How the AP verified photo of Boston bombing suspect leaving scene

Associated Press
David Green’s cell-phone photo of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev appearing to move away from the scene of last Monday’s bombing almost seemed too good to be true, Associated Press Director of Photography Santiago Lyon said in a phone call Friday evening.

“When the picture began to circulate, we were suspicious of it because when we looked at it closely it seemed to have been a composite picture,” Lyon said. “But what happens often with digital imagery is when you’re looking closely at low-resolution files you see things that are misleading, because of the way the pic is compressed or the size of the file.”

A cropped version of Green’s photo (AP Photo/David Green)

So the AP asked Green, a Florida businessman who’d completed the marathon and was watching other runners finish when the bombs went off, for a high-resolution version of his pic. The time stamp and the resolution convinced the photo department it was real. After the AP did a little reporting on Green — making sure he’d run the race, that he was who he said — they struck a licensing deal.

Such Cinderella stories used to be rare — for example, the Texas doctor who captured a shot of Space Shuttle Columbia breaking apart — but the AP is increasingly looking for eyewitness content, Lyon said.

The news coop will “find the images on the Web and social media and other places,” he said, “and then we track down the photographer.” There’s no team dedicated to the task, Lyon said, but a couple of photo staffers will draw duty, especially after a dramatic event.

Green’s friend Jason Lubin told the AP he spotted Tsarnaev, in his now-famous white baseball cap, when he looked closely at his friend’s photo. “I literally had to sit down,” Lubin told the service.

Other photo news from last week’s bombings and manhunt:

• Bloomberg photographer Kelvin Ma on his photo of bombing victim Jeff Bauman, who later helped identify the suspects: “as a professional witness, I don’t know how else to show not only the evil of the world, but also the compassion and humanity that ultimately overcomes it.”

• Seattle runner Bill Iffrig didn’t see John Tlumacki’s now-iconic shot of him on the ground after one of the explosions until he was flying home on Friday, when an airline employee gave him a copy of Sports Illustrated, which fronted it. “It’s almost like it was staged, it’s so real,” Iffrig said. (Here’s a Poynter.org interview with Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki, who took the photo of Iffrig.)

• Massachusetts State Police released thermal-imaging photos taken from a helicopter that show Tsarnaev sheltering in a boat in Watertown, Mass.

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  • Work Avoidance Log

    What’s really interesting about all those police officers putting their hands in front of news photographers is that in nearly every instance, the officer is violating the law. If what’s happening is in public view and in a public place, it’s almost always OK to shoot, despite the personal feelings of the individual officer or his/her boss about “sensitivity,” “appropriateness,” “the privacy of the victims” or “decency.” There are exceptions, but they are few (and there are multiple resources on the web for finding out what they are).

    Too many law enforcement departments and officers believe–incorrectly–it’s not just their prerogative but their duty to act as censors.

    Miami News Photographer Carlos Miller channeled his arrested for lawfully doing his job into a personal mission to track episodes of police overreach against news photographers (still and video) and teach photographers–professional and amateur–how to react to cases of police censorship without escalating the confrontation. The Log recommends his excellent blog, Photography Is Not A Crime, which is conveniently located at http://www.photographyisnotacrime.com.

    Back to work [but no photos, please: The Log doesn't have a "good side"]

  • SRussell55

    What I find interesting is the number of times a police officer will wave their hands or put their hand in front of a news photographer telling them they arent allowed to photograph. Then if suddenly the media has a photo of the suspect they want every photo they can get. Even Friday as reporters were shooting down a street why police raided a house, a cop near the media told them to get back. One has to wonder how many times a suspect is in a photographers viewfinder when the photog is suddenly ordered to get back.

  • NateBowman

    A helpful article on the admissibility of digital photographs in court:

    http://apps.americanbar.org/lpm/lpt/articles/tch06061.shtml

  • NateBowman

    “(Here’s a Poynter.org interview with Boston Globe photographer John Tlumacki, who took the photo of Iffrig.)”

    Please be aware that there is more than one photo in circulation of the scene and that not all outlets used the same photo.
    For instance, the TIME link and the SI link show two different shots of the Iffrig scene.