In the old days, it was not unusual for photojournalists to ship unprocessed film from wherever they were in the filed back to a central lab. That lab would process, edit and print the film, then send it off to various publications. The printer had to interpret the images and adjust contrast and tonality to match what they perceived as being reality.

One of the advantages of the digital era is the ability to do that toning/post-processing in the field. To me, this is a huge advantage because the toning you do on an image should just bring it back to look like the actual scene. When asked by my students, I tell them I tone to overcome the technical limitations of the photographic process, to make the image look like what they remembered from the scene.

Of course, when you get into conflict zones, that all sort of goes out the window. You may not have time or access to a computer to do that work, so you may need to outsource the editing process again.

Olivier Laurent over at the British Journal of Photography has a post up on 10b Photography, a modern reinterpretation of the old photo lab. Their clients can upload images from the field to their servers and then have them edited and toned before sending them along to clients and agencies.

A great idea, but in looking at the sample images I’m concerned – some of them don’t look real anymore. And, while I know different folks have different tastes, these look overtoned to me.

According to Laurent’s article, 10b Photography has this on their web site:

We believe that talking of ‘manipulation’ is correct only when pixels are ‘moved’, therefore when the minimum unit of a digital image is at least either replaced or cloned. In these cases we can talk of a mystification of reality, whose results not only represent something different from the original subject but have also broken the main rule of the photojournalism ethics.

I think, to me, some of that toning is beyond my ethics. Your thoughts?

Mark E. Johnson

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