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Africa Geographic announced its 2019 Photographer of the Year title, awarded for a dark, captivating close-up of an elephant.
Just days later, the image was disqualified and the Photographer of the Year title revoked.
In a statement that’s become more and more familiar in past years, Africa Geographic explained that “post-production work by the photographer resulted in certain tears in the ears of the elephant not being accurately reflected.” This violated one of the Photographer of the Year entry rules:
“Entries should be a faithful representation of the original scene. Localized adjustments should be used appropriately. The objective is to remain faithful to the original experience, and to never deceive the viewer or misrepresent the reality.”
Africa Geographic provided another, unedited version of the same elephant:
Note the holes and rips on the elephant’s left ear.
The CEO of Africa Geographic went on to say: “We are gutted to have missed this detail about the rips in [the elephant’s] ears…That said, we will take this on the chin and improve our systems going forward.”
When asked about the image, the winning photographer claimed that the violation was unintentional (that it accidentally occurred when he was “cleaning up the image,”) and the contest judges have accepted this explanation.
This brings to mind a few questions:
First, how unintentional was this violation? Looking at the disqualified photo, I have trouble believing that the photographer removed the holes and rips in the elephant’s ears by accident. Did the photographer not realize that such post-processing violated the contest rules?
What are your thoughts? Did the winning photographer know that they broke the rules?
And the second big question:
Should this type of editing be allowed?
This is a much more difficult question, one that comes down to our values as photographers. Personally, I lean toward prohibiting this type of editing. There’s something important about showing an animal as it truly is, including all the hardships it’s faced, which I think the rips and tears in the elephant’s ears exemplify.
But I’d love to have your input:
What are your values when it comes to editing nature photography? What should be allowed in nature photography contests?