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Photo manipulation according to National Geographic

National Geographic doesn’t like photographic filters, and this totally makes sense to me. In a message from the Director of Photography of National Geographic, it is clearly stated about digital filters: “please stop”.

We encourage you to submit photographs that are real. We want to see the world through your eyes, not through photo editing tools.

National Geographic's Director of Photography
Manipulated image on NG cover

Manipulated image on NG cover

In an article I wrote a few weeks ago, I said that I’m favorable to post processing, and to some extent, to photo manipulation. In that article I divided photography in two broad categories: documentary and fine art.

In fine art photography, the artist is allowed to do everything he wants to his images, because it is his vision and his interpretation of reality that he transmits to his audience. Much like a painter, as long as he’s honest to himself, he can do anything he wants.

When we speak of documentary and photojournalism, the photographer expresses his vision in a different way. He has to report an event or a place, and he has to show how something looks like.

National Geographic is a documentary magazine. Its audience looks for beautiful pictures, but doesn’t want to see the artistic skills of the photographer on show. That’s why that message from the Director of Photography makes sense to me.

In the message, there are a lot of techniques that are allowed for National Geographic photographs. Color balance and sharpness adjustments are the obvious candidates, but dodge and burn, HDR, panorama stitching and hand tinting are reported to be allowed as well.

That’s exactly the kind of manipulation I do to my images (I do less, actually), and what I was talking about in my article. What still surprises me, is that this call comes from a magazine that caused a scandal with its manipulated cover a few decades ago.

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