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.

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of Poynter.org until August 2012, when he became the deputy managing editor and senior staff writer for The Lens, a nonprofit investigative news site in New Orleans.


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