What counts as manipulation?

Many things can count as manipulation in photography, but for the World Press Photo Contest, the code of ethics and entry rules focus on two important issues.

1. The first thing that counts as manipulation is staging or re-enacting events.

The code of ethics says photographers must not intentionally contribute to, or alter, the scene they picture by re-enacting or staging events.

  • Staging means deliberately arranging something in order to mislead the audience.
  • Deliberately arranging something includes setting up a scene or re-enacting a scene.
  • Setting up or re-enacting a scene means directing the subject(s) to do things, or asking them to repeat things they were doing prior to the photographer’s arrival.

Staging and re-enacting are different from posing for portraits. Portraits are a special genre of photography. They are made through a relationship between the subject and the photographer in which the subject poses for the photographer. However, for the contest, portraits must not present subjects doing things they would not ordinarily do. Portraits must not mislead viewers by faking a scene, meaning they cannot present scenes that appear as something other than they are.

For any portrait—either in the People category, or as a single frame in a story—directions given to a subject must be disclosed in the caption.

Portraits are subject to the rules on manipulation, and the jury determines whether changes to the content of a portrait constitute manipulation. This means, for example, the face and body of the subject(s) cannot be altered through the addition or removal of physical marks.

2. The second thing that counts as manipulation is adding or removing content from the image.

It is important to note that processing by itself is not manipulation. Because of this, entry rule 11 states “adjustments of color or conversion to grayscale that do not alter content are permitted.”

This video shows visual examples of processing that are permitted.

There are two types of color adjustment that count as manipulation:

(i) Changes in color may not result in significant changes in hue, to such an extent that the processed colors diverge from the original colors.

(ii) Changes in density, contrast, color and/or saturation levels that alter content by obscuring or eliminating backgrounds, and/or objects or people in the background of the picture, are not permitted.

This video shows visual examples of color adjustment that are not permitted. These examples are not pictures that were entered. They show what was done to pictures that led them to be excluded from the previous two contests. As such, unacceptable color adjustments include, but are not limited to, these examples.

Altering the content of a picture by “adding, rearranging, reversing, distorting or removing people and/or objects from within the frame” is manipulation and makes an entry ineligible for the final round.

The examples given here come from alterations in previous contests. They do not specify every imaginable form of manipulation. Alterations that count as manipulation include, but are not limited to, the following.

It is not acceptable to remove things such as:

  • physical marks on body
  • small objects in the picture
  • reflected light spots
  • shadows
  • extraneous items on picture’s border that could not be removed by crop

This video shows visual examples of removal of content that is not permitted. These examples are not pictures that were entered. They show what was done to pictures that led them to be excluded from the previous two contests. As such, unacceptable removal of content includes, but is not limited to, these examples.

It is not acceptable to add things. This includes, but is not limited, to:

  • cloning in highlights, enhancing body, or costume size
  • painting in object details
  • photo montage
  • replicating material on the border of a picture to make a neat crop possible.

This video shows visual examples of the addition of content that is not permitted. These examples are not pictures that were entered. They show what was done to pictures that led them to be excluded from the previous two contests. As such, unacceptable addition of content includes, but is not limited to, these examples.