Journalism’s coming ethical dilemma

(James Turner/Winnipeg Free Press/The Canadian Press)

There’s a technological shift in optics about to hit the consumer market that poses a problem for journalists — notably ones who make their livings by staring through viewfinders.

Lytro’s ‘living image’ cameras, essentially, capture light field data meaning the need to focus one’s camera lens on something and click the shutter at the exact right moment are no longer prerequisites for photographers.

Great photojournalists are schooled and often masters in the art of the ‘decisive moment‘ — meaning the images they bring back to the newsroom from the field should encapsulate the essence of the story or subject as they saw it right then and there.

In that single blink of the eye. Truth.

Image out of focus? You missed the shot. Too bad. See image left.

Focused on the wrong thing at the wrong time? You missed the shot. Again, too bad.

You can read more about the history of Lytro’s development here, and get a feel for how the technology works.

I readily admit it’s pretty cool.

The National Press Photographer’s Association fairly clearly lays out the ethical guidelines of the photojournalist’s job, considered one of the toughest yet most rewarding in all of the field.

I point out two specifically:

  • Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images’ content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects. 

and:

  • Respect the integrity of the photographic moment.

But what Lytro’s offerings do is allow the after-the-fact correction of focusing errors or mistaken focus selection.

Greyhound killer Vince Li leaves the Portage la Prairie courthouse. (James Turner/Winnipeg Free Press/The Canadian Press)

Suddenly, the seemingly botched shot above can be transformed into a usable, newsworthy image (see left).

I blurred the first photo intentionally to prove this point.

In reality, the Lytro would at least have one area of focus.

But was it the right one?

In my view, it would be unethical to file a news photo that was ‘fixed’ after the fact.

But the relative cheapness of the Lytro, along with its seemingly fool-proof image capture system means, I suspect, photo editors will soon be having to make serious judgment calls.

Not just with regards to paid photogs’ use of the technology, but also in pictures submitted by the public of newsworthy events.

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