Reuters' Ban on Raw Files Only Sort Of Makes Sense

Reuters' Ban on Raw Files Only Sort Of Makes Sense

In a move to help speed up the company's workflow and to supposedly stamp out severe editing, Reuters now not only requests only JPEG images, but even mandates that images not be originally altered from a raw file. How they can verify this is unclear (metadata and other types of data about the photo might give experts better hints), but the move is supposed to also help maintain ethical photojournalism practices by reducing one's ability to alter a photograph so much that it would change its meaning.

Undoubtedly, with as many images as Reuters must process through its servers, they would certainly be thankful for JPEG submissions to save transfer time. But they — as with most news agencies — are likely already require JPEG submissions for this reason. They simply did not mandate whether or not submitting an image edited from a raw file was allowed until now.

Reuters' assumption that a JPEG image cannot be altered in a way that would make the photograph any less true as easily as a raw image gets into sticky territory. According to The Verge, New York Times Director of Photography and World Press Photo Jury Chairperson Michele McNally said, "A large number were rejected for removing or adding information to the image, for example, like toning that rendered some parts so black that entire objects disappeared from the frame. The jury — which was flexible about toning, given industry standards — could not accept processing that blatantly added or removed elements of the picture."

While adding elements to a photograph that might not have been as easily visible in the original file is certainly easier to do when editing the raw file (due to the greater exposure latitudes in the shadow areas in this case), elements of an image can still easily be "removed" by darkening them from a JPEG image. In addition, it's difficult to argue that an element of an image should specifically not be brought out in postproduction. Even if the camera cannot naturally "see" the object, if that object is "seeable" with editing, it was still recorded by the camera. And it was still potentially seen with the human eye. At what point do we let the limits — or, alternatively, abilities — of our cameras dictate what did or did not exist in a scene? What if one camera can "see" a dark object that another cannot? Do we err on the side of inclusion or exclusion?

Naturally, the obvious answer would be to err on the side of inclusion: unless you severely Photoshop objects into a photo, you can't really lie by including as much real information as possible by simply increasing your shadows/blacks. Alternatively, you could easily "lie" by excluding a key piece of information shrouded in darkness.

What seems like an honest effort to increase accountability and the reliability of photographic information in fact seems to hamper photographers' abilities to recover from tricky lighting situations or miscalculations of exposure more than serving its intended purpose. What are your thoughts?

[via The Verge and PetaPixel]

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Anonymous's picture

Finally a use for all of those JPEG enhancement settings...just kidding, sort of. I think it's going to be interesting to see what effect this has (or doesn't) on the quality and ethics of their photojournalism. I guess their ads will now read: Photographer wanted - must know how to use exposure compensation, spot metering, and other settings beyond "P" mode. Photoshop skills are nice to have, but not required ;)

Picture Effects!

Davide Zerilli's picture

Just a couple of points...

1. A raw file is just data, can't be seen. Whatever you see is a jpeg version of that raw (just a preview in jpeg, and even the camera EDIT that raw to a jpeg, it may be flat but it's a camera choice). Any JPEG out of camera is just an EDITED raw, edited by the camera. This sounds amazing, lets just give the camera the creative control of our editing. I'll love then to install instagram on my camera and the OOC jpeg will be with a funny filter, still an OOC jpeg so it's not... it's not manipulated... no...

2. In the old days we were all sending unprocessed negative films eh? Because when u process it, you change it... (whoever process it, print it will apply his own choices...) I liked the time we all had news with no photos because they tried to not process film negative to not manipulate reality.

3. Most of the news are in black and white, wait a second, isn't that manipulating? Black and white? Anyone in here with built in black and white vision in our brain? but BnW is accepted and legit... ok

4. Everything we photograph goes through our brain, is influenced by our point of view anyway. then goes to a journalist that write something applying his own point of view. Any reader will then apply his own.

I totally agree on the ethic rule of not cloning and changing pixels (sharpening tho is changing pixels but... allowed... ok), I totally agree on not changing too much of the photo feeling, using exposure to hide or show objects. I don't agree on letting the control of our work to be in the hands of in camera jpeg software. Our vision is what makes it ART. Every photojournalist is also an ARTIST and they are stripping his vision off, actually everyone will just make his editing decisions anyway. It will just be a little bit harder to do it in camera. (graduated nd filters, white balance, colour filters, using objects to hide something..... using a camera that will have more jpegs editing options...)

Judge is good. Repress is not.

dale clark's picture

" they are stripping his vision off, actually everyone will just make his editing decisions anyway".

Maybe another reason (excuse) to not to pay anything for images

Crimson Avalanche's picture

It is a camera, it only captures what you point it at and excludes all else.
JPEG captures can be edited in camera, the photographer can set a considerable number of preferences for image capture beforehand.
The ethics of those who bear witness remain paramount.

My website :

michael buehrle's picture

so much hoopla over nothing. i guess it's better than them saying only shoot with your iPhone ?

EXIF information can be manipulated. Besides digital, I shoot film; I use an Android application to add EXIF information to my JPEG film scans, which makes it a lot easier than using Windows file explorer to update the information with camera, lens, and exposure information.

Drew Pluta's picture

This feels like a decision made by a millennial. What's wrong with the tried and true generations old journalistic standards that have always stipulated guidelines for photography? If the idea is that we want journalistic integrity, then you define what that is and you enforce it. Use your words children.

I would never want to have to live with the jpg rendering that comes out of the camera. Those aren't my photo treatments, those are the jpg algorithms developed by the camera manufacturer. Do we really need to have this debate AGAIN? At this point I have no ability to be civil to anybody who wants argue that Jpgs directly from the camera are a good idea across the board. Please use the internet to educate yourselves on the simple stuff at least.

michael andrew's picture

This may just be their way of curbing the ever changing climate of technological advancement meets/journalism. Look at a d810 for example, it has 14-15 stops of dynamic range. That is night and day different from the film days. You can now blow your exposure by 3-5 stops (that's crazy) and still massage a usable image.

I see this move as a step in an interesting direction for sure, there is nothing you can't do with a jpg when you plan and expose accordingly. Shoot raw and jpg if you need to, just don't send your blown exposures or artistic renders from raw files to Reuters.

I agree with this move. We are going to wake up some years and have access to cameras with 20-30 stops of dynamic range, it may not even need settings, just point it as stuff and "create" later. I crynge and the thought of that technology.

John Skinner's picture

Really? You took all that away from a wire service now asking for an unaltered jpeg?

So for those not in the know... Most wire shooters do shoot RAW & fine jpeg on differing cards already. The fine jpeg -- albeit cropped and highlight / shadow / cropping / details etc... were usually done by the shooter PRIOR to submission to the FTP for that wire. Those were your duties and it was expected.

So... what's the huge news here? All they're asking is. Don't screw with ANYTHING on that jpeg PRIOR to submission and upload on the FTP -- PERIOD.

If they want that image to run, they'll possibly ask for the RAW, or, just edit the jpeg themselves.

Christ, it's their wire service, their going to take the hit if anything is 'overly done' or faked to that image.. And it speeds up work flow from the media room perspective in that all one needs to do now is cull for the best.

I just don't get all of that ranting and example showing on that mile long article.. And then, the further alternative is.. STOP SHOOTING for Reuters if you do and don't agree with the terms.

In a real world... where people are getting dropped on the side of the photographic road daily due to budget cuts.. What do you want? A roof over your head and a job -- or your artsy fartsy photographic control?

Abe Van Dyke's picture

I actually spent most of today writing up my thoughts as to how to reply to Reuters. ~Abe

John Shiels's picture

What next? Are they going to insist that you don't "clone out" anything by moving camera angle to exclude parts of the scene or change the context of the image? Its the old way of "cropping" by moving your feet. :)

Shoot raw.

Edit unethically.

Save as Jpeg.


They have accomplished nothing...

What I don't understand is why they don't just require the RAW file if the original captured image is what they want. It seems to me there is much more reliability of getting an unmanipulated file this way. JPEG is just so easy to manipulate and will still require they put a lot of effort into JPEG forensics to ensure it isn't manipulated.

(Yes, I get that they are much bigger and require a lot more effort & CPU cycles to process, etc. However, they say the goal is truth in photojournalism, not reduction in server infrastructure.)

Roman Kazmierczak's picture

Obviously composing is unethical in case of photojournalism, however photography is a story from photographer's point of view, and the only way to verify if the story is 100% true is to have different people covering it... But then there will be number of people that will edit and choose the pictures serving their opinions and views the best...