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The Best of Photojournalism places a high priority on visual integrity and representing the ethical standards of the National Press Photographers Association and the industry at-large. All entrants are expected to adhere to the National Press Photographers Association Code of Ethics.

NPPA Code of Ethics

Visual journalists and those who manage visual news productions are accountable for upholding the following standards in their daily work:

  • Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.
  • Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
  • Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one's own biases in the work.
  • Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.
  • While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.
  • Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images' content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.
  • Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.
  • Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.
  • Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.
  • Do not engage in harassing behavior of colleagues, subordinates or subjects and maintain the highest standards of behavior in all professional interactions.

Ideally, visual journalists should:

  • Strive to ensure that the public's business is conducted in public. Defend the rights of access for all journalists.
  • Think proactively, as a student of psychology, sociology, politics and art to develop a unique vision and presentation. Work with a voracious appetite for current events and contemporary visual media.
  • Strive for total and unrestricted access to subjects, recommend alternatives to shallow or rushed opportunities, seek a diversity of viewpoints, and work to show unpopular or unnoticed points of view.
  • Avoid political, civic and business involvements or other employment that compromise or give the appearance of compromising one's own journalistic independence.
  • Strive to be unobtrusive and humble in dealing with subjects.
  • Respect the integrity of the photographic moment.
  • Strive by example and influence to maintain the spirit and high standards expressed in this code. When confronted with situations in which the proper action is not clear, seek the counsel of those who exhibit the highest standards of the profession. Visual journalists should continuously study their craft and the ethics that guide it.


Visual Integrity

For the Best of Photojournalism, the NPPA Code of Ethics states, “Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects” and our entry rules focus on two areas where accuracy is most important – the making of the image and post-production. These are the two main areas where manipulation can occur. The following statements apply to all categories including still and video entries as well as picture editing and online presentations.

1.  Making/capturing the image

Photographers must not intentionally alter the scene they capture in any of the following ways:

  • You must not add objects.
  • You must not move/take away objects.
  • You must not “stage” situations – meaning you must not deliberately arrange objects, subjects or situations that are not already occurring.
  • You must not “set-up” situations – meaning you must not deliberately create a situation that does not exist. For example, bringing disparate characters together in a place they would not be, giving or directing subjects to wear particular clothing, or creating or altering a scene by painting, adding objects, or people that aren’t normally in that location or occur in that location.
  • You must not ask your subject to re-enact actions or scenes that occurred in the past in order to make a photograph.

Portraits have different rules. Portraits can be constructed as long as they are identified as portraits in the captions. They must not be made to look like they are naturally occurring events.

2. Post-production

Post-processing, in and of itself, is not manipulation as long as it is within normal limits of toning and color correction.

Types of post-processing that count as manipulation:

  • Dramatic changes in color that alter the original color of the scene. For example, changing a gray sky to blue. Color correcting sensor/white balance issues from incorrect camera settings is allowed.
  • Changes made by dodging or burning, adjustments to brightness, contrast, color, saturation, sharpening or clarity that significantly alter content by obscuring, enhancing or diminishing elements in the photograph.
  • Just like during the making/capturing of an image you may not add, move, remove any objects or persons. You may only use the cloning tool – or any other tool – to remove dust spots on the image created by the lens, the camera sensor or dust from scanning physical negatives. You may NOT use the cloning tool – or any other tool – to extend the photograph or expand the canvas of the photograph.
  • Altering the sequencing of an audio or video recording so as to change the meaning of someone’s statement or apparent actions.

Entry disqualification due to image manipulation

  • If the judges have any questions regarding any possible image manipulation in post processing, entrants will be required to submit images as recorded by the camera. The judges will have a private conversation regarding the entry and the entry may be disqualified.
  • Additionally, filmmakers and photographers cannot be paid by anyone with a commercial stake in the story, and no branded content will be accepted.
  • Stories should honor the viewer's trust, and under no circumstances should scenes depicted as candid be set up, directed or controlled in any way. 
  • Any re-creations of scenes to illustrate events in the past must be clearly marked as such. Special effects and music should be used sparingly and not alter the truthfulness of the narrative.