world press photo 2013 image alteration controversy
world press photo 2013 image alteration controversy
feb 20, 2013

world press photo 2013 image alteration controversy

world press photo 2013 winning image by swedish photographer paul hansenimage © paul hansen



the 2013 world press picture of the year, taken by the swedish photographer paul hansen shows the funeral procession of two palestinian children tragically killed by a missile attack on their gaza home in november 2012. the entry, awarded the first prize in the news category, is currently at the centre of a debate surrounding the practice of image manipulation in documentary photography.


when photography was first invented, its overwhelming power came from the fact that it recorded ‘moments’ or ‘nature’ more realistically than any other art form had ever done before. photography could just easily become a manipulated discipline – visual fiction!


the sophisticated reworkings of hansen flirt with the limits of alteration – the perfect framing, high saturation and artificial lighting all examples of creating an idealized artistic aesthetic. a warm lighting cast on the left side of the men’s faces illustrate this point more specifically – as the buildings line the street they effectively create a tunnel, rendering this type of illumination impossible in reality. another example of the work’s manufactured personality is the lack of suggested movement. the moment captured is one of motion and procession, however the clarity and definition of the details of the actual picture contradict this, instead rendering it static. in addition, the synthetic saturation of colors make it comparable to a painting, creating a ‘noble’ depiction of the scene.


jury president santiago lyon of the associated press, when asked about the subject during a press conference, reiterated the ‘rules’ of the contest: ‘we are confident that the images conform to the accepted practices of the profession.’he acknowledged that certain pictures were disqualified for excessive alteration, although he refused to say how many.the world press photo jury, in case of doubt, can request to see the original, raw file, the digital equivalent of a film negative.


véronique de viguerie, a getty photojournalist and member of the world press 2013 jury says :


‘for me, when the improvement misrepresents reality, when it conceals part of the context of the image, then a line has been crossed’.‘there’s no question that a raw image file has to be altered in order to produce a publishable image,’ says de viguerie. 
’the question is, to what extent. we decided to be strict. otherwise it opens the door to all kinds of manipulation.’


finally, after much discussion, paul hansen had worked in the acceptable limits, that is to say, he remained in the embellishment, without wanting to hide anything. what can be done in the darkroom, as darken and lighten the center angles, can be done with photoshop.


read more on the issue here and here in french, and here in italian.


this is not the first time hansen has been criticized for his retouching techniques, at the swedish picture of the year awards, hansen was also recognised and censured for his winning 2010 photograph of fabienne cherisma – a young girl shot dead by police in haiti.



world press photo 2013 image alteration controversythe background has been blurred to alter the perspectiveimage visualization of the area where image alteration has been applied



world press photo 2013 image alteration controversythe illumination moves away from documentary photography. it is artificial.image visualization of the area where image alteration has been applied



world press photo 2013 image alteration controversyhansen was also recognised and criticized for his winning 2010 image of fabienne cherisma – a young girl shot dead by police in haitiimage © paul hansen

  • Regardless of the technique, the images themselves are powerful enough to warrant international notice. They convey the actual state of the world, with the unseen acts that resulted in the images he captured in real time as the actual subjects. Untouched, these photos would still convey the barbarity of The State’s killing of children.

    mkc says:
  • I don’t mind the touching up on photoshop in general. The final image is the one being judged, I don’t feel the raw image from a digital camera is law in a creative field. People can make up their own minds if retouching feels excessive or forced, works for the image or takes away. In this case, I think it is a bit much, glossing up what is not much more than a snapshot of despair to unironically look professional. I don’t feel these are even good photos, just photos of grief. A dead girl, men running with dead children; go to the middle east and you can snap a dozen a day equally as ‘good’. It’s a ‘powerful’ image because the western world doesn’t see what they’re going through, but it’s not a good photo. That guy looking into the camera? Probably thinking ‘get out of here asshole’. There’s little artistic quality to begin with, and photoshoping it doesn’t change that. Entering the photo in competitions is exploiting poverty and war. I wouldn’t feel proud of the photos as a photographer in an artistic sense, retouched or not.

    911 says:
  • Most Photo contests allow minor adjustments, such as touch ups to lighting and darkness. Anything drastic or altered too much would be a disqualification.

    Blah says:
  • I’m glad someone has said something. These photoshoppings are amateur and art schoolish. I never liked it when people altered photos to look like this. It’s becoming a photographer fad. Making the contrast extreme in the light and dark spectrums so it almost looks like a colourized black and white photo. Everything looks artificial about it.

    ThOmas anderson says:
  • I think any amount of retouching is fine for what is already a staged image. Those kids are very likely not actually dead, all of those people are there posing for that picture which is why they are so sharp. Google: Pollywood for more details on the craft of faking deaths in Palestine for a good media shot.

    SriBill says:
  • While I wouldn’t go as far as ThOmas anderson’s suggestion that these children were not dead, examples of providing corpse’s for the photographers are unfortunately not uncommon in the Middle East. Perhaps the most famous was the Green Helmet Guy in Lebanon. www who brought in corpses from another place and who paraded around with a dead baby that he had ‘discovered’ for the photographers.

    What strikes me about this photograph is the exposed faces of the babies. Checking the Internet for Muslim burial customs I found that the normal method is to shroud the corpse from head to toe. That suggests this shot was set-up. In addition the faces don’t seem washed – also against tradition but perfect for that extra impact in the photograph.

    That this might have been a set-up for propaganda purposes seems to me more important than if this was a little too enthusiastic use of Photoshop. After all some of the most famous press photographs have been heavily manipulated in the darkroom e.g. The famous busboy shot of the assassination of Robert Kennedy.

    When the award is considered do the judges demand to see the extra material to check whether this was a set-up, photographed several times with the assistance of the crowd?

    David Guy says:
  • SriBill is talking about Pallywood. It has been observed that there is a comparatively large industry of faking Palestinian casualties by journalists/photographers/filmmakers and palestinians.

    hunsun says:
  • The question is; would these pictures have been awarded prizes without the manipulation. And I would love to know what qualifies as excessive retouching, and who decides, and under precisely what criteria. I suggest Santiago Lyon of AP and his jurors make it up. They wouldn’t do that with the “news” would they? We know that AP is a completely unbiased and neutral news organization, don’t we? The thing is, this is not photojournalism but advertising. This degree of manipulation and more, is acceptable practice in advertising. Which is precisely what AP is practicing here. Advertising. Digital manipulation can be done so well in the right hands that even Mr Lyon would not spot it. A figure added here, a body there, placement in a different location, a background added from an entirely different place perhaps. Who is to say that was not the original scene at all? This is the age of Photoshop. I’m not suggesting AP changes its rules, such as verifying, in public, the raw file, I’m encouraging viewers to be extremely skeptical. Awards for “journalism” such as these, are a slippery slope into the world of total fiction. Let the buyer beware.

    Howard Stein says:
  • We can safely assume there has been A WHOLE LOT MORE alteration to this photo, then pointed out in this article. Just take a look at another picture from the same (probably staged) event from another photographer:

    The outrageous aspect of this photo is not even the photoshopping of it, nor the pallywood-like setting of a probably staged event or at least wrong facts surrounding the picture – the outrageous part is that from 103.481 submissions the jury has again selected an iconography of the “terrorized Palestinians” despite the blood shed in Syria, the economic breakdown in South Europe, the hurricane Sandy, the starving in Africa, the AIDS crises in Africa, the genocide in Dafur, the increasing take over of governments by corporations and many, many more – and on top of this from a discredited photographer who made news of arranging a picture of a dead child in Haiti in 2010 for which he won the same price in 2010.

    Steven Morell (@3xperts) says:
  • And of course while criticizing others with inaccurate rationale, you refuse to publish a comment that accurately criticizes your post. Why am I not surprised.

    AG says:
  • To those of you commenting on things you don’t know about
    1. It is common to shroud the deceased’s whole body and leave the face uncovered.
    2. Muslim’s don’t wash those considered martyrs… they go straight to burial. So it is absolutely NOT unusual that these children’s faces are covered in dirt!
    3. All photographs are staged to some extent. Those of you claiming that the children are not in fact dead have got to be delusional and living in some skewed non-reality!
    4. Please don’t waste your time commenting on matters you are clueless about. Light internet browsing and lazy research do not make you less ignorant.

    None of your business says:
  • “Those kids are very likely not actually dead, all of those people are there posing”
    “…a comparatively large industry of faking Palestinian casualties”
    Probably the entire Palestinian ordeal has been staged for over half a century, right?

    TNS says:
  • Some posts are very optimistic: the children are not really dead and their fathers are actors. It’s a relief, we live in a beautiful world…
    As it is too visible, the photoshopping is disturbing. As soon as there is some retouching, the moral debate becomes an aesthetic issue.

    Marc Bolan says:
  • as analog photographer who uses the 19th century processes…I DO MIND greatly when digital photographers falsify tones etc…I can see it..and therefore I dismiss it. In my images…everything on a 8 by 10 inch negative is on the paper. Shame…the poser!

    susan huber says:
  • This is such a minor change. What a ridiculous reason for controversy.

    justin says:
  • Enough …

    This discussion is ove … same image, HDR, completely allowed by the contest rules. Its a ‘press photo’ contest, not ‘print photo journalism’ contest.

    Eduard de Kam, an expert in the Netherlands who scrutinized the image:

    “When I compare the RAW file with the prizewinning version
    I can indeed see that there has been a fair amount of post-production,
    in the sense that some areas have been made lighter and others darker.
    But regarding the positions of each pixel, all of them are exactly in
    the same place in the JPEG (the prizewinning image) as they are in the
    RAW file. I would therefore rule out any question of a composite image.”

    HDR is not pixel manipulation (the real definition of ‘photoshopped’), but (in this case) the same image, copied 3 times, and each of the 3 versions altered to allow different exposures (or level of brightness) for specific parts of the final image. HDR is about making an image that is closer to how our eye will see a scene. The sensor in one jpg image is incapable of the dynamic range our eyes are capable of … we see shadows as clearly as bright areas, sensors do not.

    A sensor that is capable of capturing RAW, also captures every dynamic range of every colour from white to black (thats why the RAW file is so large), and the user chooses which level he wants for a given shot or exposure point. This is how he did this shot. He used RAW to expose every desired shadow and bright spot, and used 3 layers to do so. It is not cheating.

    Regarding cheating with the RAW file … impossible. You can not alter a RAW file and resave it as an out of camera RAW (CR2 or NEF, etc) file,
    the XMP file is needed to retain the alterations within a PSD (photoshop file), without the XMP, there is only the out of camera RAW, or how the camera saw the image in the first place.

    Argument over … lets move on

    David says:

have something to add? share your thoughts in our comments section below.
all comments are reviewed for the purposes of moderation before publishing.

comments policy
designboom's comment policy guidelines
generally speaking, if we publish something, it's because we're genuinely interested in the subject. we hope you'll share this interest and if you know even more about it, please share! our goal in the discussion threads is to have good conversation and we prefer constructive opinions. we and our readers have fun with entertaining ones. designboom welcomes alerts about typos, incorrect names, and the like.
the correction is at the discretion of the post editor and may not happen immediately.

what if you disagree with what we or another commenter has to say?
let's hear it! but please understand that offensive, inappropriate, or just plain annoying comments may be deleted or shortened.

- please do not make racist, sexist, anti-semitic, homophobic or otherwise offensive comments.
- please don't personally insult the writers or your fellow commenters.
- please avoid using offensive words, replacing a few letters with asterisks is not a valid workaround.
- please don't include your website or e-mail address in your comments for the purpose of self-promotion.
- please respect jury verdicts and do not discuss offensively on the competition results
(there is only one fist prize, and designboom usually asks renown professionals to help us to promote talent.
in addition to the awarded designs, we do feel that almost all deserve our attention, that is why we publish
the best 100-200 entries too.)

a link is allowed in comments as long as they add value in the form of information, images, humor, etc. (links to the front page of your personal blog or website are not okay). unwelcome links (to commercial products or services of others, offensive material etc. ) will be redacted. and, ... yes, spam gets banned. no, we do not post fake comments.


a diverse digital database that acts as a valuable guide in gaining insight and information about a product directly from the manufacturer, and serves as a rich reference point in developing a project or scheme.

art news

keep up with our daily and weekly stories
504,283 subscribers
- see sample
- see sample
designboom magazine