06 August 2006

Note to the MSM, RE: Images, still and motion, veracity of same [UPDATED]

The following is a recommendation to the MSM news outlets.

As a world we have entered the age of cheap and easy photography and motion picture capture. Like in previous advances in this realm, going from glass plate to film and from grayscale/contone to color, there has been a resultant explosion in popularity of taking images of life to remember events and give views upon these events. In the previous era actually doing photoretouching was something only professionals could do *at all* and was difficult to spot without a pre-existing image for comparison.

Times have changed.

The advent of microcircuitry and microprocessors along with high capacity color image capture has changed the realm of not only imagery capture, but that of processing as well. The first tool that gained wide acceptance in the digital realm was Adobe's Photoshop, but other and more specialized tools are available either as separate packages or via plug-ins to the Adobe plug-in architecture. Indeed, there is now an Open Source photomanipulation tool called GIMP that follows much of the path defined by Adobe, but is freely available and has source code available for it. And that is for the still image side of things.

While individual frame processing can be done via these older raster graphic packages, the tools for changing texture, tone and such for entire runs of video images has moved from multimillion dollar Hollywood Studios to the home computer, also. Adobe Aftereffects is one of these, and there are many, many more.

On the plain old viewing side, beyond these packages, there are a number of lightweight tools for doing basic photo work, like Irfanview, to do quick and easy reviews of images (still and motion). The knowledgebase for this is not only expanding, but the tools are becoming cheaper and more plentiful as knowledge gets encoded into software capability and put out on the market.

What this has done is put media outlets, be they someone's cat blog or CNN or Reuters, into the realm of needing to demonstrate openness and veracity of the images that they are putting out. A single cat blog will most likely not influence the course of Nations, but even a low-tier media source can, as witness the simple cartoons from the Jyllands-Posten in Denmark. Luckily those are purely ARTISTIC creations with identifiable authors save for that image of the pigparty used by the Imam to vilify Denmark. Photographs and motion images are, however, a different matter as they, at face value, are used to reflect actual happenings. The level of trust in photographs in the old era was high, due to the high level of skill needed to manipulate those images.

The level of trust today is far, far less due to the widespread acceptance of photomanipulation tools and their uptake by the larger community of computer users. So that leaves a news source in a quandary about the validity of a given image that they wish to use for news purposes. While fraud can not always be spotted, even by *professionals* immediately, for important images of events they *will* be spotted by the community of viewers of such images.

Charles Johnson, at Little Green Footballs, is in the field of photomanipulation work and has a skilled and trained eye when looking at images. Reuters has found that out. As did Dan Rather. That said, the entire net community has many such individuals, of many political persuasions and many outlooks on events and being able to pass a *single* photograph that has been heavily manipulated off as the *actual* photograph is relatively easy. Once spotted, however, the ENTIRE ARCHIVE of images becomes suspect as there is obvious lack of scrutiny by the media source on its images and that may be a systemic and deep problem.

To regain trust or to assert oneself as trustworthy in this age now requires MORE than putting forth mere images. Even three dimensional scenes with humans, shadows, skin tones, props and more can be done by low-end software such as e-frontier Poser. So entire scene creation is now available at photorealistic capability which can be added to either still or motion imagery, as Poser is also a low-end animation package, also. The tools for photorealistic rendering of scenes, like DAZ Bryce 3D, change that outlook as Computer Assisted Drafting and Design tools can easily export their designs and textures into these packages. Further, multiple images can be used to make a realistic 3D model via tools like MetaCreations Canoma, so even complex scenery can be made and recreated and then recast via other software. Each of these are LOW END software packages that have higher end packages available with greater capability.

These very artistic tools, used to create photorealistic scenes and then given a good going over by photoshop or its motion image brethren, are changing and will continue to change our outlook on what is life and what is artwork. From news sources, however, there must be a clear distinction. These tools erase the trust in images. To put that trust back in requires work and a change in outlook by the entire media industry for news and factual event reporting.

Here are some recommended guidelines to ESTABLISH trustworthiness:

1) Any given image *published* shall have its raw digital data made available freely for examination by the public. Do retouch and boost colors and such on the *published* image, but for the original, it must be left 'as is' with the entire metadata for that original image encoded.

2) All images shall have their metadata encoded with them. Most modern digital cameras give metadata as to camera type, make, model, f-stop and such like. Many others have further capabilities added into them to include date and time. All of that from the original image must be left INTACT along with that original image source.

3) GPS data coordinates and metadata associated with it, when captured, shall be included as part of (2) above.

4) When purchasing images from a photojournalist or anyone having taken images of an event, all images taken from all cameras by that individual shall be made freely available, even if not *used* for the actual storyline. These shall adhere to the first three, above. Copyright sharing with other media sources may be arranged and some small, but limited time to release given, say a few days, as most of these images are not 'newsworthy' but show veracity of the images used. Very few images ever become 'iconic' in stature, and most of those soon pass into the public domain by default at some point. Give the photojournalist time to shop pictures around, realize that they will be digitally duplicated at other sites that buy them.

5) All film processing, camera types and digital conversion shall also be covered with this, along with source of conversion.

There will be screams and hollerings over 4. This is the era of cheap storage. Get used to it. If you are in the news or factual reporting business and use images to depict a real-life scene, then demonstration of giving the utmost to make these images verifiable and truthful is necessary.

The era of easy acceptance of a photograph as the *actual* image of an event is now gone.

As I have previously written about John Kerry on this matter, what I say above goes for ALL politicians using digital cameras or having film-based images or photographs digitized. If you wish to assert truthfulness in the public forum of opinion, then the time has come to demonstrate such truthfulness about the things that are purported as being true. Images to show real-life and actual events require a high level of veracity for acceptance.

The time to do this, obviously, was yesterday.

But it is not too late to open the archives, make them freely available and demonstrate that as a news source you are trustworthy. Be it as a single individual running a photoblog on news events or as a Main Stream Media outlet with global reach.

Show it all or don't show it.

[UPDATE 6 AUG 2006, spelling and such not checked, sorry] Via email chatter I get this from Larwyn from Clarice: the individual's archive from Reuters at Yahoo!

That is *not* enough to establish transparency.

The entire legality of copyright can be satisfied via hosting services or from the news source itself. While an individual photographer may hold final copyright for profit publication, non-profit and 'fair use' for examination purposes is not out of bounds for original, source material. All of the images in that archive are officially 'published', which means that images have been cropped, resized and colors and contrast enhanced so as to fit into more generalized colorspaces of various computer displays.

Such work is done professionally to give good appearing images to readers and is a time honored way of ensuring that photo quality for an image is ensured.

What is now required is *context* of images so that entire, raw, unworked-on images are made available for examination and that their entire context as taken are available. Copyright can be worked out as, traditionally, a photographer may take 10 or more images for every ONE they sell. Most are poor or not well shot enough to make it to publication. Those, however, give context of what is taken at an event and the quality of work done by that individual.

Transparency is performed by putting ALL of that out for review so that actual veracity of what is published can be performed.

As Roger L. Simon said about Pajamas Media, and I paraphrase heavily: We are not 'fair and balanced', we aim to be 'truthful and transparent'.

That is the touchstone. Show us everything so we can examine *your* version of the truth of events. And that what is shown 'realistically' is 'real' or a fair and honest image that the minimum necessary has been done to give it to the public.

The next generation or so of software and hardware will further blur the lines between what is 'real' and what is 'created' to look 'realistic'. Time to ensure that honest and open sources for news events are used is now. And open the past archives of all images to let the public know that *nothing* is being hidden.


Paul J said...

Awesome and articulate article. So many photos coming out of Lebanon are being used to advance propaganda that honest editors must begin to suspect everyone of them. The media needs to hold off on running them until accuracy and authenticity are determined. Of course that won't happen with many media outlets, because their intention is to slant and mislead.
Paul Greiner

A Jacksonian said...

paul - Yes, many are pre-prepped by the photographer, and depending upon the level of sophistication of that photographer it may be obvious (and even captured IN the metadata) or may be sly (with metadata pre-copied and then re-imposed upon a changed image). I am not against a *rush to publish* but that must have the dual-track of ORIGINAL and UNALTERED image open and freely available for review so that fairness of presentation and veracity of original image can be done.

And media outlets that do *not* do this will soon become 'The Fabricated Media' or 'The Fictional Media'. Both of those descriptions are entirely accurate to doctoring reality to fit a world view.

My thanks for visiting!

Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Yes AJ, these things are needed and they are DEFINITELY needed prior to such software that can so much more readily blur the line between fantasy and reality.

However, no individual photographer will EVER do those things (particularly regarding #4 -- turn over ALL his archives from EVERY camera present?) -- and there will be no way of knowing if the photographer in fact WAS truthful. And no corporation (all media is corporate) will open its files and even remotely ATTEMPT to provide such veracity as requested. They run YOU, you don't run THEM.

Nice rules but won't happen.


A Jacksonian said...

Mr. Z - It is 'turn over all the images taken from all the cameras you used to cover this event' sort of deal. Over time, however, the entire archive of images taken from a camera will build up... and the type and capability of it will be known by the images it produces. Flaws in its capture system will also be noted and become a part of analysis.

Not every image ever taken, but the images taken from a single event, yes. That is *not* unreasonable and actually shows how good a photographer that individual actually *is*. Professionally speaking, the number of good and high quality shots that need minimal rework for publication as compared to lesser shots will speak for itself.

Even more importantly, if the images were taken to record something of interest or *important* the image, itself, is a primary historical document.

Now, this will leave out amateurs taking pictures for their own reasons, but anyone willing to put their images out to show what they saw should be willing to show *all* of the images they took for that event.

The veracity is in the metadata and timing of images, not in the hearsay of the photographer. The images themselves, with their metadata give camera type and use along with the timing *sequence* of images taken. For those using a GPS system with their camera, which some few do and I believe almost *all* picture phones have that capability, then you have an exacting TIME and PLACE and ORIENTATION of that image. It does not matter *who* took the image, it does matter what the image, itself, presents in the way of other information.

Read onwards and see if you get the drift of this.

This is not at all unreasonable to those that are professionals or even 'stringer' photojournalists.

And what better way to buid a reputation as a fair and good photographer, able to capture good images that are meaningful than to actually *show* them? A true eyewitness to history.

The rules are unlikely to happen, and that will be the *death* of factual reporting. Prepare yourself for fiction... LOTS of fiction, presenting itself as *news*.