with some badly executed clone stamping. F-

  • flightofbooks

    the worst part is that it’s not even that strong of an image to begin with. certainly not something to ruin a career over.

  • flightofbooks

    there’s no such thing as “unbiased” reporting though.

  • Eboo

    As we all know, the quality of art is in the eye of the beholder and whether it is good or bad is strictly subjective. Art is raw, human expression and really should never be judged as “good” or “bad”. This man fell short in being honest and following the AP’s guidelines. I don’t see his clone stamping as poorly executed and obviously the professionals at the AP didn’t think so either because they didn’t even notice.

  • bob cooley

    Doesn’t matter – in photojournalism you do not alter the content of the image (retouching for scratches in negatives, sensor dust, and minor dodging and burning have always been acceptable) . Its a matter of credibility. standards and ethics – one that has existed since the Civil War in the US and longer elsewhere. In fine art, fashion, product, and other forms, no such standard has ever been held. But in photojournalism, its sacrosanct.

  • Oj0

    Another camera isn’t a natural part of the scene, I honestly don’t see anything wrong with what was done. He didn’t edit out a dead body or a weapon or anything to that effect.

  • flightofbooks

    If art were really just “raw, human expression” than the camera wouldn’t mattered. The expression would have carried the image regardless. But art is more than mere raw expression, and the doctored image is not particularly good art.

  • Manderstudio

    whats all this talk about dust spot bull? That dudes alteration was with bad intentions. Honestly, that is one bad photoshop “alteration”.

  • Manderstudio

    here we go about alterations again.

  • Spiff-07


  • Justice Delivered

    AP…”AP’s reputation is paramount”?

    It is too late, AP’s rep is already in the toilet and the reason has nothing to with this edit.

  • Justice Delivered

    I don’t think so.

  • Justice Delivered

    “Any type of alteration is not permitted by AP.”

    But biasing an article is? Twenty years ago I could get a clear picture of truth from media coverage, that is no longer the case.

  • Justice Delivered

    And AP reports selectively, often giving a false impression.

  • Justice Delivered

    “don’t want to present fiction as news”

    Their Zimmerman coverage did, and their claims about the Corey painting sound bogus. That painting is trans-formative and I think AP thinks they can bully capitulation because of the cost of litigation.

  • Jeff Price

    So first you think there is objective truth in photography or journalism just because there wasn’t and PS?
    Your whole line of discussion is illogical. You can arrange the shot to alter the story. He could have cropped it tighter and eliminated the camera. He could have aimed up a hair while composing the shot and eliminated it.
    What is your position then? Is that dishonest? or merely sculpting the story to suit what you are trying to say?
    “As long s your following the rules” The Nazis in death camps were following the rules, does that make it right?