DigitalCustom Model Ethics Guidelines (2003)




DigitalCustom Model Ethics Guidelines

Date Approved: 

March 1, 2003

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DigitalCustom Model Ethics Guidelines

To Protect The Integrity of Journalistic Photographs in Digital Editing

(Release Version 2.0 - March 1, 2003)

These guidelines are sponsored by DigitalCustom Group, Inc. to assist primarily news, travel and nature editors to formulate internal policies for the ethical, objective application of digital image editing procedures to journalistic photographs.

DigitalCustom seeks comments on these guidelines so that, over time, they may be improved, clarified and grow with the technology and industry thought. Input may be sent to Release Version 2.0 reflects comments received by DigitalCustom during a one-year period through February 2003.

DigitalCustom Group, Inc. grants the public an unlimited license to reprint, copy and distribute these guidelines; provided that any general publication of these guidelines shall identify DigitalCustom as the sponsor, and use DigitalCustom's title for the guidelines (including any designation of "Comment Draft #__," with the version date).

DigitalCustom Group, Inc. sponsors the development of these guidelines as part of its mission to advance the art, science and profession of digital image editing.

Proposed policies that have been the subject of material comments are asterisked (*), indicating that the proposal is under review for the next draft.

1.0 True-to-Life And Utility-Enhancing Procedures

The following digital image editing procedures are permitted to compensate for limitations and defects inherent in the digital photographic process, provided that the impact is to make the photograph more true-to-life (i.e. accurate):

1.0.1 Color balancing/correction

1.0.2 Burning

1.0.3 Correction of lens distortion

1.0.4 Despeckling

1.0.5 Dodging

1.0.6 File optimization

1.0.7 Focus adjustments

1.0.8 Glare elimination

1.0.9 Overall lightening or darkening

1.0.10 Red eye elimination

2.0 News/Editorial Images (Permissible Procedures)

The following digital image editing procedures generally are permitted for news/editorial purposes, unless the nature of the publication requires images to be precisely representative of what was photographed.

2.0.1 Cropping, darkening or focus-softening to reduce/eliminate superfluous material in a manner that preserves the context of the event.

2.0.2 Enhancing an image, or part of an image, when it serves an investigative purpose. The use of enhancement techniques should be disclosed.

2.0.3 Legally-required (or advisable) concealment of a subject's identity, done in an obvious way (e.g. pixilation).

2.0.4 Adding realistic proportionate "motion" to moving objects. (Some commentators have taken exception to this guideline and argued that motion should not be "added" when it was not part of the image out of the camera. This point, in essence, is that the photographer and not the digital editor should determine whether to create an image with motion.

The same issue arises with respect to the application of "fisheye effects" and other effects in image post-production. These important issues must be resolved between a photographer and his/her publication. A digital editor should respect whatever policy is communicated.)

3.0 News/Editorial Images (Impermissible Procedures)

The following digital image editing procedures generally are not permitted for news/editorial purposes:

3.0.1 Adding, removing or moving objects in such a way that the context of the event is altered.

3.0.2 Age progression or regression (e.g. adding gray to hair).

3.0.3 Changing a subject's facial expression, gestures, clothing, body parts or personal accessories.

3.0.4 Retouching that enhances or reduces the apparent quality or desirability of an item, or the aesthetics of a place.

3.0.5 Using "motion" to create a misleading impression that the subject is moving at a different speed than he/she/it was moving during the events.

3.0.6 Using effects or color changes in such a manner that it is unclear whether the effects or color changes were applied through digital editing or were part of the original event that was being covered.

3.0.7 Using any other digital editing procedure in a way that creates a misleading impression of the events, participants or context.

3.0.8 In nature photographs, special care should be taken to represent animal and plant life in its actual environment, habitat and context (e.g. do not lighten a background to make it appear that a nocturnal animal is diurnal or place an animal in fabricated geographical settings).

3.0.9 It is impermissible to manipulate a nature photo so as to create a false appearance that animals were associating with other animals (including humans), to group animals together in a manner that did not naturally occur or to increase the number of animals in a group.

3.0.10 The enhancement of nature images for the purpose of investigation or viewability is permissible, provided the manipulation is incidental, obvious or specifically disclosed to the viewer.

3.0.11 It is impermissible to represent a fabricated phenomenon as natural (e.g. adding a shooting star or rainbow).

3.0.12 These procedures are impermissible whether accomplished through digital editing or physical editing ("mortising") of images.

4.0 Promotional Images For News Publications (Permissible Procedures)

The following digital image editing procedures are permitted to achieve promotional objectives (e.g. on publication covers and introductory areas of an article) in a manner that is not misleading as to the events, participants or context:

4.0.1 Modifications of image composition are disfavored and should be disclosed. The cropping of an image to exclude damage constitutes a modification.

4.0.2 Cropping, rotation or image enhancement beyond the repair of after-acquired damage or deterioration (including contrast change) are substantive modifications of an image that should be applied to archival images only when necessary to achieve a proper archival purpose (e.g. analysis of a particular architectural feature) and in a manner that is consistent with the principles herein.

4.0.3 Cropping of the secondary support, frame or vignettes in the original should be avoided when possible. Secondary supports, frames and vignettes should be considered an integral part of a photographic artifact and may carry valuable historical information, such as watermarks, signatures, stamps and studio names. A digital image of a secondary support, frame or vignette may be restored in a manner that is consistent with the photo restoration.

4.0.4 Reference To Journalism Ethics: It is impermissible to modify a historical image in a manner that would violate ethics pertaining to manipulation of journalistic images. Reference is made to the "DigitalCustom Model Rules To Preserve The Integrity of Images For Journalistic Purposes" (Release Version #2.0, March 1, 2003)(available at

4.0.5 Skin and hair beautification.

4.0.6 Title (or other text) overlays.

4.0.7 The use of other digital editing procedures in a way that is not misleading as to the events, participants or context.

5.0 Promotional Images For News Publications (Impermissible Procedures)

Same as 3.0.

6.0 Preservation of Source Materials and Ancillary Principles

The original unedited file captured by the photographer (or scanned), and all files integrated into a composite picture, should be preserved as evidence of the extent of editing.

6.0.1 The publication should designate one or more editors to decide ethical issues related to digital image editing procedures.

6.0.2 Artists and technicians who perform digital image editing services that are subject to ethical guidelines should be provided with the guidelines, and be instructed promptly to disclose to the publication any known variance from the guidelines.

6.0.3 Absent information to the contrary, a digital editor may assume that editing instructions received from a designated contact person at a publication are consistent with the publication's policies.

6.0.4 These guidelines do not address the issue of who has discretion over journalistic image editing for a particular publication (e.g. the photographer, publisher, editor, reporter). The publication should make clear its policies in this regard.

6.0.5 These guidelines are addressed only to journalistic images and are not intended to limit the procedures that might be applied to commercial images, artistic images or images for personal purposes.

DigitalCustom is aware of the following (unofficial) translations of the Model Rules (prior versions):



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