Photo Errors


Photojournalism in 2012: A year of excellence, ethical challenges and errors

As 2012 nears its end, we look back at the major trends and memorable events that defined photography and photojournalism this year.

Photo-sharing battle heats up

Instagram exploded into the mainstream in 2012, capitalizing on three cultural trends: The widespread adoption of smartphone cameras, people’s desire to quickly make their amateur photos look good, and the need for an easy way to share photos with friends.

Others took notice. Facebook snatched up Instagram for $1 billion. Twitter built its own photo filters, and Yahoo relaunched the Flickr mobile app with filters as well. Read more


Newspaper apologizes for adding LOL to dead man’s photo caption

Twitter user Barry Taylor shared a very unfortunate photo caption error made by the Western Mail of Wales:

As reported by the U.K.’s Press Gazette, the tweet spread quickly. A spokesman for the paper’s parent company told the Gazette:

The caption error in today’s Western Mail is under internal investigation. We apologise for any offence this error may have caused.

Hat tip to McClatchy Watch.

Read more


Washington Post confuses one Michael Shamberg with another

Mark Jenkins’ preview of a July 14 double feature in Washington, D.C., was illustrated with a photo of filmmaker Michael Shamberg. Unfortunately, there are two filmmakers with that name, as a correction in Tuesday’s paper makes clear: Read more

1 Comment
Screen Shot 2012-06-10 at 8.54.12 PM

Photo of 2001 Alaska oil spill goes viral when magazine says it’s from recent Alberta spill

Around 2,100 people have liked the Facebook page of Common Ground, a free monthly magazine distributed primarily in Western Canada. Yet as of this writing over 19,000 people have shared an alarming photo posted to its page on Friday. About 3,500 people liked the post, making it a huge hit for the magazine.

The problem? Common Ground claims the below image is from a recent oil spill in Alberta. It’s actually from a 2001 spill in Alaska. Even though many commenters on the Common Ground post point this out, the image has still spread, and continues to do so.

The post in question:

This example comes not long after BBC News had to apologize for publishing a photo it said possibly showed the aftermath of a massacre in Syria. In fact, the photo was taken in Iraq in 2003.

Interestingly, a few commenters on the Common Ground Facebook post seem happy to ignore the fact that the image isn’t from the recent spill. Here are two examples:

I also scrolled back through a large number of the recent reshares of the image/post and not a single one of them pointed out that the image was not from Alberta.

Hat tip to photojournalist (and friend) Liam Maloney Read more


BBC mistakenly uses image of Iraq in Syrian massacre story

A 2003 photo taken in Iraq was mistakenly used by the BBC website to illustrate a report about the recent massacre in Houla, Syria.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the image of a child jumping over body bags was removed from the story after the BBC realized its error. The photographer who took the shot is incredulous that the BBC could have confused his photo with recent events.

“I went home at 3am and I opened the BBC page, which had a front page story about what happened in Syria, and I almost felt off from my chair,” Marco di Lauro told the Telegraph. “One of my pictures from Iraq was used by the BBC web site as a front page illustration claiming that those were the bodies of yesterday’s massacre in Syria and that the picture was sent by an activist.”

The caption on the BBC image read, “This image – which cannot be independently verified – is believed to show the bodies of children in Houla awaiting burial.” The credit line on the image said, “Photo From Activist.”

Di Lauro posted on Facebook Sunday about the use of his image, and included this screenshot of the BBC website:

He made this statement in a Facebook post, which has since been shared over 750 times:

Somebody is using illegaly one of my images for anti syrian propaganda on the BBC web site front page

Today Sunday May 27 at 0700 am London time the attached image which I took in Al Mussayyib in Iraq on March 27, 2003 (see caption below) was front page on BBC web site illustrating the massacre that happen in Houla the Syrian town and the caption and the web site was stating that the images was showing the bodies of all the people that have been killed in the massacre and that the image was received by the BBC by an unknown activist. Somebody is using my images as a propaganda against the Syrian government to prove the massacre.

After being contacted by the Telegraph, a BBC spokesperson provided a statement. It reads in part:

We were aware of this image being widely circulated on the internet in the early hours of this morning following the most recent atrocities in Syria …

Efforts were made overnight to track down the original source of the image and when it was established the picture was inaccurate we removed it immediately.

The BBC has a very good team working at its User Generated Content Hub. They focus on sourcing and verifying content that surfaces on social media, or is sent in by activists or unofficial sources. An image of this nature that came from an activist would first go through the UGC Hub for verification. That’s what the group exists to do.

My guess is the UGC team failed to properly vet the image, or the image went live to the site before the UGC Hub had a chance to do its work. I contacted sources at the BBC but have not yet heard a definitive account of what happened.

Update on May 29: BBC News social media editor Chris Hamilton offers additional background in a post on the website today:

Efforts were made to track down the original source and, having obtained some information pointing to its veracity, the picture was published, with a disclaimer saying it could not be independently verified.

However, on this occasion, the extent of the checks and the consideration of whether to publish should have been better.

It was a mistake – rectified by the removal of the image as soon as it was spotted – and we apologise for it.

Read more

Three ways to spot if an image has been manipulated

Over the course of 16 years spent working in product management for Adobe, Kevin Connor often heard customers ask if there was any way to determine whether an image had been altered using Photoshop.

“We would get calls pretty frequently (and as time went on, more frequently) from people asking, ‘Are there ways to detect this?’ ” said Connor, who was vice president of product management for Photoshop when left the company last year.

Connor is now working with noted digital image forensics expert Dr. Hany Farid on a startup to provide tools to help sniff out altered images. Their company, Fourandsix, will roll out its first detection product later this year. (It’s currently in beta and I hope to start testing it soon.)

The upcoming release will be the first in a suite of products that could potentially be used by news organizations, law enforcement and others to help evaluate whether an image has been manipulated.

Connor said their products will assist with the process of image verification and evaluation, and help people make a more informed decision about the likely origins and lifespan of an image.

“There’s a temptation to want to have some magic bullet or magic algorithm that will tell you whether an image is real or not, and we quickly realized that’s just not going to work,” he said. “What you have to do is approach it as a detective and examine all the various clues in the image itself and the file that contains the image.”

The solution, he said, requires “not one but a series of technologies” and a trained person making an informed call.

I offered some background on photo verification in the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s death. There are some other great tips for analyzing images in the links I shared in this post on real-time verification. This Columbia Journalism Review interview with Dr. Farid explains more about his work.

A lot of the tips contained in those references relate to the content of the image: Do the things you see — people, clothing, landmarks, etc. — match what the image is supposed to depict?

Connor’s suggestions for spotting manipulation focus more on the image files and some of the telltale clues that emerge when people mess with photos.

Below are three tips from him that can help evaluate whether an image has been manipulated.

Check the file and metadata. Any digital photo file contains useful metadata. Some of this is contained as EXIF data, which you can easily look at by using a tool such as this one or this Firefox add-on. The EXIF data will tell you things such as the type of camera that took the photo, and it can also sometimes reveal the last piece of software used to save the image. Be aware, however, that many factors can affect EXIF data. “Cameras do make different choices about what information to store in EXIF metadata, and when you edit a photo in software it may make further modifications to the EXIF,” Connor said. So not all EXIF data will be the same.

Look for telltale tool marks. “Many of the photo editing tools leave traces behind,” Connor said. “An example is if you use the clone tool [in Photoshop] and clone from one area to another, then you will have a repetition of pixels.” As a result, experts often look to see if parts of an image have been cloned, resulting in copycat pixels within the same image. Is that field of flowers actually one small square of flowers that was cloned again and again? Connor also said that “if you apply image enhancements you may get halos around certain parts of the images.” So scan for halos within the image, and be skeptical if you find any.

Search shadows and reflections. When it comes to manipulated photos, Connor said, “it’s really hard to get everything right.” Hoaxsters make errors. In particular, pay attention to shadows, reflections and perspective lines. This requires you to train yourself to spot these irregularities. Connor said most people don’t notice them — including, of course, some photo manipulators. “There have been studies that show that the human visual system is not particularly attuned to spotting problems with shadows,” Connor said. “If they are even remotely in the right place — or even in the wrong place — as long as there is a shadow then we tend to not see anything wrong.” It takes some practice to become adept at shadow spotting.

Dr. Farid is writing a series of blog posts for the Fourandsix website that offer guidance on how to detect irregularities using image forensics techniques. This post looks at how to examine shadows to see if they are consistent with a light source using what he calls “geometric analysis.” Dr. Farid did two other posts (1,2) about shadows, and here’s a post about understanding reflections.

The image below comes from one of his posts. It illustrates how geometric analysis is performed. The key data illustrated below is that the lines do not intersect in the same place. If the reflections were a result of the same light source, the geometric lines would intersect in the same place, according to Connor. (Read the full post for more detail.)

Correction: Connor followed up after this article was first published to clarify one of his statements about EXIf data. As a result, we changed his quote from “When you save a jpeg there are choices that the camera or software has to make about how to store that jpeg” to “Cameras do make different choices about what information to store in EXIF metadata, and when you edit a photo in software it may make further modifications to the EXIF.” He said his comments about jpegs were inaccurate. Read more

1 Comment

U.K. editor preaches precise photo captions

Guy Keleny is The Independent’s letters editor. But I know him as paper’s stylebook writer and author of the oft-amusing and always informative Errors and Omission column about grammar and style. It’s The Independent’s version of the old New York Times “greenies.” Perhaps this sounds boring, but Keleny has wit and style to spare.

Peter Wilby wrote about Keleny in The Guardian in 2008, noting some of the column’s pedantic tendencies:

It castigates hanging participles, mixed metaphors, homophones, uses of “disinterested” or “flaunted” when “uninterested” or “flouted” is meant, confusions between titles of life peers and those of hereditary peers’ children, and other traps into which journalists fall. Keleny is the only man I know who understands, or cares, when “may” should be used rather than “might”.

Keleny’s role is to hold the paper to a high standard, and he manages to do it in a way that’s engaging.

I scan the column most weeks, and an item about the need for precision in photo captions caught my eye in the latest edition:

Many years ago, The Times had a reputation for publishing, in a spirit of superb hauteur, captions which did not condescend to tell you anything much about the picture. Maybe it was assumed that people who wanted to gawp at pictures rather than read text were not clever enough to want facts.

Anyway, the story is told that once, beneath a photo with no accompanying story, there appeared the following caption: “A Chinese junk on the Thames at Marlow.” That was it. No explanation of this startling apparition.

The spirit of that Chinese junk seemed to live on in the following caption, published in last week’s Magazine: “An aircraft carrier returning to Portsmouth on 30 July 1982 is met by a flotilla of small boats.”

Get a grip. Which one? We didn’t have that many aircraft carriers. Two took part in the Falklands campaign: Hermes and Invincible. Five minutes spent comparing pictures on Wikipedia will tell you that this one is Hermes.

The bit of Trivia about The Times of London is amusing and seems to suit the Times’ history as a paper for the upper crust. But what stands out is an old school editor like Keleny pointing to Wikipedia as a source.

I have no objections to Wikipedia as a research tool; it’s a good starting point to gather background, and following links in an entry’s footnotes can lead you to useful sources.

In this case, however, I’d prefer to see a journalist confirm the Wikipedia information with a second source, such as this one or this one.

If the message is to be more precise, it makes sense to be specific in the sourcing. Read more


The Daily Mirror apologizes for a major photo error:

APOLOGY to Patricia Belda Martinez.

WITH Saturday’s Daily Mirror we distributed a supplement entitled ‘Women who Kill’ which we trailed on the front page of the newspaper with a picture of the front page of the supplement.

One of the women whose story featured in the supplement was Vera Renczi who lived in the former Yugoslavia between 1903 and 1939 and who killed 35 men. Unfortunately due to an error the picture we used, both inside and on the front page of the supplement, was not of Vera Renczi but of Patricia Belda Martinez, who is otherwise known as Morgana and who is a fashion model. The picture we used belongs to Ms Martinez.

We apologise unreservedly to Ms Martinez for our error in wrongly using her picture in the supplement which she, of course, has no connection with and for the considerable embarrassment caused to her by our actions.

Via Tabloid Watch

The Daily Mirror

Screen Shot 2012-03-09 at 3.27.23 PM

Vancouver Sun pairs story about contaminated breast milk with photo of Queen Elizabeth

I don’t think this was the right photo choice for a story about contaminated breast milk, Vancouver Sun:

We notified the paper about the error this morning and will let you know when we hear back.

Thanks to Annie Labrecque for the tip. Read more

Page 1 of 212