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

  • Moonball

    Another one bites the dust. He obviously fell in love with his composition and made a poor decision. People, don’t be afraid to kill your darlings!

  • Zeroblamp

    “AP’s reputation is paramount” – That’s kind of hilarious given all the negative publicity they’ve been recieving in the past year.

  • Adam Cross

    meh, it’s a camera, if it were a body or something important then yeah maybe fire him. but it’s a camera.

  • Morgan Glassco

    At some level I wish there was a way to convey what level of adjustments have been performed on an image, similar to a movie rating system. C is for cropper, H is for heavily modified, A is for adjustments (exp, contrast, etc), M is for modified etc.

    Some of examples that have been made of news photographers seems justified, but this did not change the truth of the image so I really do feel for this photographer.

  • IEBA

    Taking it like a professional, he is.
    It was a stupid decision.
    While I have no problem with the retouch, I can see how the AP has decided that they can’t start allowing “some” retouching.

    I don’t understand this “ban” on an individual, though. Maybe call it “strike 1″, probation, and with #2 you’re gone.

  • Iulian Dita

    That’s not the point. Any type of alteration is not permitted by AP.

  • zero-0

    Saturation in the photo’s look very different to.

  • Sir Stewart Wallace

    You’re usually allowed to adjust the color or crop an image. You just cannot edit things out or into an image. Or make any drastic changes like altering the color entirely.

  • pgb0517

    As for former journalist, I sympathize. The journalism biz has been embarrassed too many times by cases similar to this, so they have to take a hard line. The problem is maintaining the public’s perception of photographic and journalistic integrity in an age in which images and words can so easily be manipulated, and the public distrusts the mainstream media anyway.

  • OtterMatt

    As much as I understand that rules are rules are rules, and they have to apply to everyone…
    Dude, that’s harsh.

  • pgb0517

    Yes, it changed the truth of the image. Something got removed from the scene. The truth is, there was a camera there. The problem with a rating system as you propose is that people will never know exactly what was changed. AP was correct to make an example of this poor shooter.

  • pgb0517

    Taking action like this will help restore that tarnished reputation.

  • Adam Cross

    yes. but AP guidlines/rules are not my opinion. my opinion is that it’s not a big deal, it’s a camera. AP are insane to fire this photographer.

  • Morgan Glassco

    Was he shielded by the camera? Did removing it change your understanding of the situation? Nope.

    And the movie rating system isn’t perfect, well, because there is not a perfect solution. Kinda a “duh” point. The intent is to set expectations, not to spoil the content.

  • Morgan Glassco

    I’m with you. But I do understand how letting anything at all slip, lends to the next photographer looking for the same accommodation and so on.

  • laura

    I disagree. It’s a slippery slope. Where would it end? Sure, this time it’s “just” a camera, but it sets a precedent. AP has to be all or nothing, so I agree with them on this decision.

  • pgb0517

    No, the perfect solution is to never modify the content of a news photograph. I’m glad you’re not a photojournalist. You’re just wrong on this one, sorry.

  • ms

    How did he even get caught for this? Note to other AP cloners…export as Jpeg, delete the raw, and claim you only shot jpeg!

  • Matt

    Ya, thats integrity.

  • aher

    So everytime i remove “dust spots” out of my photos it is illegal…. aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa! im doomed

  • Renato Murakami

    It is what it is. Decision might sound a bit harsh, but such rules can have no exceptions because once exceptions are made, people are bound to abuse the system.
    Kinda sad for Contreras because the shot looks just fine without the changes.

  • ms

    I’m kidding. But I’l bet there is and has been a lot more manipulating going on than people think. Even in famous, historic photos where the shopping was done in the darkroom.

  • Morgan Glassco

    Yes, because all news is unbiased truth. Right. When was the last time you watched Fox?

    Plus, I was speaking in a much more general tone about media in general. Everyone is up in arms about how models are over touched and giving an illusion of beauty that is unrealistic. The rating system would be helpful also in these situations.

    And I am happy to report that I am a photo journalist, though I only cover events, charity, concerts, launch parties etc. But yeah, you can dismount your high horse now.

  • Stephanie

    How did he get caught? You’d have to be blind not to see where the clone came from. And I agree with Matt. Where is the integrity and honesty? We are not politicians. You should be able to take pride in your work. Not hide behind crappy clone jobs.

    I’m not sure why he cloned it out at all. Perhaps it might not have gotten picked up but if he truly loved the photo, he should have just submitted as it was. Who cares if there is a camera in the photo? You can barely recognize it as a camera in the original anyway.

  • Eboo

    I see nothing wrong with what he did from an artistic perspective. The AP has their own set of rules, so if he is to do business with them, then he has to honor those guidelines.

  • MarvinB7

    A real stand up guy to own up to his choice and accept the consequences gracefully. He’ll be fine.

  • pgb0517

    If you’re removing objects from your photos, you’re engaged in art, not photojournalism. You can’t just define things for yourself, although, based on your view of “truth,” I guess you think you can. AP has every right to ride this high horse. You’ll just have to get over it.

    Besides, there is an out on this subject for non-news photos. Various publications label a photo as “Composite” or “Photo Illustration” to indicate it’s been tampered with, but this is usually in cases in which the photo is more art than news. But some publications don’t even allow that level of manipulation.

    If you are covering events for a news outlet, I hope you’re following their rules, and that their rules are correct for the profession. If you are shooting for individuals, advertising, or businesses that just want to document their own events, just edit them according to whatever rules they lay down, but again, that’s not photojournalism.

  • pgb0517

    Well said. This wasn’t art, it was news photography.

  • Morgan Glassco

    If you look below, you will notice I understand the AP’s position in my response to Adam Cross. I merely explained I feel for the photographer. I’m showing logical empathy. It is not as if he added bullets whizzing by their heads.

    I do shoot for the largest and oldest news outlet in my state and abide by the guidelines laid out.

  • Eponymous_Jones

    You work for the AP? The AP has a policy that prevents you from editing the photo? You tell the AP you edited the photo. Don’t edit the photo and not be forthcoming about it. They’re your employer and those are the rules. Your opinion’s nice though.

    In other contexts this is a minor correction. I work in fashion and this is a non-issue.

  • John R

    Very sad, put his life on the line for a job. Burning-in would have been allowed and it would have done the job.

  • superduckz

    Slippery slope? Oh pulease… I’m all for striving to be objective but by necessity the AP makes “judgment calls” every single day on ever single story. It’s always a slope and it’s always slippery. It’s in the very fabric of what they do to perform the literary equivalent of “cloning” out information otherwise each report would necessarily be filled with an extra 10,000 words of background. I respect them taking on that struggle and it’s of course their call to fire him or not.. but I’d wager real money that there is no real equivalent “nit picked” and career damaged with any of the writers who submit.

  • superduckz

    If they were going to fire him either way I suppose it was mighty civil of them to inform the world that they’d found no other evidence of similar manipulation…. of course that was to bolster the AP’s reputation and NOT really the photographers.

  • superduckz

    OK so by that standard it’s best to just submit the raw file and let them decide. Got it.

  • superduckz

    Burning in=Integrity!

  • Bill

    I hope your “news” service goes out of business soon and is replaced with an unbiased news service and photographer. Your slam against Fox News proves your unworthy of the title of news photographer! With that comment I suspect that you would alter a photograph to suit your leftist bias, whereas the gentleman from AP cleaned up his photo in a way that does nothing to the story of his picture, albeit against the rules. That was uncalled for, as I see it Fox News is fair and balanced, they allow left and right to comment during news programming. And Fox is the only news outlet that does allow a conservative point of view that’s not filleted with a counter view, but mostly only on the commentary portion of the broadcast day.

  • Pete Charlesworth

    someone in the media bending the truth to sell a story/image….?? big fu**ing deal… may as well sack everyone – image making is my trade and I’m sure those of you with a degree of experience would agree that almost all photographs are tweaked in some way…. flash/modifiers, WB, creative cropping, fast lenses, blah blah… really feel sorry for this photog as based on his response, he believes the BS reason for his dismissal…. what a crock of sh*t

  • Rebecca Fonseca Ortiz

    Do u have a life other than commenting on this entire thread?

  • Morgan Glassco

    Sorry to have hurt your sensitive feelings with my Fox remark. You’ve lost any sensibility you may have claimed before by wishing harm upon a news organization over your assumption of them being victimized by a contractor just shows how irrational you are.

    Do the world a favor and search on youtube about their credibility and you will find actual anchors tell their story about the heavy and explicit direction of their stories.

  • Sterling

    Exactly. It’s amazing that some people seem to believe that their personal opinions trump their employer’s rules.

  • Eponymous_Jones

    To recycle an old joke, one could ask, what’s the difference between God and a photographer? God doesn’t think he’s a photographer…

  • Oj0

    It was a camera, it added nothing to the scene and had nothing to do with the scene. If he edited out a bird flying overhead would it be as big a deal?

  • Rob Elliott

    AP’s Job is to report… not alter… the moment you allow any alteration like this, your reputation is gone. They did exactly what they should have.

  • Bill

    I appreciate your apology and I accept it, very magnanimous of you. Free Lance-Star files for bankruptcy, here is a story for you to Google or “Youtube”. This is what is going to happen to “journo-list”who pretend to be unbiased. Now you do the world a favor and research declining or failing news properties, I’m sure you will see that the entities that claim bias, left or right, are prospering better than the Fifth Column, oops meant fourth estate.

  • Einsman

    MAJOR photoshop alterations. Dust spots aren’t major.

  • einsman

    It’s a trust issue. If he altered one pic, who knows what else he could have altered into/out of other images?

  • Banan Tarr

    Who are you? The comment police?

  • Banan Tarr

    Which is why I don’t like fashion photography, in a way. I feel like I can always be sure that whatever I’m seeing is not a representation of reality.

  • Morgan Glassco

    English please.

  • Burnin Biomass

    To me, with the camera there, it looks like he is running over to check the camera.