Tuesday, July 20, 2010

BP Guilty of What?

When photographers working for corporate clients get a request to digitally alter an image, it gets done, plain and simple. Now, that photograph should never be presented as an unretouched image to editorial/news outlets, but if the purpose of the photograph is to have the image placed on a corporate website for marketing purposes, then while people have a right to beware, the company is not, for a minute, holding out a "handout" photo as unretouched, unless it says so, or the photographer presenting the image says so.

So BP gets in a bit of hot water with their retouching, here - BP's Photoshopped Crisis Command Center Is Terrible On Every Level, but what's the problem?

For me, when I do work for a corporate client, and I make that image available to a news outlet, I have not ever, nor would I ever, allow an image to be manipulated in any way beyond a standard set of guidelines that are familiar to those in the news media, and dropping in a screen would be a big big no-no. I have, on more than one occasion, told a corporate client I could not do something they asked because the intended recipient was a news outlet. However, if the intended recipient is a corporate website, then things as simple as removing blemishes on a portrait and as extensive as merging images, is completely within bounds.

It seems that BP placed a photo on their website, and it was either an old one with new screen grabs added in, or the metadata that was added was wrong. Either way though, it's marketing materials, plain and simple. If someone wants a news photograph, then you have to call in a news photographer - either a freelancer with a trusted track record, or one on staff for a news outlet. While I think that the only thing BP is guilty of is bad photoshop work, what do you think?

(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

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Anonymous said...


This spill is an unprecedented man-made disaster of epic proportions.

This incident can not be simply reduced to marketing. It is straight up subversive and misleading mis-information. It is fraudulent public relations. It is BP trying to dishonestly convey to the public that it is taking more action than it actually is in response to the epic disaster that it caused.

There's a difference between dressing up an image of a consumer product for the purposes of increasing sales (marketing) and releasing fraudulent images to subversively and intentionally mislead the world about how you are handling the containment of a disaster that will affect the global ecosystem for many generations.

Unknown said...

Either way it is another public relations disaster for BP, one that could have been avoided by hiring a photographer to shoot images of the real command centre in action as the response was being coordinated.

Unfortunately clients look at Photoshop as a way to save money and cut back on shooting real events. I think as photographers we should be reminding our corporate and PR clients that it is their best interest to produce real (legitimate) imagery and to stay away from the "fix it in post" attitude.

I have no problem with corporate clients using Photoshop to prepare images for public consumption but there is a line that seems as though it has been crossed here. If this image was to be used to portray an event that was unfolding then using Photoshop to pass off an old image is a recipe for disaster. Using photoshop to spruce up an image that was shot specifically to tell that story is closer to the line but again risky if you are attempting to pass off that images as the reality of a specific situation.

Good PR is honest PR, the kind that used to be written by journalists that could actually pass as news; fact checked news. When PR was taken over by marketing people it all started going down hill, the reality is gone, pushed aside to protect brand image and perception. This worked for a while when we all thought of PR as news like content but like anything, push your luck too far, too often and you will loose the good graces of your audience. These days with the blurring of lines between news and PR & news and marketing the natural inclination is to develop distrust for all PR and most news.

Matthew Ginn said...

What is BP guilty of? Bad PR.

BP is responsible for a catastrophe of epic proportions and they desperately need to demonstrate that it was an accident that won't happen again and that they're doing everything they possibly can to rectify it. With both their shareholders or the general public, BP needs to build a level of trust that you can believe what they say.

Regardless of the reasons for PhotoShopping the images, they got spotted as having been manipulated. BP doesn't have enough public goodwill right now to say "we just dodged in some overexposed screens," even if that's true.

PhotoShopping the images suggests that the company is being less than honest, creating the impression that BP is trying to mislead the public/shareholders into believing that things aren't as bad as they really are. People don't like to feel manipulated or misled, which is why you see the reaction that you do. If the public still had any trust in BP, they don't anymore.

. said...

OMG John, does CNN's Anderson Cooper know? This could keep him on the air for another 40 days and 40 nights. PLEASE dont tell him.

Lee Love said...

John, I thought I was the only one who feel the same way you do. I think the previous comments are totally out of context. NO ONE is not saying that BP is not responsible for an oil spill, but showing the disaster out of the window of a helicopter is certainly not a crime.

It would be one thing if they photoshoped the clean up and tried to make it look like the disaster didn't happen, but that is not what they did.

They are simply posting an image showing their efforts. The helicopter is obviously real and the scene out the window is real. The fact that they didn't happen at the same time is not an issue for a corporate photo.

Anonymous said...

What would the money be better spent on?

So, they have some low-level web designer whip out a mock command center. The designer probably just had it added to the daily duties. No biggie.

OR... BP could have spent unnecessary dollars, dollars that could go toward un-oopsing the Gulf, by hiring a pro shooter to set up a perfect shot.

I'm OK with the photo manipulation. Maybe it hurts BP's credibility, but it certainly doesn't poison the Gulf or demolish a sub-economy.

Bart said...

@Lee Love Photography - In any debate or public relations the last you want is something that throws doubt on your credibility. The images may be real and genuine but when you photoshop them together (and badly) it makes people doubt your intentions. It might me as simple as correcting the representation of what they were doing but the end result is a farce.

They show an image of them working hard in the control room - the image is proven to be altered. Are you that surprised that the public reaction is a collective "O'RLY?"

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