An argument to ban the use of photo and video filters in smartphone photojournalism

An argument to ban the use of photo and video filters in smartphone photojournalism

As a nerd I’m very excited about today’s announcement regarding the next iPhone operating system (iOS7), but as a journalist I’m also concerned. Social media apps like Instagram and Twitter have long incorporated photo filters, but now iPhones will have filters built in.

iphone-cameraThat has me thinking. Should journalists allow themselves to use filters in photos or videos we take of news situations? What photo enhancements, if any, are allowable?

The University of Missouri’s journalism school teaches that editorial “photos used to illustrate news and feature stories in periodicals should not be manipulated beyond the traditional photographic techniques of lens selection, cropping, dodging/burning, color toning and enhancement.”

While many of those standards still apply, the edict clearly anticipates that the photos are being taken with DSLR cameras or something similar. What about phones that have no lens options but instead offer filters before the journalist even captures the image?

Reuters second rule for Photoshop use in editorial images seems to anticipate that concern. It prohibits “excessive lightening, darkening or blurring of the image. (thus misleading the viewer by disguising certain elements of an image)”

Like Mizzou, the Reuters handbook goes on to say that cropping, basic color correction, subtle brightness adjustments, sharpening, removal of dust and other minor adjustments are acceptable.

All of Reuters’ rules are based around this primary law: “Always hold accuracy sacrosanct.”

So, do filters corrode the accuracy of a photo? I think the unavoidable answer is yes, based on my personal feelings and the standards established by the journalism of the past.

Based on that reasoning, I propose these 5 rules for Smartphone Photojournalism:

  1. Always ensure a photo or video tells a story accurately
  2. Do not ever use filters for editorial images or video (Behind the scenes images and promotional images are exempt from this rule)
  3. Acceptable smartphone photo taking options are: zoom (mechanical or digital), HDR, white balance, any lensing created by equipment or real-world objects
  4. Acceptable smartphone photo editing options are: cropping, auto-enhance, brightness adjustments, red-eye, white balance
  5. Smartphones can be used as video editing platforms assuming those edits don’t conflict with any previous rules