Photojournalists are not only social historians with a camera, they are competent technicians who must keep abreast of the changing technology and the acceptable ethical considerations associated with that technology. In the 1940s, it was ethically acceptable to pose many subjects because the commonly accepted technology of the day, the awkward 4 X 5 press camera with a portable flash, was a poor recorder of the candid moment. Also, without a 36-exposure film cassette, photographers were forced to make every picture count.
Photographers commonly use cropping, exposure, contrast, dodging, and burning techniques in the darkroom to make the meaning of a picture clearer. Cropping can be accomplished during shooting by the choice of lens, distance from the subject or angle is chosen, in the darkroom by changing the height of the enlarged image or moving the blades of an adjustable easel, or by marking the white borders of a print to show the area of the final, printed image. With manipulations in aperture and shutter speed combinations or the use of filters when shooting, times and temperatures when processing the film, aperture and time settings with an enlarger, and filter or paper grade selections in the darkroom, photographers can alter the
original tones of the scene dramatically. By preventing light from exposing on a certain area of a print with a tool or by hand, the area can be “dodged” to appear to be lighter. Conversely, by adding more light to a specific area, the print appears to be darker or “burned.” Dodging and burning can also be accomplished with the concentrated developer or chemical bleaches.
Some photographers have resorted to a simple technique to manipulate an image flopping. A negative is turned upside-down in the enlarger carrier to produce a picture that is reversed or flopped. Sometimes the angle of a subject’s face or hand fits a layout design more pleasingly if the angle is reversed as if viewed in a mirror. The practice is dangerous because right-handed people can be made to appear lefthanded, a wedding ring is seen on the right hand, and words in the picture are reversed. Photographers should notice the best angles while shooting without resorting to flopping a negative.
With computer technology, the picture manipulations cited here are possible without ever entering a darkroom. Newspapers and national news bureaus are experimenting with technologies that in a few years will be commonly thought of as the industry standard. Whether a subject is photographed with negative film or by electronic still video cameras where photographers are able to record their images on a 2-inch floppy disk, the pictures can be converted to computerized, digital images. The photographer can then make an exposure, colour balance, and
cropping adjustments on a television or computer screen, type caption information, and send their words and photographs via a telephone line to the photo editor’s computer terminal. Once in the newsroom’s computer, the pictures can be readied for the printing process.
The photo editor can make exposure, colour, and cropping corrections. Computer-controlled colour separations are then automatically performed with the pictures ready for the printing press. At the present time, the new technology saves time, yet is expensive with the quality not as high as a present, traditional methods. But the day will come when the technology becomes affordable for even university photojournalism programs.
There are certain principles that should remain constant despite technological advances. The guiding principle for such manipulations should always be the content of the photograph. Is the content or intent of the image drastically altered by the manipulation? Will an exposure adjustment, angle or perspective change, tight crop, colour correction, filter selection, flopped negative, or a dodged or burned area mislead a reader? If the answer is yes, the manipulation should not occur. Whether by traditional or new technological methods, the underlying
principle of not fooling the public should never be compromised. Credibility forms the distinction between a respected chronicle of a community’s best and worst moments and a supermarket tabloid.
A modem photojournalist is a mixture of reporter, artist, and craftsperson. A photographer is expected to determine in 1/500th of a second, whether a subject is newsworthy, aesthetically pleasing, and technically possible to record on film. Assignments during any one shift can run from coverage of a five-alarm fire to a meeting with the governor. Consequently, photojournalists should be well-educated, curious, and cool under stressful situations. Photographers must also be humane, caring individuals aware of the many ethical concerns that are a part of any news assignment.