Washington Post Policy on Manipulation of Photographic Images

Photographs are trusted by our readers to be an accurate recording of an event. Alteration of photographs in any way so as to mislead, confuse or otherwise misrepresent the accuracy of those events is strictly prohibited. Traditional darkroom techniques such as adjustment of contrast and gray scale are permitted.

New technologies that enable the manipulation of photographic images have blurred the line between fact and fiction. It is the Post‘s policy to allow the use of these technologies only in a way that clearly makes their use evident and in no way misrepresents real events or implies that photographic collage or illustration depict real events.

1. Photography has come to be trusted as a virtual record of an event. We must never betray that trust.

It is our policy never to alter the content of news photographs. This means that nothing is added or subtracted from the image such as a hand or tree limb in an inopportune position. Normal adjustment to contrast and gray scale for better reproduction is permitted.

2. Photographic silhouettes, mortises, angled images, type surprinted on photographs.

Silhouettes should be used sparingly — generally reserved for feature material. Mortises and photographs tipped at an angle should be avoided at all cost. In rare instances headlines and captions may be set into photographs. When in doubt about use, consult the AMEs for Photo or News Art or their assistant editors. If further discussion is needed, the executive editor and the managing editor can be involved.

3. The use of photographs in whole or in part to achieve satire, humor or visual pun and the use of photographic collage is acceptable with reservations.

The use of photos in collage artwork is permitted for illustrative purposes only. This must be limited to stories where the art can be impressionistic or interpretive. This does not include news stories and such use must be approved in advance by the AMEs for Photo or News Art or their assistant editors. Again, the executive editor and the managing editor may need to be involved.

4. Digital photographic alteration.

The use of technology to create new kinds of imagery is acceptable only where such use is clearly a work of fictional imagery. If a caption is necessary to explain that the content is not real, then we should not use the image.

5. The decision to alter.

When the idea to alter a photo arises, take a reality check. Is this really a good idea? Will readers be confused? Do others get the point of this irony or visual pun? A rule of thumb ought to be: kick the idea up to the next editing level.

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