Yearbook Publishing Issue #1: Photos, Photoshop and School Journalism Ethics

Yearbook Publishing Ethics

We at Expressly-Yours Yearbooks have resolved many yearbook publishing issues that designers, editors and graphic artists have presented to our staff. Of all these concerns, the issue of using Photoshop to manipulate photos and its impact on school journalism ethics is on the rise.Think of the photos on your high school yearbook as the windows to your world, which your future selves and future generations will judge you by. You want to put your best foot forward, of course, but you also want to be truthful about who you are at this point in your young life. How can you maintain a balance between the two seemingly opposing aspects of school photojournalism considering the widespread use of Photoshop? You must take a hard stand regarding the ethical use of graphics editing software!


If you have yet to do so, then now is the time. You will find that many of your yearbook publishing issues are easily resolved when you have a clear set of guidelines regarding the ethical use of Photoshop, among other graphics editing software. For the guidelines to be effective, these must be put into writing, distributed to the editors and photographers, and discussed in depth even before the photos for the high school yearbook are taken. You want to be proactive. What kinds of guidelines can you have for photo manipulation? You can be specific about what is allowed and what is not allowed as part of the ethical use of Photoshop.


Examples of allowable photo manipulation in the interest of ethical yearbook publishing are:


  • Cropping/scaling to create better frame size, aspect ratios and composition.
  • Removal of minor details like dust specks, small sticks, and pieces of litter that affect the beauty of the shot.
  • Adjustments to highlight details in the image due to exposure issues as well as color adjustments from changes in contrast, tones, and saturation.

Basically, the overall goal is to preserve the realism of the scene or the subject at the time of its original capture. The manipulations of the photos are made to adjust for the technical limitations of the camera and its related equipment.
Examples of possibly unethical use of Photoshop include:

  • Addition of fundamentally new objects into the original image with the purpose of enhancing its aesthetics, impact and composition.
  • Manipulation of the shot so that it appears that the photographer actually took the shot or that the event itself actually happened. For example, the photographer manipulated two images so that it appears the home team won the game.

In the end, you have the sole responsibility to determine what is right and what is wrong when it comes to the ethics of yearbook publishing in relation to Photoshop. If you believe that it is right, be ready to defend your decision because the ethics of photojournalism is at stake.

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