The cover photo for National Geographic’s February 1982 issue featured a camel train in front of the Pyramids at Giza. Soon after publishing the issue, National Geographic was called out for having manipulated the image, altering it to place the pyramids closer together so that the horizontal photo would be better suited for the magazine’s vertical cover. Since then, National Geographic has been vigilant in monitoring for photo alterations, the process of which it described in a recent issue.
Speaking about manipulated photos, National Geographic Editor in Chief Susan Goldberg said, ‘At National Geographic it’s never OK to alter a photo. We’ve made it part of our mission to ensure our photos are real.’
As part of that mission, the publication requires its photographers to submit raw files with their images; this goes for members who submit photos to Nat Geo’s ‘Your Shot’, as well. In the absence of these raw files, Goldberg says the company asks the photographer ‘detailed questions about the photo.’ As well, the company’s director of photography Sarah Leen explains, ‘We ask ourselves, Is this photo a good representation of what the photographer saw?’
Ultimately, though, what is acceptable to one person or organization may not be acceptable to another, something Goldberg highlighted with an example. One of the publication’s photographers recently had a photo rejected by a contest panel of judges who deemed the image overprocessed. National Geographic didn’t share that view, however, and published the photo itself.