Why manipulation matters

The photographers who enter the World Press Photo contest use their creative, technical, and journalistic skills to produce visually compelling insights about our world.

Entrants are encouraged to explore techniques that serve the cause of visual journalism. Different cameras and lenses can achieve particular effects. Varying aperture and exposure settings can record the scene in different ways. Altering ISO settings and the use of flash lighting enables less visible situations to be recorded.

This means photography gives us a creative interpretation of the world. However, when we want pictures to record and inform us of the varied events, issues, people, and viewpoints in our world, there are limits to how pictures can be made.

The World Press Photo Contest rewards pictures that are visual documents, providing an accurate and fair representation of the scene the photographer witnessed. We want the audience to be able to trust in the accuracy and fairness of the prize-winning pictures. We do not want prize-winning pictures to mislead the audience.

This means pictures entered into the contest must follow a series of guidelines that guard against manipulation. The first entry rule concerned with manipulation came into force in 2009. In 2014 the requirement that all photographers submit original camera files for entries remaining in the second to last round was introduced. Throughout 2015 the World Press Photo Foundation conducted an international consultation on its contest rules and processes, and the entry rules and processes were revised for the 2016 Photo Contest. Those rules and processes apply to the 2018 Photo Contest.

Manipulation is about altering the content of a picture. At almost every stage in the photographic process from capture, production, to the publication and circulation of photographic images there is the potential for manipulation. This makes it difficult for a jury to comprehensively assess if and how pictures might have been manipulated, but the photo contest guards against manipulation in two ways.

Firstly, the World Press Photo contest code of ethics sets out best practice for entrants to the contest, and it is backed by the requirement to provide detailed captions that are reviewed by the fact-checking process. Secondly, the entry rules make clear that digital manipulation which adds, rearranges, reverses, distorts or removes people or objects from within the frame is not permitted, and the rules are backed by the forensic comparison of original camera files with the contest image in the second last round.