Search Menu


This site is available only to JEA members. Please log in below.

Pushing photo editing boundaries


This four-day lesson is primarily focused on ethics in photo editing and RAW photos. Students will learn about RAW photography and will experiment with ways a RAW photo can be edited.  They will discuss the ethical quandaries that occur when it comes to editing photos. Then, they will make decisions about how and how much to edit photos as they put together a mini-portfolio and defend their decisions to the class.


  • Students will learn about RAW photography and what editing tools are available for RAW photos.
  • Students will experiment with editing RAW photos and consider what ethical challenges arise.

Common Core State Standards

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1 c. Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.


Four 45-minute classes


Class set: Photo editing challenge handout/rubric

RAW photos for practicing

RAW photos for Photo Editing Challenge

Computer access

Lesson step-by-step

Day 1 — Editing in RAW

1. Review — 15 minutes

Review photo editing skills from yesterday’s class.  Discuss how Photoshop and other software alternatives give photographers the option of cropping and adjusting color.  However, are there any limitations that you noticed yesterday when it comes to color?

*Note: Students may or may not have noticed limitations, since sometimes you don’t realize what’s wrong until you see what’s better.

Open up a RAW photo on a projector or where students can see.  When you double click a RAW photo to open, it should automatically open in Photoshop or another software system that can edit a RAW photo; if it doesn’t, you may need to right click (or control+click) on the photo and select an available program such as Photoshop.  Adjust the toggle switches that show up on the right side (saturation, exposure, contrast, etc).  Discuss with students how adjusting those toggles adjusts a photo.  Then, explain that students will have the opportunity to practice and play with those adjustments.

2. Practice — 20-25 minutes

In a computer lab, have students access the practice RAW photos that are included with this lesson. (Tell students to duplicate the photos rather than opening the originals, or you can save to a place where they have to download their own copy prior to opening).

  1. Instruct students to open up a specific photo and give them a set amount of time to play with it.
  2. Then, ask students to share: does anyone think that they’ve made significant improvements to the photo? See if other students agree/disagree.
  3. Allow students to experiment with settings on their own.

3. Debrief — 5-10 minutes

Debrief. How could you tell what was “enough” editing on a photo?  Is there such a thing as “too much”? When is that?

Day 2 — Photo Editing Challenge

1. Discuss — 10 minutes

Reflect on yesterday’s lessons on editing RAW photos.  Discuss: Ask students to rate how easy it is to misrepresent reality when editing photos.  Why do they think that?  Why/how should a photojournalist avoid misrepresenting reality?  When editing photos, what should be the photographer’s goal, and how can he/she use photo editing techniques to best accomplish that goal?

2. Assign activity — 5 minutes

Pass out information about the Photo Editing Challenge. Go through information together and answer questions. Assign groups.

3. Activity — 30 minutes

Give students the rest of the period to begin working on their Photo Editing Challenge.  Instruct them to keep in mind what a photographer’s goal should be (to tell a story, to communicate a message, to convey emotion, to represent reality) and encourage them to utilize editing techniques that help to accomplish that goal.

4. Homework

Finish Photo Editing Challenge.

Day 3 — Photo Editing Challenge Presentations

1. Instructions — 5 minutes

Hang up the printed versions of each group’s photo editing challenge portfolio.  Instruct students to get out a piece of notebook paper and tell them that their job is going to be to look at all of the portfolios and jot down notes or questions they have for the group members.

2. Portfolio walk — 10 minutes

Give students time to wander among the portfolios, look at each group’s work, and take notes.

3. Presentations — 3-5 minutes per group

Ask each group to come to the front of the room and describe the decisions they made when it comes to editing and cropping.  Allow other students in the class to ask questions if they have them.

4. Reflection — 5 minutes

Have each group (or each individual student) complete the “student” half of the reflection rubric.  They should think about what they learned from other groups and consider the feedback they received while answering the questions on the rubric.  Turn in before leaving class.

Day 4 — How much editing is too much?

1. Student response — 10 minutes

Ask students to get out a piece of paper and give them five minutes to respond to the following statement: When it comes to photo editing in news organizations, how much editing is too much?  Then, discuss students’ responses.

2. Class discussion — 5 minutes

If you have access to videos online, show the Dove Evolution commercial. The video can be found on Dove’s website at .

Discuss: Is this type of photo manipulation okay for product advertisements and magazines? What about news organizations?

3. Online research — 20 minutes

Split students up into groups and have them search online to find a photo editing policy for a professional news organization.  Some samples include are listed below, but many news organizations have their photo policy on their websites.

Charlotte Observer photo correction/editing guidelines

National Geographic photo guidelines

AP’s policy banning photo manipulation

Associated Press’s news values

4. Class discussion— 10 minutes

As a class, develop a list of the standards that students are willing to follow when it comes to editing photos.  Brainstorm this list on the board or create a list in a visual place.

Optional Extension Activity

Take the standards that your class decided on and make them into a poster or a pledge. Have students “sign the pledge” to uphold those ethical standards when it comes to photojournalism.


Unless they intend to make a living out of photography, most of your students will probably not shoot in RAW format very often. However, if you have talented photographers who wish to develop their skills, encourage them to look for online tutorials that show all kinds of edits that can be made in Photoshop using portrait photography shot in RAW mode.  You may choose to ask students to pick one of their own photos and apply these editing techniques, then reflect on their experience.