The integrity of the image: Global practices and standards concerning the manipulation of photographs



I am directing a research project on “The Integrity of the Image” for World Press Photo. We trailed this during the sessions on manipulation at the Awards Days in April, and the terms of reference have now been finalised.


To undertake research in order to compile as comprehensive a map as possible of the current practices and accepted standards relating to the manipulation of still images in photojournalism and documentary photography world-wide, focusing predominantly on the post-processing of these images. This research will be published so as to encourage debate on the integrity of the image, and inform World Press Photo about issues relating to manipulation relevant to its annual contest.


  1. What forms of manipulation are relevant to the integrity of the image? In addition to post-processing of negatives, RAW files or unprocessed JPEGs, it could also includes the framing, cropping, selection, captioning and contextualisation of images, among other issues. Should these dimensions also be considered and, if so, how?
  2. Is manipulation generally a growing problem? If so, how and why?
  3. Is post-processing itself a problem, or is post-processing a problem only when certain levels of changes are made? If so, how are the legitimate levels known or identified?
  4. What ethical guidelines and protocols relevant to the integrity of the image are followed by media organisations in different countries?
  5. What ethical guidelines relevant to the integrity of the image are promoted by professional media associations in different countries?
  6. Are there national, regional and cultural differences in the ethical guidelines, accepted standards, and current practices relevant to the integrity of the image? Are there any points of consensus on manipulation regardless of geographical or cultural differences?
  7. Are there different norms with regard to manipulation in different image genres? Are the norms for news and documentary the same as those for nature, sports, and portraits (staged and observed), or are their differences?
  8. What are the most effective means for the detection of manipulation?
  9. What sanctions exist with the media industry after manipulation is detected?
  10. What rules exist within major international photo contests relating to the integrity of the image?


The primary research will include interviews with directors of photography, senior photo editors and relevant media executives at quality news organisations and international wire services; interviews with directors and/or relevant staff at photography agencies; interviews with directors and/or relevant staff at national media and photojournalism associations; interviews with digital forensics experts; interviews with camera manufacturers’ sensor/software experts; and the collection of codes of ethics relating to the integrity of the image from media organisations and professional associations world-wide. The secondary research includes online and library research for existing scholarship on ethical debates relevant to the integrity of the image.


The research will be as global as is practically possible, and will aim to interview people and examine documents from at least nineteen countries: United States, China, Italy, Spain, United Kingdom, Germany, India, France, Russia, Brazil, Egypt, South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya, Denmark, Mexico, Argentina, Japan, and Indonesia.

We will present the findings in October/November this year. I would welcome any feedback on the project’s aim, questions and scope. And I would very much welcome any contributions of ideas or references.

Photo credit: Unidentified American artist (Man on Rooftop with Eleven Men in Formation on His Shoulders), ca. 1930, as exhibited in  Faking It: 150 years of Image Manipulation Before Photoshop.

10 Responses to “The integrity of the image: Global practices and standards concerning the manipulation of photographs”

  1. Claire Gasscoe

    Interesting research questions…and would be interested to read the results. You don’t say what method of analysis you will be using for the interview responses. Do you have a full protocol with more detail?

    • David Campbell

      The interviews will be semi-structured, and the methodology is qualitative.

  2. Paul Melcher

    One key question should be what makes the integrity of an image ? is it the image replication of the exact moment or its adherence to the photographer’s vision ? How can you preserve authorship if you don’t allow manipulation ?

    • David Campbell

      Very good point Paul, and one I will certainly try and address in the overall context of the issue.

  3. mery

    Dear David,
    do you need researchers for this? I am very interested

    • David Campbell

      Thanks for the offer, but we have begun with researchers, principally myself.

  4. Claire Glasscoe

    narrative analysis, discourse analysis or something entirely different ….?

    • David Campbell

      This is a descriptive qualitative project, and the interviews are designed to elicit information. We will employ thematic analysis (which is probably what you mean by narrative analysis, though these terms are sometimes used differently, and I’m not sure where you’re coming from with the questions), so that we look across all the data to identify the common issues that recur, and identify the main themes that summarise the views collected.

  5. Jennifere

    I found this blog to be very interesting. I’m being sarcastic when I say “The camera never lies” As I recall the early image manipulations made by inventors. All images are an interpretation of the real subject or happening, and can never be truly captured. I’m grateful there are genres, which allow manipulations. Though I believe we are our own judge and jury, and should apply ethics when displaying any image.
    I find photo manipulation ambiguous, as peer, public, and consumer pressure encourage the photographers to produce an aesthetic image, and more recognition via digital manipulation. It will be a difficult task for man or woman to rule judgment on the amount of digital manipulation accepted in photo documentary contests. And it will be even harder to maintain quality assurance throughout world organisations and varying cultures. There will always be a debate in what is real and not real. It can sometimes come down to interpretation. It’s the intent of gain from manipulation that is the problem. It will be interesting read the outcome of further studies this year.

  6. Hiatus

    […] contributing to the MA in International Multimedia Journalism based in Beijing, and completing the World Press Photo commissioned research on manipulation, amongst a few other […]


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