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Telephoto Compression and Readers' Perspectives

Telephoto Compression and Readers' Perspectives

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Check out this very interesting article from the LA Times on perceived image manipulation.

By Jack Howard

July 29, 2009

Reader questions about a long-lens shot and the telephoto compression phenomenon sparks an interesting conversation over at the LA Times, a paper that hasn't been without its share of true photographic manipulation controversies.


I could write for hours on this topic, and at some point in the future, I'll dedicate a full column or three to my thoughts on the current state of public perception of photo manipulation in the media, and photo manipulation in general. In fact, on the next episode of the podcast (to be available tomorrow afternoon), my guest Tony Donaldson and I touch on this subject briefly.

In short, some readers of the LA Times were of the belief that the supertelephoto shot at the top of this page (and screencaptured at left) was significantly digitally manipulated. Most photographers with experience with very long lenses are aware of the perceived telephoto compression effect when a superlong lens is stopped down; however, this isn't necessarily household knowledge all across the land.

The LA Times does a very good job of defending their photographer in this situation; while also referencing their own recent history with not-so-noble examples of ethical questioning about photo manipulations.

A handful of well-publicized legitimate ethical failings by members of the photojournalism community are partly to blame for the public perception of the extent of photojournalistic misrespresentation, to be certain. However, there seems to be a certain "witch hunt" mindset that is building momentum wherein if a certain percentage of the viewership of an image is not aware of the photographic techniques employed in the pursuit of ethical photojournalism, a guilty-until-proven-innocent wave of questionings and accusations makes its way across the web within a matter of hours.

Here are a series of questions to consider on this issue:

  • Should photojournalists be forced to work only with "normal" lenses to avoid confusion with perspective issues?
  • Does the burden of proof lie completely with the photographer?
  • Is the guilty-until-proven-ethically-acceptable public watchdogging of photojournalism as it exists today a good thing? Could it be improved? Should it be improved?

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