Magazine Covers: Photojournalism or Illustration?

Are you an avid sports fan, like me?


And did you watch Super Bowl XXXV and witness the superb defensive effort by the Baltimore Ravens, the hard-hitting replays, and exquisite execution of a masterful game plan?



If yes is your answer, then you probably could not wait to see the world-class photo coverage by America’s most prized sports publication — Sports Illustrated.


OK sports fan, now hereís another question: Does it matter at all to you that the telling and powerful cover photo by John W. Mc Donough was manipulated to fit SI’s cover format?


A comparison of the electronically e-mailed image and the cover photo showed some clear indication of manipulation of the cover photo. SI’s director of photography, Steve Fine acknowledged that the photo had, in fact, been altered, stating, “The top of the frame was extended to allow for logo and the strap was removed to allow for the type.”


Major magazine cover photos are almost always altered and manipulated these days. SI is not alone in its use of the powerful software program, Adobe Photoshop, and other image manipulation programs that allow changes to be made in the basic composition of a photograph.


To address the issues raised by this trend, we asked four expert voices from magazines to respond by e-mail to four basic questions:



  • How often are cover images manipulated or altered – based on your experience and opinion?
  • Why has this trend become the norm?
  • What standards does your magazine follow vis-a-vis altering photographs?
  • Are there different standards for the cover than for the inside presentation of the magazine, and what is the basis for the standards?

The level of manipulation to cover images like the SI Super Bowl XXXV cover shows an increasingly visual sophistication on the part of magazine cover presentation. The intended value is not always informational but often commercial. People have been confronted by manipulated images for years on TV, in movies and magazines, in artwork, advertising, and especially CD and record covers. Advertising has so often been in the forefront of the manipulated image. Today, advertising is mixing with informational content.


Several days after Super Bowl XXXV when I picked up SI, there was no caption or photo credit labeling or indicating the manipulation of the image. And at the point of seeing the original image the question presented that still remains is this: Do the readers get it, and is commercial value worth the credibility risk? I think not.






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