National Geographic disqualifies contest winner because he removed a bag from the picture!


Want to report a story that happened to a photographer who won a National Geographic photo contest with his Fuji X-Pro1 (price & specs)Harry Fish sent the following message to Fujirumors:

I won the National Geographic 2012 Photo contest with a FUJI X-PRO1 and was later disqualified. Should you find this news interesting for your Comunity and/ or readers, here you have a link to my blog article
And here another
In case you would like any other kind of media (Word and or images),  please let me know.
Thank you in advance for your time. Regards, Harry”

Of course, you’re welcome. And here we are with the big dilemma. Is removing a single object from a picture such a strong alteration of the artistic value of the pic? See the pictures below, first the winning picture, next the picture with the removed object (the bag on the far right).

He then wrote to the magazine:

I lunged to the computer and sent a mail to [the] editor of the magazine, arguing that a crop, perfectly allowed by the rules, would have done away with the object without further alterations, the bag would have melted with a slight burning-darkening, that  it was unnecessary to remove anything digitally (the rule that bans deleting or adding  tries to  safeguard the spirit or nature of  the photograph. Here the nature nor spirit of the original photo was not altered) and, most of all, that the minimal, slight modification did not alter the picture.

The magazine editor answered:

“.. it is unfortunate you did not crop the bag or just leave it  in, as it really had no impact either way….”.

“no impact”… Well, no comments here. It is the old question about how much you can alter a picture, and when a picture stops to be an original picture. Check Harry’s post to learn all the details about this misadventure. Great pic Harry, in any case!

  • he should have cropped it. Right and bottom to be on the safer site of things. NG is known for being pedantic …

  • Stefano Gelli

    he could cut right.

  • Colin

    Why was he so anxious to remove the bag in the first place? I kind of agree with the quote from the magazine editor.

    It also somehow reminded me of Anton Corbijn and the photoshoots for U2’s Joshua Tree album, when he used a panoramic camera: “I think it was called a Horizon, a Russian camera that took big landscapes. I’d never shot with it before, so I took a risk. On the shoot for the gatefold sleeve I had no idea how to focus it properly. I focused on the background and the band are slightly out of focus. Fortunately there was a lot of light. You also see my case on the ground — I had no idea it was in the shot.”

  • Vernon

    Does anyone know of any other contest winning photos, like this one, taken with any of the Fuji X cameras?

  • MJr

    “Is removing a single object from a picture such a strong alteration of the artistic value of the pic?”

    Artistic value, no. Journalistic, yes. NG is the latter. That simple. ;)

  • This is why I don’t participate in any contests. There are just too many rules that either limit your creativity or backfire on you once you have a winner. This is not the first time that a (well-known) photographer has been disqualified after he had already won a prize.

  • scylos

    Hard to sympathise with the chap. Photocontests are like that all over the world since ever – no digital maipulation of the image apart from levels, cropping etc.

    It is not some obscure rule, it is *the* rule.

    What is so difficult to grasp about that?

    NG was right to be strict about this.

    • Absolutely well said!

      Photographers like this give bad name to photography and people have lost trust in the value of images because of that. It is sad to see people skeptical about images because they are so used to aberrations most people upload to online photo galleries.

  • Yes, the image had to be discualified. It was the right desicion. No cloning or manipulating can ever be ok in photojournalism.

  • Gary

    From the rules: “Only minor burning, dodging and/or color correction is acceptable, as is cropping. High dynamic range images (HDR) and stitched panoramas are NOT acceptable. For more information, please read our comments on image manipulation. Any changes to the original Photograph not itemized here are unacceptable and will render the Photograph ineligible for a prize.”

    and “If you have digitally added or removed anything, please don’t submit the shot.”

    Seems pretty clear.

  • cosinaphile

    in our age of digital , such an alteration should have been allowed ….it did not discredit the truth of the picture ….it was a minor aesthetic decision

    but the fascist national Geo staff could not wrap their collective political mind around it and took a cowardly all or nothing approach as zealot are inclined to do..sad but understandable

    in the future Nat Geo should stop terrorizing artist and require submission of original file and processed file and do a case by case review

    just sayin……………

    • Wrong! We aren’t talking Ad’s best or anything. This is photojournalism and an altered picture is not documenting the real thing. No matter how small the altered detail. He could have cropped the image, end of story.

      • Greg

        No Andrea YOU are wrong, exposure and lenses of varying focal length stretch reality all the time and we photographers can tilt an image in the way we take an image.

        Whats going on here, is the bag had no value and the photographer did the correct thing to remove it, in the old days if it was a print, I would have burnt in that area or masked and reprinted it…………

        the rules are not contributing to photography as a whole…..

        Photographers have always altered images…….it’s the end result that counts.

        Editors then use that image according to their Boss’s brief to them.

        Another competition with rules that are written for another era !

        • Sorry but thats bullshit. What has the focal length to do with manipulating content you captured in the final image? The best way, in particular to this image, where the white bag was at the border of the frame and obviously disturbing, he could have cropped it. That is what you can also do by choosing a different framing.

          And as I am also grown up with analog developing and printing, I don’t understand your analogy to that. It is not about darkening the sky for more drama nor about pushing contrast for more details. You wouldn’t have burned it and neither would you have done the effort of masking such an unimportant detail on the border of the frame. You would have cropped it.

          And yes, photographs have always been altered. But we are talking about a contest with fixed rules, so no sir, it is not the end result that counts, because you would’ve been ending in a contest of composed images. We are talking NG and not some Flickr contest.

          If he or you don’t like the rules, skip the contest, I say.

          • Peter

            “What has the focal length to do with manipulating content you captured in the final image?”

            Let’s say you have two cars, one on the foreground, the other some distance behind it. Put a 28mm on your camera and frame a picture while standing pretty close to the first car. Then mount a 300mm lens and frame the picture the same (this will mean you have to get some distance between you and the first car).

            Now when you compare both pictures the distance between the two cars in the 2nd picture appears to be less then in the 1st picture.

            It’s the same “compression of depth” effect that is one of the reasons why portrait photographers prefer short tele lenses (makes the nose look smaller).

        • Something that nobody mention is that NG didn’t have the original picture I guess, they found an editing but they cannot know how bad how important was the thing removed.

          • Gary

            From the linked article by the photographer:

            Only a couple of steps left: filling a document claiming the ownership of the rights to the image and licensing the rights for National Geographic. That, in addition to sending the original digital photography. By the way, I did not have the “negative” Raw because, unusually, by a mistake settling the camera (a Fuji X-pro1), that day only Jpg was set.

      • Mat

        I have to agree with Greg here. While putting in or taking out a major narrative element of the scene would be ethically unacceptable to me in a journalistic shot, removing a small piece of trash, some bit of branches at the edge of the frame, a small intruding wire or edge of building, really is fine. It’s no different than cropping, or stepping in a few inches with the camera, from a story-telling standpoint. From the standpoint of the contest it is a violation of the rules. But from the standpoint of documentary integrity, the photographer was well within the bounds IMO.

        • Mat

          To muddy the waters a bit, if he had removed all that trash in the foreground, that’d have changed the scene too much — removing an essential narrative aspect of an early morning scene at Assi Ghat in Varanasi, namely that for its immense holiness, the city in the 21st century is also a very littered, physically polluted place.

  • I have a question increasing the contrast consider as alteration??

  • Or another more simple way of saying,is post processing a raw file consider we can see increasing contrast or colour saturation . filling in the shadow might actually alter the ambient of the picture and that will definitely alter the surrounding and show different stories, so what do fellow x user think about this?

  • daniel jenkins

    the bag is real, a real part of the environment and has integrity as part of a greater story. without the bag the picture is just a pretty scene one could hang over the fireplace. with the bag it has history and energy. and finally, in the classical 19th century french rules of composition, the bag is the same tonality as the rest of the image’s mood and is part of that dynamic balance of traveling the eye in a direction that takes the viewer back to the main subject, as it were.

  • Why is everyone talking about the bag but no mention of the other elements removed: a piece of a boat and a bit of rocks in the lower left corner. Not that I think it’s a big deal…just pointing it out is all.

  • Something that nobody mention is that NG didn’t have the original picture I guess, they found an editing but they cannot know how bad how important was the thing removed.

  • Eric

    National Geographic has published photos that they themselves have manipulated and edited. I think it’s a bit hypocritical of them to disqualify this photographer for a far smaller offense compared to those committed by National Geographic themselves. I learned about this case while in photography school in the late 90s.

    • scylos

      This is a competition, not a publication. You may publish whatever you want, but a competition, any competition for that matter has rules.

      Rules are there for a reason. Quite frankly, if he bothered to read them and still did it, well, don’t want to be rude.

  • Chew Swee Kee

    Last year, my son was informed that he was one of the winners of a Junior NG competition. Because he was not able to attend the seminar/prize giving, and a photographic trip to Bali, his name was taken from the list, which included a Canon 60D prize. Winning was not judged on the merits of the photo alone.

  • Ivar

    Photographers like Eugene Smith also altered their pictures and he was famous for it and he is regarded as one of the best journalistic photographers. There is a contest with his name on it wich James Nachtwey won several time’s.
    click the link to see Eugene Smnith’s example and some others.

    • So this photographer should have send his picture to one of this competition where it is allowed to manipulate picture, not on the competition where it is clearly written on the rules that no manipulation other contrast cropping etc. … will be allowed.
      You can win a Marathon by running but it is no allowed to use a bike even for just for an insignificant 10 meters, because otherwise the competition get uncontrollable, that the rule. If you want to use a bike, just go to a Triathlon not a Marathon.

      • Ivar

        The problem with every contest and this is no exception is that it’s a promotion campain for the magazine. NOT the photographer !!!
        The magazine can use the pictures without ever paying compensation to the photographer. that’s why they don’t allow watermarks on pictures.
        They want free pictures to promote their own magazine.
        If you don’t agree with throwing away your right to own your own picture, you’re picture will not be judged.

        It’s like winning the marathon but you must give the medal to the organisors and they get to run the victory lap without you!!!

        And here something else I noticed.

        What if you send in a black and white picture, You win, hooray!!!
        Then they ask for the RAW file and they discover that you secretely and sneakely removed every single color out of the picture AAH… the gras is green in real life, the sky is blue and the garbage bag is a yellowish puke color. we better PANIC !!!

  • jASEL

    NG was trying to play GOD THATS IT ! where is the room for photograpy ? This cannot ..and that cannot…making competition useless. This gives NG the bad rap…UNDECISIVE?????

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