Public Editor

What makes photo ‘digitally altered?’

The centerpiece photo on the Business section cover Thursday showed two planes — one on the runway, one taking off behind it. Below, it was identified as a “file photo digitally altered by Gentry Mullen | The Kansas City Star.”

What about it was digitally altered, asked a caller? Why would it require such a label, as opposed to “photo illustration,” which you see sometimes on images that have been processed heavily?

In this case, the edit was relatively minor. The sky in the original photo was a little too dark for the overlaid text to be read clearly. So Mullen made the existing sky blend up gently to a lighter color, and it looks to me as if he extended the “sky” a bit taller than the existing photo. But the planes appear exactly as they do in the original file.

Photoshop is a powerful tool that can be misused easily by unethical photojournalists. Yes, you could argue the label here was overkill. But I’m all for it. I think anything more than minor adjustments to color, contrast and the like should be labeled. Better to over-inform than to pull the wool over readers’ eyes intentionally.