Biggest Sin In Visual Storytelling

Many sins occur in visual storytelling; they include manipulating images, relying on stock images, using misleading or inaccurate data visuals, or using watermarked images. 

Manipulating images is the biggest sin in visual storytelling because when we look at pictures in a news article, we trust the journalist to show us the truth. We put our faith into photographers to show us precisely what is happening. If editors decide to manipulate images, we lose the little trust we have left with journalists and photographers. 

The article, Manipulation in Photojournalism: Is It Ethical? Is It Corrupt? said, “Journalists exist, in theory, to enhance the public good by providing accurate information.” The image below is a perfect example of how journalists are supposed, to be honest. However, somewhere between the photograph being taken and the image being distributed, editors decided they needed to add the fourth missile, instead of admitting that the missile did not fire. 

Original on the right, manipulated image on the left

That was one example of how an image was manipulated by photo-editing, but there is more than one way to manipulate an image. The example below is of a horizontal image being cropped and edited to fit a vertical cover, and the pyramids were revised to be closer together. The National Geographic cover below was one of the earliest digital manipulation cases; this cover damaged their credibility.

Original on the right, and manipulated image on the left

Manipulating photos has become more and more common due to social media. According to the article, How to Spot Phony Images and Online Propaganda, “During times of crisis and political polarization, it only gets worse, as phony images spread like urban legends, propping up fringe conspiracy theories and mainstream political propaganda alike.” There are so many fake images released about politics, especially this year, with the 2020 Presidential Election coming up very soon.  

I believe that manipulating images is the biggest sin in visual storytelling because we trust visuals to show us the truth. If they have been manipulated, then we are ultimately being manipulated as well. 


Amsler, M., et al. “Can People Identify Original and Manipulated Photos of Real-World Scenes?” Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, SpringerOpen, 1 Jan. 1970,

Ellis, Emma Grey. “How to Spot Phony Images and Online Propaganda.” Wired, Conde Nast,

“National Geographic.” ALTERED IMAGES,

The New York Times. “Staging, Manipulation and Truth in Photography.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 Oct. 2015,

“Top 10 Doctored Photos – Photo Essays.” Time, Time Inc.,,29307,1924226_1949547,00.html.

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