North American Nature Photography Association

Connecting The Nature Photography Community


Ethics Committee


By Michael Frye, Former Chair, Ethics Committee

Photographers have been manipulating images since the medium was invented. If you look closely at the work of the great 19th century landscape photographer Carlton Watkins, you might notice that the same exact cloud formation appears in several of his images. The contrast in his glass-plate negatives was too great to hold detail in both the landscape and the clouds, so he used a separate negative to put clouds into his prints. Ansel Adams didn't want the white letters "LP," implanted by local high school students on a hillside above their town, to ruin his famous "Winter Sunrise From Lone Pine, California" image, so he spotted them out of the negative.

Until recently the amount of manipulation a photographer could make was limited. But the advent of digital imaging changed everything. Photographers can now add or delete things from photographs, combine images, or radically alter colors, with results that appear "real" and unmanipulated. We now have to ask ourselves how far we should go. Are there limits to what we should do with this new technology?

Several years ago NANPA issued a document called "Suggested Guidelines for Images and Labeling." Its stated goal was "the promotion of clarity and honesty in the presentation of photographic and other images." While Ron and Kennan may have different approaches to creating photographs, they both agree on the importance of being honest about how images are created.

But the suggested guidelines are just that. NANPA does not set or enforce rules for ethical conduct. Rather, it is our hope that articles like these will promote thought and discussion among NANPA members, and allow each individual to make informed choices about ethical behavior. While nature photographers often disagree on ethical issues, they usually show respect for other people's opinions, and refrain from personal attacks. We hope this trait continues.

I invite readers to comment on this topic. We may publish (with permission) some of these responses in Ripples or on the NANPA web site. Please send your comments to

What Happens When We Manipulate Images
by Kennan Ward

Why Not Manipulation
by Ron Sanford

Member Responses to the Articles

Back to Ethics Committee home

Go to Committees Overview


Web site design © Relevant Arts