Sacramento Bee fires Bryan Patrick for photo manipulation

The Sacramento Bee fired award-winning photographer Bryan Patrick on Friday after finding three cases, going back to 2009, in which he digitally manipulated photographs.

Patrick was suspended earlier this week when a reader raised questions about his published photo that showed a great egret catching a frog, with a snowy egret reaching to grab it. The Bee told readers late Wednesday night that the photo was a composite of two images, one in which the frog was clearly visible and another in which the snowy egret was reaching to grab it.

The Bee then reviewed some of Patrick's previous photographs and found two more altered photos:

In one image published in a photo gallery at in September of a lone person in a sunflower field, Patrick removed the shadow of his camera and arm from the photograph, inserting sunflowers in its place.

In a 2009 photograph of the Auburn wildfire that was published unaltered in the newspaper, Patrick subtly enlarged the flames in the photograph submitted for a winning entry to the San Francisco Bay Area Press Photographers Association annual contest. An anonymous email to The Bee late Thursday cast suspicion on that photograph.

The Bee's ethics policy and style guide prohibit such alteration, saying, "To maintain the credibility of The Sacramento Bee, documentary photographs will not be manipulated in any way that alters the reality of the image."

Click the image below to compare the two images of the wildfire, one of which depicts higher flames than the other:

Click for an animated gif that shows the differences in the photo provided to the AP and the photo entered into the contest.

Sean Elliot, president of the National Press Photographers Association, said Saturday that he wasn't surprised to learn Patrick had been fired.

Commenting on the sorts of things Patrick had changed in the photos, he said:

We're talking about violating a fundamental code of ethics in the name of something relatively minor.

If he's willing to move a couple of egrets around, if he's willing to jazz up flames to make a photo more exciting, how do we know there aren't more? … How do we trust the work?

The wildfire photo was also sent to Poynter and Elliot earlier this week. Elliot reviewed the photo then and said it looked "fishy," but he couldn't say for sure whether it had been manipulated without comparing the high-resolution photo published in the Bee and the one submitted to the contest.

"This is why it's a problem," Elliot said Friday, "because now everything he does is questionable."

Elliot said he expects that a member of NPPA will file a complaint against Patrick, which will spur a review by the organization's judiciary committee. The committee could decide on a range of punishments, including rescinding his prior awards and kicking him out.

Poynter was unsuccessful in reaching Patrick this week.

  • Steve Myers

    Steve Myers was the managing editor of 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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