Washington Post photographer’s altered sports image stripped of award in WHNPA contest


posted Tuesday, February 26, 2013 at 3:03 PM EDT

Washington Post photographer Tracy Woodward’s photo “State Champion” is a tremendous image of a High School wrestler triumphing over a downed opponent in a state wrestling tournament in Virginia. It was an image powerful enough to receive the Award of Excellence in the 2013 White House News Photographers Association "Eyes of History" contest. But that award has since been stripped as it has come to light that the image was substantially edited from its original form to darken out a referee in the background.

As reported by the NPPA, the story came to light last weekend when Washington Post photography director MaryAnne Golon stated that one of the company’s photographers had submitted an altered image to the WHNPA competition and that once the Post discovered this, the image was pulled from the contest, and the organization was alerted. Golon, at the time, would not give information about the image in question, or who the photographer was.

Subsequently, the WHNPA has released a statement (PDF), identifying the photograph as Woodward’s and disqualifying it. In the two images below, you can see the difference between the original as it appeared in the Post (top), and the version that was submitted to the contest (bottom). The obvious edit is that a referee in the background has been substantially darkened, so as to remove him from the action.


The WHNPA’s rules specifically state what image edits can and can’t be employed, noting (emphasis added):

“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 and the image must be a truthful representation of whatever happened in front of the camera during exposure. Retouching to eliminate dust and scratches is acceptable. Reasonable adjustments in Photoshop are acceptable. These include cropping, dodging and burning, conversion into grayscale, and normal toning and color adjustments that restore the authentic nature of the photograph. Excessive changes in density, contrast, color and saturation levels that alter the original scene are not acceptable. Backgrounds should not be digitally blurred or eliminated by burning down or by aggressive toning.”

The Washington Post has not commented if Woodward will face any action over the disqualification, commenting that it is an “internal personnel matter.” It’s worth noting that Woodward submitted the image himself, independently of his employer.

This disqualification arrives at a time when there is much debate about image editing, competitions, and photojournalism. The recent World Press Photo awards have lead to discussions about how heavily an image should be allowed to be edited, and accusations of ethical breaches.

(Via NPPA)