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Wednesday, February 4, 2015

HDR and Photojournalism: Part 1 - Against the Use of HDR

The front page of The Washington Post with the "culprit" HDR photo.
Note: This is part one of a two part post regarding the ethics of HDR photography in photojournalism.

In 2012, The Washington Post ran a High Dynamic Rage (HDR) photograph on the front page of the Jan. 13 issue of its newspaper (see image image above).  The image sparked a debate among photojournalists as to whether or not the HDR photo violated photojournalism ethics.

So, what's the problem with The Post running the HDR photo?  To understand why an HDR image may be considered unethical in photojournalism, first people need to understand what an HDR image is.  Simply stated, and HDR image is an image that is usually comprised of, three or more images, of different exposures, of the same scene laid on top of each other in some photo editing software.  When combined, these multiple images produce one image with greater color saturation and greater shadow and highlight detail.

With that bit of background knowledge, that then begs the question, is HDR photography ethical in photojournalism?

The first ethical issue that arises from the use of HDR imagery in photojournalism comes from the very fact that HDR images are composed of more than one image.  This, alone, could be seen as an ethics violation in a field where photo editing is kept to a bare minimum (i.e. dodging, burning, and color balancing) and where "truth" in images is held to be the number one goal.  Basically, if one image is made from three, is it a "truthful" image?

Perhaps the combining of multiple images is, in and of itself may be no big deal, but when you consider that photojournalism is about capturing a single moment, the issue becomes less black and white.  If photojournalism is about capturing a single moment, how can an image that, in essence, is composed of more than one moment, be ethical in an industry that is about capturing a single moment?

As National Press Photographer's Association's (NPPA) Ethics and Standards Committee Chair, John Long said on a post on, "I also have a problem with the fact that some HDR images are multiple 'moments' that are combined, and this is not what the public expects from news photographs.  News photographs are 'single' moments.  And, while I love the images, I do not think they are appropriate for newspapers except as examples of artwork.  They are not what the public understands to be documentary photographs, yet."

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