Award-winning photo isn't a fake, say specialists

Specialists tapped by World Press Photo debunk an analysis that concluded that Paul Hansen's photo of children killed in Gaza was a composite of multiple images.

Paul Hansen's photo of children killed in Gaza was edited for tone and exposure, but isn't a fake composited from multiple shots, specialists said Tuesday.
Paul Hansen's photo of children killed in Gaza was edited for tone and exposure, but isn't a fake composited from multiple shots, specialists said Tuesday. World Press Photo

It's a sign of the times, perhaps, that an award-winning news photo turns out not to have been faked.

Swedish photojournalist Paul Hansen won the World Press Photo of the Year 2012 for his shot of two children in Gaza killed by an Israeli airstrike in November. But Neal Krawetz called the photo a fake on Sunday.

"Hansen's picture is a composite," Krawetz declared, saying that metadata showed multiple photos had been combined into one image, that error level analysis (ELA) showed inconsistencies, that shadows in the scene weren't geometrically plausible.

Photography has always been subject to manipulation, but the flexibility and power of digital tools have opened new vistas for editing. That's naturally reduced faith in photos' veracity, and not without reason.

But World Press Photo, which said it already had heard Hansen's detailed explanations of his editing, consulted image-forensics specialists and concluded it's a real photo.

"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," the organization said in an announcement Tuesday.

The specialists that World Press Photo consulted are Hany Farid, a computer science professor at Dartmouth College and co-founder and CTO of Fourandsix Technologies, Kevin Connor , chief executive of Fourandsix Technologies, and Eduard de Kam, a digital photography specialist at the Nederlands Instituut voor Digitale Fotografie (NIDF).

For example, Krawetz's analysis was based in part on metadata that showed editing history. But rather than showing that it was a composite, the metadata merely showed several trips through Photoshop, Farid and Connor said.

There have been plenty of cases of Photoshop fakery -- not just skinnified celebrities , but also more serious subjects such as extra Iranian missiles, extra smoke from a shelling in Lebanon , an unreal Osama bin Laden corpse , and composite photos from the Iraq war . Check CNET's gallery of photos that lie and a guide to spotting fake photos for more details.

The specialists reviewed Hansen's original raw photo -- the image data taken directly from the camera's image sensor, which many photographers prefer as a more flexible source for an eventual conversion into JPEG.

"When I compare the raw file with the prizewinning version, I can indeed see that there has been a fair amount of postproduction, in the sense that some areas have been made lighter and others darker," de Kam said in a statement. "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."

Updated at 12:52 p.m. PT to correct the attribution of the final quotation in the story. It's from Eduard de Kam, a digital photography specialist at the Nederlands Instituut voor Digitale Fotografie.

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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