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Finding reality in photos in the age of filters

Molly Wood Jul 13, 2016
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Digital technology has simplified the alteration of images, such as moving a pyramid to make a horizontal image fit on a vertical cover (see below).
Gordon Gahan/National Geographic

National Geographic is one of the few brands that is among Instagram’s top 20 user accounts, according to the social media statistics website Socialblade.

In this age of filters, the company is talking publicly about the need for transparency in pictures.

Susan Goldberg, editor-in-chief of the magazine, wrote a piece detailing how the company spots altered pictures. It requires all contributors to submit their raw digital files.

The magazine also does very little editing of its photos—it will correct for a scratch on a scanned negative, take out dust from the lens, and do basic color correction.

The magazine has had its own struggles with authenticity.  In 1982,  National Geographic altered a photo of the pyramids at Giza so they were closer together, and would fit on the magazine’s vertical cover.

There was an ensuing backlash. Goldberg said that, suffice it to say, the magazine would not do that today.

“This just does not happen now,” she said.

Goldberg also said there’s a desire to know what’s real in this age of filters.

“Now that everybody is a photographer, people want to know how to take good pictures, and they want to understand that what they’re seeing is credible and true,” she said. 

You can check out those unaltered photos yourself—the company is @NatGeo on Instagram

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