2013 World Press Photo Winner A Fake?

Nowadays, Photoshop enables us to do some amazing things to our photos. From the simple darkroom adjustments, which have been around since the beginning of photography to the more complex manipulations like content-aware fill, Photoshop techniques have really revolutionised the way we see the modern-day photo.

But what happens if an award-winning photographer is accused of having faked the shot by using Photoshop? Should the world jump out and down and vote the winning photo out?

Award Winning Press Release Photo 2013

The Photo At Question by Paul Hansen

This was the exact situation photographer, Paul Hansen found himself in. The above awarding winning photo submitted to World Press Photo was accused of being unrealistic and fake due to manipulation and over-used editing techniques.

The first person to flag the photo as a fake was Neal Krawetz, who alleged said the photo was actually a composite of three separate images. The story was then picked up and published by ExtremeTech shortly after. Soon the story could be seen across the internet, which prompted a reply from the photographer in question.

Paul Hansen later said:

The photograph is certainly not a composite or a fake.

Later in the day once the story had reached a peak online, World Press Photo released the following statement on their site claiming the image was completely legitimate.

“We have reviewed the RAW image, as supplied by World Press Photo, and the resulting published JPEG image. It is clear that the published photo was retouched with respect to both global and local color and tone. Beyond this, however, we find no evidence of significant photo manipulation or compositing. Furthermore, the analysis purporting photo manipulation is deeply flawed, as described briefly below.

1. XMP Analysis. The XMP analysis reflects an incomplete understanding of the Photoshop metadata and also paraphrases the contents in a misleading way. The referenced block of metadata merely indicates that the file was adjusted in the Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw module on multiple occasions before it was opened in Photoshop and then saved out as a JPEG. In fact, this metadata does not track whether multiple files were composited.

2. Error Level Analysis. The forensic analysis of the JPEG compression as performed by error level analysis (ELA) does not provide a quantitative or reliable analysis of photo manipulation. This analysis frequently mis-identifies authentic photos as altered and fails to identify altered images, and as such is not a reliable forensic tool.

3. Shadow Analysis. The shadow analysis is flawed in its logic and conclusions. It is true that linear constraints that connect points on an object with their corresponding points on the shadow should intersect at a single point (assuming the presence of a single light source). The location of this intersection point, however, cannot be used to reason about the elevation of the light in the scene. The intersection point is simply the projection of the light source into the image plane. This projected location can be anywhere in the image (including below the ground plane) depending on where the photographer is oriented relative to the sun.”

– Dr. Hany Farid, Professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College and co-founder and CTO of Fourandsix Technologies & Kevin Connor, CEO of Fourandsix Technologies

“When I compare the RAW file with the prizewinning version I can indeed see that there has been a fair amount of post-production, in the sense that some areas have been made lighter and others darker. But regarding the positions of each pixel, all of them are exactly in the same place in the JPEG (the prizewinning image) as they are in the RAW file. I would therefore rule out any question of a composite image.”

– Eduard de Kam, digital photography expert NIDF (Nederlands Instituut voor Digitale Fotografie)

Extremtech has since updated their blog post to soften their accusations but still the question remains:

When is a photo “real” and when is it “fake” and how much post processing should be allowed?

You can read more about the analysis of the RAW file here.


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I'm a professional photographer from Central Germany where I run a photo studio. I love to shoot portraits and I always like to push the limits. Whenever I'm not in the studio I'm outside chasing the light. I'm totally addicted to photography!

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