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Should Photojournalists Embrace the Photo Illustration? Black Star Rising Contributors Debate the Issue


Most photojournalists are not fans of the “photo illustration” -- the only category of newsroom artwork that permits substantial photo manipulation. Many see it as an option of last resort. But does it have to be this way? Or, at a time when photojournalists are increasingly under fire for manipulating images with Photoshop, should the profession actually embrace the photo illustration as a means of deterring deception?

Black Star Rising contributors debated this issue in a pair of recent posts. Longtime Black Star photographer Michael Coyne recommended an increased acceptance of the photo illustration, saying:

“I think that images used in publications, especially news media outlets, should have some sort of symbol, sign or comment notifying the viewer that the images have been manipulated if that is the case. Once we are open and honest about which images are manipulated, and the term ’photo illustration’ is common practice, then there will be less incentive for the photojournalist to be deceptive.”

Other contributors strongly disagreed. Said photography instructor David Weintraub:

“Photo illustration, along with other terms, is meaningless, in my opinion -- because the reading/viewing public doesn’t have a clue what it means. It’s a shorthand way of saying, ’This photo is a lie, but we want you to believe it, so we put a disclaimer, usually in tiny type, to make ourselves feel ethical.’ Hooey!”

Added freelance photojournalist Mike Fox:

“I think that the term ’photo illustration’ would act as an excuse for photojournalists to manipulate more ... I really don’t think that words will deter photographers from going astray.”

But Coyne countered that today’s “fundamentalist” restrictions on manipulation of images in journalism are unfairly limiting photographers.

“We have always been able to alter images; it has been happening since photography was invented. It is only since the advent of Photoshop that we have had this fundamentalist attitude about changing photographs,” Coyne said.

“As long as the photographer reveals that they have adjusted or altered the image and calls it ’photo illustration,’ then I have no problem with the picture. Let us accept and embrace the term ... and acknowledge that there are certain circumstances where it has, does and will always happen. It may be that the photographer feels that this is necessary to show the viewers the totality of a situation.”

For more viewpoints and advice on photojournalism and the photography business, visit

About Black Star

Black Star is a New York City-based photographic agency that offers photojournalism, corporate assignment photography and stock photography services worldwide. Founded in 1935, the agency’s photographers over the years have included Robert Capa, W. Eugene Smith, Henri Cartier-Bresson and many others. Black Star’s online magazine, Black Star Rising, is an attempt to extend the agency’s ethos of teaching -- and caring -- about the business and craft of photography to a broader audience.



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