ERIC Identifier: ED477610
Publication Date: 2003-12-00
Author: Cookman, Claude
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading English and Communication Bloomington IN.
The Evolving Status of Photojournalism Education. ERIC Digest.
New technologies are resulting in extensive changes in the field of
photojournalism, both as it is practiced and taught. This Digest will review
this rapidly evolving field of education and professional practice.
WHAT IS DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY?
utilizes negative film and positive prints that hold the image in an emulsion of
silver for black and white or dyes for color. Light reflected from the subject
activates the silver or dyes, forming a latent, invisible image. It is made
visible to the human eye by development in a series of chemical baths. These
analog images present a continuous tone.
Digital photography records light impulses as electronic charges stored on a
computer hard drive or memory disk. The image is a matrix of rows and columns.
Where they intersect are small squares called picture elements, or pixels, which
carry information about brightness and color. A digital image is discontinuous.
Each pixel is separate from its neighbors. Typically the resolution, or number
of pixels per inch, is so large that the human eye synthesizes them into an
image that appears continuous. But when enlarged sufficiently, the matrix of
squares becomes visible. As with all computerized technology, at the most basic
level the information in each pixel comprises electronic pulses expressed as a
series of 0's and 1's. Digital photographs can undergo the same operations as
all computer files, including being edited, stored, copied, transformed into a
variety of formats, transmitted over the Internet, deleted, etc. (Corbett, 2002)
WHAT IS THE HISTORY OF DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY?
of digital photography occurred in two distinct phases: the digitized image
preceded the digital camera. Digital photography had its origins in the 1960s as
NASA scientists developed a method for the Voyager space probes to send images
back to Earth. Instead of continuous prints, the images were scanned into
digital information and transmitted back as electronic signals. For several
years, digital photography was limited to scanning analog prints or negatives
into pixel files. When Sony introduced the first digital camera, called the
Mavica, in 1981, the scanning step could be eliminated. It was possible to
produce digital photographs directly with a camera (Wilson, n. d.). As with most
computer technology, development of digital cameras proceeded rapidly; as speed
and quality increased, costs fell. Beginning in the early 1990s,
photojournalists became the first major group of photographers to use digital
HOW HAS DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY CHANGED
Digital technologies have greatly changed the working
methods for photojournalists on assignment and brought major operational and
economic advantages to news organizations. In traditional photography,
photographers could not be sure of what they had until they processed their
film. Digital cameras have display screens that allow photojournalists to review
what they have shot while still covering an event. They can decide whether they
have the story-telling photographs or need to continue shooting. They can delete
inadequate pictures and try them again. They can fill gaps in the visual
Two major changes serve both photojournalists and their news organizations.
Considerable time is saved by eliminating the darkroom phase of traditional
photography. Time formerly required to process film, make prints and send those
prints through the engraving process can now be spent covering the event. By one
photographer's account, at least 25 minutes is saved by eliminating chemical
processing. (Kobre, 1996) Much time is also saved on the logistics of getting
the images back to the publication. Instead of driving back to the office,
photographers can plug the camera's memory cards into their laptop computers,
select and caption the images and transmit them by cell phone back to their
publication's picture desk. This logistical advantage can work from the football
stadium across town or from a news event in a foreign country. It is
particularly advantageous when covering events close to deadline.
Conversion to digital has brought many economic advantages to news
organizations. Substantial savings result from converting from a wet-chemistry
darkroom to a digital operation. They include the costs of film, photographic
paper and chemistry, which are no longer needed. A roll of film, for example,
can only be used once, but a computer chip can be erased and reused continually.
Another savings is the overhead cost of maintaining the darkroom itself which
typically consumed sizeable space. There are savings from not having to dispose
of dangerous chemicals, which is also a plus for the environment. Although
considerable investment is required for digital cameras and the computer
hardware, software and storage space required for a digital photographic system,
the conversion brings a net savings.
Perhaps the greatest advantage to the organization is an operational one.
Concurrent with the development of digital photography, newspapers and magazines
transformed their printing process from the traditional system where printers
composed pages in a backshop to one where editors and designers produced pages
on computers in the newsroom. This computerized pagination requires
computer-compatible images. Many publications also have Online editions, and
digital photographs meld smoothly into the production of these World Wide Web
sites. Online editions offer a major advantage to photojournalists who can get
more of their work published and have it available to the public for a longer
time. Newsprint is expensive, and space for photographs is limited. There are no
comparable limitations on displaying several images from a news event or an
enterprise project on the Web, and they can remain Online as long as the
publication chooses to archive them. Many newspapers, notably The Washington
Post, have Website branches that showcase the work of their photojournalists.
HOW HAS IT CHANGED PHOTOJOURNALISM EDUCATION?
education has followed rather than led the transition to digital
photojournalism. As the industry moved increasingly to digital technologies,
schools and departments of journalism eventually followed in order to prepare
their majors for internships and jobs in the profession. Again this was a two
stage process; scanning and the electronic darkroom entered the curriculum in
the early to mid 1990s, while schools retained traditional cameras and
darkrooms. Typically, student photojournalists would shoot and process film,
then scan negatives. As the price of digital cameras dropped and the quality and
capacities increased, many schools of journalism invested in digital cameras and
auxiliary equipment, and made the transition from wet-chemistry darkrooms to
computer labs in the late 1990s and early 21st century. Many student
photojournalists work for college/university newspapers, so the same advantages
in terms of deadlines and logistics apply to them as to the professionals. The
cost and organization advantages apply to the publishers of student print media.
Regarding teaching the skills and technology required: While complex, most
digital cameras can be learned in one or two sessions and mastered with repeated
use. Somewhat more time and instruction is required for learning digital editing
software such as Adobe Photoshop, the industry standard image manipulation
program. Most photojournalism instructors devote a few class sessions to a
Photoshop orientation, then expect the students to become proficient as they use
the software for the rest of the semester.
Digital photography has not altered the most important aspects of
photojournalism pedagogy including instilling the ethics and values of the
profession, the formal aesthetics of photography, how to think visually and
journalistically, how to work various kinds of assignments, etc.
WHAT ARE THE ETHICAL ISSUES IN DIGITAL
Historically, photographs have been altered by the tabloid
press by cutting and pasting together prints or combining several negatives on a
single print. Often the seams were concealed by painting with airbrushes. A
trained eye could spot such manipulations, but with the advent of digital
photography it became possible to manipulate images so subtly that the changes
were undetectable. Content could be added, deleted or moved around inside the
image. Several notorious cases of such manipulation occurred, particularly in
the magazine industry. Leaders in photojournalism saw this new capability for
seamless manipulation as a threat to the credibility of the photographic image
and thus to the profession itself and reacted.
The National Press Photographers Association, the professional organization
for still and video photographers, responded by prominently publicizing cases of
manipulation in its News Photographer Magazine and by adding to its code of
ethics a strong prohibition against digital manipulation. It now reads:
"As journalists, we believe that credibility is our greatest asset. In
documentary photojournalism, it is wrong to alter the content of a photograph in
any way (electronically or in the darkroom) that deceives the public. We believe
the guidelines for fair and accurate reporting should be the criteria for
judging what may be done electronically to a photograph." (NPPA, 1999)
In practice, most news organizations relax this stricture. Magazines which
consider their covers as an essential element in newsstand marketing routinely
alter or enhance cover images. Many newspapers have one standard for the news
and sports sections and another for feature sections. Because digital
photography has made it very easy to produce conceptual illustrations, many news
organizations do publish them. It is considered essential to label such images
as illustrations, with the expectation that the readers will not take them
It seems safe to predict that the future of photojournalism will continue to
follow technological developments in digital photography. While there may be a
few scattered news operations that the revolution has not yet touched, the
profession has undergone a technological transformation.
Kobre, K. (1996). (3rd Ed.). "Photojournalism: The professional's approach".
Boston: Focal Press.
National Press Photographer Association. (1999). "National Press
Photographers Association Code of Ethics". Retrieved December 8, 2003, from
Wilson, S. (n.d.). "Say cheese! A snapshot of digital photography". Retrieved
December 8, 2003, from http://www.ic.sunysb.edu/stu/smwilson/ cei511/Smile.htm