How Photoshopping Disqualified a Winning Entry In National Geographic Contest

Current Events January 10th 2013 5:00 PM 64 Comments

 National Geographic Contest Harry Fisch

In a way, it is similar to watching a glorious Olympic athlete win a gold medal, only to have the medal be stripped away because a performance-enhancing drug test came back positive. Photographer Harry Fisch, experienced this firsthand when his winning entry for the 2012 National Geographic Photo Contest was disqualified 72-hours after it was awarded because of his unfortunate decision to clone out a plastic bag from the far right side of the photo.

Here is the original unretouched photo that was submitted to National Geographic upon winning the contest.

National Geographic Contest Harry Fisch original

While the contest rules allow the use of dodging and burning, it specifically prohibit the digital removal and addition of elements in the photograph. Had Fisch burned the bag to complete darkness or simply crop the bag out, he would have been fine. Harry pleaded his case to the juries and to Monica Corcoran, the editor of the magazine, but the ruling was not overturned.

In Corcoran’s e-mail back to Fisch, she stated that “it is unfortunate you did not crop the bag or just leave it in, as it really had no impact either way.”

This costly lesson is an example that we can learn from. It is important to read the rules of a contest, especially one that is as major and as strict as the National Geographic contest.

You can read the rest of the story from the article in Nomad Expediciones Fotográficas Blog: National Geographic, how I won and lost the contest in less than one second

Thanks to Peta Pixel for the find!

Image credits: Harry Fisch

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About

Joe is a rising fashion and commercial photographer based in Los Angeles, CA. He blends creativity and edge with a strong style of lighting and emotion in his photographs. Be sure to check out his work at www.fotosiamo.com and connect with him on Google Plus and on Facebook

64 Comments

  1. Mike_Kelley

    “In Corcoran’s e-mail back to Fisch, she stated that ‘it is unfortunate you did not crop the bag or just leave it in, as it really had no impact either way.’”
    So even though the editor says it’s inconsequential, they take the award away anyway. Right.

    1
    • Eric Mazzone

      Because it’s photo-journalism.  One may NEVER photoshop beyond white balancing and exposure correction, only under certain circumstances with dodge and burn.  To do otherwise does NOT show real life.  Get it in camera, check your frame and deal with it.

      1
    • PhotoOOO

      Because of the rules.

      0
    • KMcGee

      The bag was deemed “inconsequential” because whether it was in the image or not, it was still an award-worthy image.  He just chose to blatantly disregard the rules.

      1
    • Mrsfuss

      Exactly. It’s a beautiful image, and he did quite a bit of other toning, so why not just burn the highlights to death on that bag? It would have been practically invisible, and certainly not distracting in any way. Follow. The. Rules.

      1
    • Mark Frisk

      That is so totally not the point of the editor’s statement.

      0
    • Glenn

      what she meant by inconsequential was he could have either left it in or cropped it out, not clone it out, big difference.

      0
  2. JanKarloCamero

    really unfortunate. but rules are rules. Here is a lesson , as photographers, should all know.  Read the rules.

    2
    • Krisztián Storm Kocsis

      Why this is really sad, is that he didn’t mean to cheat anyone since he submitted the original when asked. One part of me says: “Come on, if you[the jury] think he would have still won with the bag there, why not reconsider?” But I guess if they made an exception here, then everyone would think they can break rules intentionally.

      1
  3. Cginca96

    If Harry Fisch had only cropped the scene tighter, cutting out the plastic bag, he could have won!  This is a beautiful photograph with or without that plastic bag.

    2
  4. Patrick Hall

    That took me like 4 minutes to even find the trashbag!

    2
  5. Thislevelisclouds

    Derp maybe mf should have done things legit. Period.

    0
  6. Sandi Ford

    Photoshopping is way overused.I agrree wholeheartedly with the disqualification!

    1
  7. Max

    he should of kept the award, he didnt add anything into the photo to make it any better.
    its not like he added a monk into the shot.

    0
    • Jehphoto

      no he REMOVED things to make it better. but in either case he broke  the rules. It is that simple.. 

      2
  8. Ellen Finch

    One thing I’ve learned from any kind of thing with rules–games, sports, photography, jobs: You read the rules and you follow them. Reminds me of the recent story of a photographer for the LA times who was fired for removing his shadow from a photo and for merging 2 photos of the same situation from slightly different angles. If you google “photographer fired over altered images”, you’ll see that story and several others with similar violations. Rules is rules, not “except it doesn’t apply to me in this one tiny little situation.

    0
  9. Giraffes_in_jars

    Rules are rules. Unfortunately he doesn’t have a leg to stand on when it is written in the rules of submission;.

    0
  10. Elizabeth Carlson

    That’s really rich considering the fact that the winning photo was taken in a ZOO! 

    0
  11. Frankpratt05

    It seems so common these days that a photography artist is now a photo-graphic artist. A change of times or a purist is in the eye of the beholder

    1
  12. Robbdee40

    Rules are Rules. You don’t have to like them but you need to abide by them….I agree….Lesson Learned!

    0
    • Davewyman

      I am not abiding by the rules. That’s the winning photo.

      0
  13. Eli N.

    Why did it win? To be honest its a pretty boring image. I understand why he took it out… cause it leads your eye away from the image. 

    0
  14. MyDarlin

    Photographers have talent to find the light and capture it in amazing ways…if you don’t have that talent, you shouldn’t be allowed to ‘fake’ that talent w/ Photoshop! And as was said, rules are rules! 

    0
  15. Mary Carton

    I don’t know how many expensive daylilies I’ve purchased based on a picture in a catalog and after it bloomed didn’t look anything like the picture because the photo had been photoshopped to a different color and looks.

    0
  16. Macguyft

    That was my first thought… Why not simply crop out the bag? I agree with judges… Rules are rules (especially in photographic competitions).

    0
  17. Jessica Marie

    I have to laugh because when you go to his blog he says he only removed a plastic bag from the frame. Can no one else see that the colour and exposure have also been adjusted as well as other things? The guy is full of shit and excuses lol. Sore loser – Good on National Geographic for seeding out the weasel. You didn’t deserve to win. One of the other 22 thousand entries that was genuine did (and has) so HA.

    0
  18. Bert McLendon

    What if he used paintshop pro? =)

    In all seriousness, if they still would have picked the image as a winner with the bag in it then why didn’t they just say “Hey, we need the original to comply with the rules, we still think it’s a winner and this keeps it fair, thanks”.??  We’re always second guessing every little edit we make anyway and you never know when someone will like one thing better than the other… A bag…

    0
  19. Jehphoto

    With what I see as the heavy handed photoshopping that exist in our industry, this being a blatant example. I am happy to hear of the scrutiny that images go thru for this competition. Digital camera give us soo much information to work with IN camera that while post is needed we should not rely on the post to make the image. Massage it a little here and  little there but….this image has at a minimum, tone curves, temp, color balance, saturation, exposure, then of course there is the removal of information, What else, how many adjustment layers. I know that the technology is there… but we need to be able to create images that are real. not just magical.  

    1
  20. Noelle Mark-Shaughnessy

    He’s more famous now by ‘losing’ the contest than the one who is now the winner…lol.   Just curious for these types of contests does “photoshopping” include RAW file adjustments?

    0
  21. Mrsvcoupon

    He also created even ripples around the boat. 

    0
  22. Kelli Graham

    I guess rules are rules but the bag was not the only pp editing that was done. I personally don’t see the big deal as to how the bag was removed.  I feel it is a great photo either way. 

    0
  23. Mark Frisk

    National Geo isn’t a glamour mag. Its stock in trade is accurate, true-to-life reportage. They were 100% right in throwing a flag on this one. The bag seems minor, but letting it pass would have been quite a step down a slippery slope.

    0
  24. Mark Frisk

    National Geographic magazine is not a flower catalog.

    0
  25. Colette lattanzi

    So taking out the trash bag was the reason he lost a contest? Kind of lame considering MOST photographers use photoshop/lightroom etc to edit or enhance their images. You’re telling me everything in National Geographic is never edited or photoshopped? Ok sure. It took me forever to even SEE the damn bag. but if those are your rules and this minor thing in an image caused such an uproar for you do what you have to do. I just find it really unfortunate to the photographer who has to now deal with all of the BS due to Nat Geo’s decision.

    0
  26. CheyAnne Sexton

    good to know because I take out fence posts and telephone poles all the time.  too bad

    0
  27. Medo

    If he just cropped  a little bit that will still make a good photo and he can add some light and colors correction. But that what makes the difference between real photographer and the one who count on photoshop.

    0
  28. rhale

    The bag wasn’t even that distracting. Unfortunate decision there.

    0
  29. RMFearless

    Next time crop away!

    0
  30. Diane Harvey

    the trash bag is distracting. it does destroy the composition for me. it draws my eye to it. i don’t think cropping would have been the answer. the space on that side is what gives the final image the composition of a classical painting. it is necessary. it is unfortunate that he did not burn the bag into darkness…not a difficult thing to do. he could even have done it in lightroom without resorting to photoshop. he did not read the rules, or he chose to disregard them. it’s still a great final image, but i do not blame the competition for disqualifying him. 

    0
  31. R Shridhar199

     the photo he took made me to think for min but nice article thanks

    0
  32. Charles Uibel

    Strange because he took some trouble to include that bag when he shot the photograph.

    0
  33. Willburt43

    So how do they know he didn’t just dodge it out?

    0
  34. Brentcfg

    Well obviously they didn’t notice the boat in the far left side had been removed as well…

    0
  35. Jcanga1052

    Hi, this
    Harry Fisch.

     

    Let me
    advance that I believe that the disqualification is by all means 100% right. My
    mistake; I breached the rules. This said, and accepting that N.Geo is not a
    flower catalogue (As Mark Said :-)) , they DO publish pictures that had
    something removed, impressively photoshoped, artificially lighted, etc..
    etc…  But NOT in their contests.

    Again: should I have
    been part of the jury, I would have acted exactly as they did:

    My point is that the “right” or “wrong” is quite difficult
    to mantain. And specially when this photojournalistic “Reality” is
    false from the very beginning: What has been shown in my picture is a glimpse,
    an instant of the rality. Not the reality itself…

    Nothing more distant from
    reality than my winner/loser picture with or without bag :-). Nothing is more
    distant from reality than freezing 1/7th of life of the people in front of you
    and claiming that this is “real”…

    Is this “real” ? http://harryfisch.blogspot.com.es/2012/05/que-hacer-con-un-paraguas-en-el.html

    Nothing has been taken out of the picture, but sharpening, dodging, color, nearly everything has beeen touched. Believe me, N.Geo would accept such a picture ,,, if it is not a contest.

    And they are right. Both things are not the same.

    Only being at Asi Gath (the place were this one was taken) sorrounded by mud,
    garbage, cows, beggars, a crowd of disorganized pilgrims, flower saleman,
    tourists, can you really understand that this “reality” is idillic
    even comming out of the box (camera) as it is “produced” by the
    photographer.
    Garbage and mud. Poverty. Obscurity. And the beauty behind it… I love the
    disorder of Varanasi
    and enjoy reading between lines, faking the reallity with my personal
    vision. I really do not need photoshop, I can do it (and I do it) easily,
    everyday, with the sole help of my eyes, my mind and the camera…

    I am not solely a travel
    photographer, obseded with Travel photography http://harryfisch.photoshelter.com/ I come from a discipline and a way of doing
    pictures were the artistic result counts and, pesonally, I could not care less
    about using or not photoshop http://cargocollective.com/HarryFisch You will surely understand my minor
    concern for “reality” in photography.

    “Technical
    Elaboration” ? “Colour adjustments” ? “Minor
    sharpening” ?

    What about
    the election of the depth of field, high/low keys, artificial lighting, etc…

    In
    practice, believe me, I sincerely understand what National Geographic does and,
    again, I would probably do the same in the same circumstances.
    Also -don’t say this to anybody- this is not my prefered picture but it gives
    me some clues on what the jury likes…

    All this
    said, should I have the choice, I wood choose to be the winner instead of the
    loser….

    Rules are made to be
    followed. When you play a ruled game (i.e. a photographic contest) you
    are dependent on the rules.

    But braking rules, in this case -and from my very personal point of view- do
    not imply an unethical action (Cheating, Faking,etc..) as the PS work did not
    have the intention of changing the perception of reality from the viewer and,
    most of all, this was not a photojournalistic picture
    nor a real testimony. It was an artistic interpretation of a reality: a false
    reality from the very beginning.

    Regards :-)

     

     

    0
  36. National Geographic 2012 Photo Contest Winners

    [...] Articles Haters Destroying the Photography IndustrySLR Lounge v1 Theme Install InstructionsWinning Entry In Nat. Geo. Contest Disqualified Due to PhotoshopWedding Photographer Threatened with $300K LawsuitFree WordPress Themes [...]

    0
  37. Desi Traveler

    Am I glad I have never used Photoshop! OR won a contest :)

    0
  38. Cassie D

    Though it sounds a little harsh, i’m glad there is are still competitions around that haven’t just become awards of who can use Photoshop the best. I think allowing Photoshopped photos in competitions so takes the challenging element of photography away and if you’re not Photoshop-savvy, it gives your competition an advantage. Just my opinion though, of course.

    0
  39. John Hudson

    Should have cropped it. :/

    0
  40. Guy

    IMO, the bag is a distraction, and I would not have selected the photo as a winner with it in place. The rules being what they are, however, he should have cropped off that edge to stay in compliance. 

    0
  41. Cathy Clark

    That is an amazing photo, bag or not.

    0
  42. Nicholas

    It must have been a minor mistake on the photographer’s part. The image is still beautiful. I must say, that if there were no contest: should the photographer or viewer have cared that the bag was there? Would it have taken away from the power of the image if it was left alone in the first place? I think the image was just fine as is.  It’s a great lesson for all of us who “pixel-peep” over every aspect of an image, to not be so precious with what gets removed from the frame or not.

    0
  43. Harry Fisch

    Hello, this is Harry Fisch the winner/ Loser of the National Geographic contest :-)

    There is a photographic philosophy that considers that
    the a picture should be shown exactly as it was taken: even – when it’s analogical photography – showing the upper and
    lower wholes of the original negative. It’s ok.
    It’s once again – as we always do in life – trying to control reality
    constraining a human activity with rules. We all live through rules. I am fine
    with this.

    Nothing more distant from reality than my winner/loser picture with or
    without bag :-). Nothing is more distant from reality than freezing 1/7th of
    life of the people in front of you and claiming that this is
    “real”…
    This one was taken during one of the Travel Photography trips that I organize with Nomad Photo Xpeditions http://www.nomadxpedition.com/ 
    .Only being at Asi Gath (the place were this one was taken) sorrounded by mud,
    garbage, cows, beggars, a crowd of disorganized pilgrims, flower saleman,
    tourists, can you really understand that this “reality” is idillic
    even comming out of the box (camera) as it is “produced” by the
    photographer.
    Garbage and mud. Poverty. Obscurity. And the beauty behind it… I love the
    disorder of Varanasi
    and enjoy reading between lines, faking the reallity with my personal
    vision. I really do not need photoshop, I can do it (and I do it) easily,
    everyday, with the sole help of my eyes, my mind and the camera…

     I come from
    a discipline and a way of doing pictures were the artistic result counts and,
    pesonally, I could not care less about using or not photoshop http://cargocollective.com/HarryFisch
    You will surely understand my minor concern for “reality” in
    photography.

    For me, only the final result counts and I find difficult to moralize on
    what is “right” or “wrong” when we approach any artistic
    expression.  People -and jurys- do not make the difference between the ethics standing
    behind retouching the capture of a photojournalist reportage (again, a fake
    reallity) and the artistic purpose of a photographer .

    But, sincerely, the only -final – truth is that this was a contest with clear rules. And my picture did not comply with them. My disqualification was legal and evident. Perhaps the ony question is about the undrelying philosophy…
     

    0
    • CHINA

      This is happening more and more as the Photoshop/HDR trend becomes tacky and cliche. Glad to see people are finally coming back around to appreciating REAL photography again.

      0
    • kurian

      hey harry ,i just wanted to no if the use of high pass in a national geographic entry is allowed or not ,

      0
  44. Guest

    do you have any article/post about “the winning entry is actually a free stock image”. If you found any such article please let me know.. Because this is what happened http://www.minispace.com/en_us/article/checkmate_compeition_winners/708/

    0
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  46. Mike F.

    I don’t think Photoshop should be allowed in any photo contest. Cropping…yes, exposure chage..yes. True photography comes from the camera, not a studio!

    0
  47. 大家都誤會了,攝影的禁忌不是修圖!

    […] 一般來說「移除照片中的物體」比「加入原本不存在的物體」被較多機構允許。例如照片女主角有幾顆青春痘,攝影師把它們移除了參賽,大多時候是 OK 的。但是國外的確有人移除了一些照片上的小瑕疵被取消資格,最出名的為 2012 國家地裡比賽得獎者Harry Fisch因為移除畫面上的垃圾而喪失了原本的獎項。 […]

    0
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