Newspaper Photog Fired for Altering Photo -- Again

Three years after a reprimand for going too far in digitally altering a photo, Patrick Schneider did it again. This time it cost him his job.

Charlotte Observer photographer Patrick Schneider has been fired for altering a photograph that appeared on the front of the paper's Local & State section on Thursday.

The move comes just three years after Schneider was stripped of three North Carolina Press Photographers Association awards, reprimanded by the paper and suspended for three days without pay for essentially doing the same thing.
In a phone interview Friday afternoon, Observer editor Rick Thames explained that Schneider violated the paper's policy against altering color in photos, a policy put in place specifically in response to Schneider's earlier infractions.
"We have an established policy on this issue and it really comes down to the fact that journalism cannot be about original art forms, unless it's labeled as such," Thames said. "Journalism is about capturing art in real life. Sometimes our tools fail us. Sometimes your camera fails to accommodate the circumstances you see, or your notes aren't legible or your tape recorder fails. When that happens we don't have the option of trying to recreate what happened. As a journalist you go back out the door and try to recapture that again, and most journalists understand that."

Thames first broke the news in Friday's paper.

The photo that cost Schneider his job depicts a firefighter on a ladder, "silhouetted by the light of the early morning sun." Ironically, another Schneider photo of firefighters was among the pictures called into question in 2003 for what is commonly known as "toning," the act of darkening background elements so that foreground elements "pop" off the page.

"In the original photo, the sky in the photo was brownish-gray," Thames wrote for Friday's paper. "Enhanced with photo-editing software, the sky became a deep red and the sun took on a more distinct halo.
"The Observer's photo policy states: 'No colors will be altered from the original scene photographed.'"

According to Thames' editor's note, "Schneider said he did not intend to mislead readers, only to restore the actual color of the sky. He said the color was lost when he underexposed the photo to offset the glare of the sun."

Schneider's firing is likely to touch off another debate in newspaper circles about how much digital editing -- the equivalent of dodging and burning in traditional darkroom printing -- is acceptable for photojournalistic images.

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From 2003
"I know I probably went too far on some of my burns" (Poynter.org)
Schneider's Actions Defended (zonezero.com)

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