Think birds aren’t as important as people? Think again…

When a war correspondent fudges an image there is no question that it is a problem for them, and for their news organization. And when a nature photographer fibs about a contest image, as happened with the “Wildlife photographer of the year” that’s a known bad thing. So too when photos in National Geographic or other nature magazines have been fudged to distort reality. This week though, truth in bird photos has reached a new zenith…

Sacramento Bee photographer Bryan Patrick published a seemingly innocuous photo of a snowy egret eating a frog, while another egret was trying to take it away, taking during the Galt Winter Bird Festival. Only thing is, he combined two different frames from the sequence, using one showing clearly the second egret lunging and another which offered a better look at the frog.  Unfortunately for the photographer, the combined image showed some of the foliage twice, no doubt tipping off observant readers to the issue.

The paper has suspended Adams pending an investigation, and NPPA president Sean Elliot has labeled it “a betrayal.” Now I’m all for strict standards in nature magazines, and also in the press – particularly when there are serious political issues involved – but I have to admit I was a little taken aback by the strong and immediate reaction in this case. Certainly it should make people think twice about the apparently now popular practice of sewing on wingtips or fudging flock dynamics (I can’t say I have enough time to actually mess with either one, but there are certainly lots of blogs that will tell you how).

More importantly, I wonder about the “see no evil” approach many news organizations take towards using stock photos. Millions of stock photos – many of them royalty free from entirely unknown sources – are used worldwide every day, and who is to say they haven’t been doctored in the same way. But to save a few bucks, publications large and small are happy to pick up Flickr photos or $1/use JPEGs off the web and gleefully print them, no questions asked.

One possible solution is coming from the work of Professor Hanny Farid of Dartmouth, who made a splash a couple years back with some photo fakery detection work he did in conjunction with Adobe. I spoke with him this week about his new company which aims to make photo fakery difficult if not impossible. I’ll be reporting more on him and it over the next few weeks as they get their product ready, but in the meantime I’m curious what your thoughts are on the egret photo & repercussions.

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