AP drops freelance photographer who Photoshopped his shadow out of image

Associated Press
The AP has pulled a freelance photographer’s images from its wires because he copied one part of the photo to another in order to cover up his shadow. In a memo sent Monday morning to AP staff around the world, Director of Photography Santiago Lyon called it “deliberate and misleading photo manipulation.” He reminded staff of the AP’s ethics policy on image manipulation, which states that only “minor adjustments in Photoshop are acceptable.”

The Sydney Morning Herald published a gallery of images from the same photographer and event. AP spokesman Paul Colford tells me that the second image in the series is the one in which the photographer cloned dust from one part of the image to another to conceal his shadow:

The AP removed this photo of children playing soccer in Argentina because the photographer copied dust from one part of the image to another to conceal his shadow in the lower center of the frame. (AP/Miguel Tovar)

Lyon’s memo, which was provided to Poynter.org by AP’s corporate communications:


On Sunday we were faced with a case of deliberate and misleading photo manipulation by a freelancer on assignment for the AP at the Copa America soccer tournament in Argentina.

Miguel Tovar chose to clone some dust from one part of a feature photo to another in order to obscure his own shadow, which was visible in the original photograph showing children playing soccer.

An alert photo editor noticed that the pattern on the dust repeated itself in an unlikely way and subsequent investigations revealed the visual fraud.

There is no indication that Tovar’s other images were manipulated. However, we have severed all relations with Tovar and removed him from the assignment. He will not work for the AP again in any capacity.

In addition, we have removed all of his images from AP Images, our commercial photo licensing division, and its website.

I would remind you of the AP’s policies regarding image manipulation, which can be found within our Statement of News Values and Principles:


Please be sure to read carefully the section on Images reproduced below and make sure that it is well understood — not only by staff photographers and editors, but also by freelancers or occasional contributors to the AP.

Our reputation is paramount and we react decisively and vigorously when it is tarnished by actions such as the one described above.

Any questions, please contact your manager.

Thank you.

Santiago Lyon,
Director of Photography

Here’s the portion of the AP ethics code regarding images:

AP pictures must always tell the truth. We do not alter or digitally manipulate the content of a photograph in any way.

The content of a photograph must not be altered in Photoshop or by any other means. No element should be digitally added to or subtracted from any photograph. The faces or identities of individuals must not be obscured by Photoshop or any other editing tool. Only retouching or the use of the cloning tool to eliminate dust on camera sensors and scratches on scanned negatives or scanned prints are acceptable.

Minor adjustments in Photoshop are acceptable. These include cropping, dodging and burning, conversion into grayscale, and normal toning and color adjustments that should be limited to those minimally necessary for clear and accurate reproduction (analogous to the burning and dodging previously used in darkroom processing of images) and that restore the authentic nature of the photograph. Changes in density, contrast, color and saturation levels that substantially alter the original scene are not acceptable. Backgrounds should not be digitally blurred or eliminated by burning down or by aggressive toning. The removal of “red eye” from photographs is not permissible.

When an employee has questions about the use of such methods or the AP’s requirements and limitations on photo editing, he or she should contact a senior photo editor prior to the transmission of any image.

On those occasions when we transmit images that have been provided and altered by a source — the faces obscured, for example — the caption must clearly explain it. Transmitting such images must be approved by a senior photo editor.

Except as described herein, we do not stage, pose or re-enact events. When we shoot video, environmental portraits, or photograph subjects in a studio care should be taken to avoid, misleading viewers to believe that the moment was spontaneously captured in the course of gathering the news. In the cases of portraits, fashion or home design illustrations, any intervention should be revealed in the caption and special instructions box so it can¹t be mistaken as an attempt to deceive.

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  • http://www.zazzle.com/blakkdesignz* Anonymous

    Once your shadow is in a photograph, its there for life. No matter how much you cover it up, that area will always look strange. Photoshop does not make you a better photographer. Miguel should have just deleted it from his memory card or cropped it out, or like any other photographer would have done, tried again. You got to follow the rules from companies like AP, they will not bend over backwards for your mistakes.

  • Anonymous

    Yeah that was just bad

  • http://twitter.com/ChrisThePhotog Christopher Barth

    yeah, check out a copy of the book “Eyes of the Globe,” just amazing burning techniques in use back then.

  • http://www.phoneywood.com/ Phoneywood.com

    I agree that there should be some integrity and honesty. But removing the photographers shadow hardly changes the meaning of the image. What you choose to crop-out can change the meaning of the story more. It only makes one wonder where does it end. I think a warning and a photoshop class would have been enough.

  • Anonymous

    What is unacceptable is the extreme usage of the “Hand of God”
    technique, which involves a photographer using traditional or digital
    means to increase the intensity of light. The reverse process of dodging
    could also eliminate detail, although the practice is less common.

    Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner and now Associate Editor of the Boston
    Globe, Stan Grossfeld is viewed as one of the most adept practitioners
    of the “Hand of God” technique.

    “One must first understand that film (or digital) does not record the
    scene the way the human eye sees it. The human eye goes to the lightest
    part of the picture. That is a fact, and sometimes the highlight is not
    where I want the person looking at my work to focus,” says Grossfeld.

    Which can be found here:


  • Anonymous

    I’m talking about excessive burning in that was practiced by some in the 70′s and 80′s. Note I said “excessive.” I’m guessing you aren’t that old or you would have known what I was talking about.

  • Anonymous

    Sometimes the rules change.  Rules that worked a century ago don’t necessarily work today.

    I don’t know what you’re talking about specifically, but dodging and burning is allowed under the current rules.

  • Anonymous

    Now, after seeing the photos, I’m wondering what the fuss is all about.

    Years ago when photographers still shot film, there were some ‘superstar’ newspaper shooters whose worked was instantly recognizable by the amount of darkroom manipulation that went into their prints. Anybody remember the term ‘hand of God’ burning in?

    This doesn’t even rise to that level.

    But what does strike me is how bad the actual photographs are. They’re amateurish and poorly done. Maybe the AP should fired him. But not for bad Photoshopping.

  • http://twitter.com/mathmarshall T. Marshall

    I appreciate AP’s policy on truth in photos. If only they, and the other news organizations, would institute a similar policy on truth in the words they write.

  • Anonymous

    The sad thing is, it’s really not that great of a photo in the first place…

  • http://www.facebook.com/DavidFHancock David Hancock

    Shocking Clone job…………..and exactly as DaGuerre says maybe the photographer should count his blessings about being relieved from the tedium of AP!

  • http://twitter.com/paperbanjo Ariane

    It would have gone unnoticed if he didn’t do such an awful job… he needs some serious Photoshop lessons.

  • http://twitter.com/adrian_bryant adrian_bryant

    Shitty retouching will get you no where.

    do it right or don’t even try

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001207886526 Charlesjason Kolyvas

    Yeah, I’d say the grey cloud is the remainder of his shadow… why he didn’t remove the cloud is beyond me.

    I also suspect image 6 could have had his shadow too—based on the left-most kid’s shadow.

  • Valerie Clark

    Interesting issue! I think #2 in the gallery is the Photoshopped
    one…based on the location of everyone else’s shadows, it seems like
    the photographer’s shadow should show up at the bottom where there’s a
    gray cloud.

  • Valerie Clark

    Interesting issue! I think #2 in the gallery is the Photoshopped
    one…based on the location of everyone else’s shadows, it seems like
    the photographer’s shadow should show up at the bottom where there’s a
    gray cloud. What does everyone think?

  • Anonymous

    Being fired by the AP isn’t always a bad thing.

  • http://www.facebook.com/birfies Penny Lane

    I’m curious to see the altered photo.

  • http://www.lukejones.me/ Luke Jones

    I completely agree with the verdict and I’m happy to see they’re sticking to their code of conduct.