National Geographic - nature photo, or not?

Discussion in 'Nature' started by gyuri, Aug 28, 2003.

  1. Dear all,

    could anybody describe me the meaning of the express "nature

    Read this before answers:

  2. While I lack the very basic skill set to determine if the techniques used to explore the nature of the original photo are good, I will have to say that the web page is very compelling.

    I'm curious how others view this.
  3. I remember being blown away by this photograph when it was published in National Geographic. I had been watching similar birds here, and thinking how utterly impossible they seemed to be to photograph due to their incredible speed and erratic flight.

    This article is very interesting... I certainly am not skilled or knowledeable enough to know whether the photo was fake. I'm not sure the article is detailed enough for me to think they have a compelling case though.

    If the photo was staged with a stuffed bird, I suppose it's very immoral to pass it off as a wild shot, but that's not nearly as bad as disturbing a nest or something, at least in my opinion.
  4. Well I'm neither a professional or nature photographer and while I could not give you the express meaning of "nature photography" I definitely would not consider this apparent staged/manufactured composite an example of nature photography. Reminds me of a class that I took where the instructor abhorred any post shot manipulation of any kind. Well the last day of the class he showed us one of his better shots. It was of a small mushroom. He explained how he got the picture. He found the mushroom but not in the setting that he wanted. So, he pulled it out of the ground and staged it in front of a tree trunk. But that didn’t have the background that he licked so he tore up some Ivy and placed in behind the tree. He then took some moss from behind and put in front of the mushroom. Build a fence around the whole setup so that it would not be affected by the wind. Then positioned three different color reflectors, a green on for the Ivy, a pink one for part of the mushroom and a third one whose color I don’t remember. To finish the scene he positioned a dead Praying Mantis, that he had bought along, in the scene

    He considered this a ‘pure’ un-altered nature shot. I did not and questioned him about it. His explanation was since it was recorded on a single slide in the field and it might be possible to stumble upon the manfactured scene in the wild, it was a ‘good’ shot. But, even he would most likely would not consider this shot from NG as a nature shot.
  5. express = expression
    Sorry for the mistake ;-)
  6. The evidence looks pretty solid that the image is staged and I applaude the authors for making this situation known.

    If it's staged, it's not nature photography. It could be used as an illustration, but it should be marked as such.

    Good luck in getting any response from NG. I'm pretty sure their attitude will be to keep quiet and hope the whole thing goes away. Without an admission from the photographer that the image was staged, they are in an awkward situation.

    I remember that there was a discussion of another "impossible" image used by NG (I think) in some advertising. I recall it was a shot of Half Dome in Yosemite with impossible lighing (wrong sun and moon angles at either dawn or dusk). I don't think NG ever addressed the issue and it just faded away and most people just forgot about it.
  7. The translation to English seems to have been a rocky one, for example:
    The NGM inner investigation has evaluated all (?) data, and found them authentic.
    What data has been evaluated? Is it the data presented in the article? Did the magazine use anything presented to us? What did they find authentic? Did they determine the photo to be authentic based on this "data?"
  8. I remember being first amazed by and then skeptical of this photo when it came out. I also remember some discussion about it in at the time. Maybe it was in the unarchived section. If not, searching on 'kingfisher' or 'mayfly' may turn it up.

    For my part, and this may be my lack of sophistication with advanced and/or multiple flash lighting situations and IR triggers, I don't understand why the mayfly larval carcasses or whatever they are on the water's surface were not lit in part by the flashes. They are in complete shadow, i.e., black. The flashes would have to be more than 90 degrees from the lens's axis for the black stuff to be in complete shadow, and I find that highly unlikely given the way the kingfisher and mayfly are lit. So that suggests digital manipulation as well as staging.
  9. I agree that nature photography should exclude any kind of staged shots. And that staged shots should be labeled as such.
    The following shot in the same article should perhaps also be the subject of scrutiny :
    I for one find the splash spot a bit queer as well as the oh-so-perfectly placed water drops.
    Looks like as "faking" techniques are perfected, photographers producing perfect shots will have more and more explaining to do...
  10. Regarding Patrick Dumais's question. The water drops look real, but the center of the radiating ripples is too far behind the bird. The drops should hit the water directly below the bird's beak, which is below the image's field of view. The photo is a fake!
  11. I'm sure József Szentpéteri is a terrific "straight" photographer, but I find it difficult to trust *any* photos from a photographer once he has offered one phony shot as real. And this article is very convincing.

    I remember that shot, too, and it made me wonder how it was taken. I assumed it was staged -- but I presumed a controlled environment with live creatures.

    In looking at the shots on József's site, my reaction was that they are digitally manipulated, some much more than others, to make portions darker, more blurred, or more saturated, and also cropped for composition. That sort of manipulation I don't really have a problem with, but the idea of posing *dead* animals for "nature" photography sickens me. I hope this shot really was just staged in a controlled environment and wasn't stuffed bird glamour photography :-(.
  12. stemked

    stemked Moderator

    Thank you guys for bring up this article. I found it fascinating. As a naturalist first and a photographer second I really am sorry to see this kind of thing pop up with increasing frequency. I recall when one of Pratical Photography's grand nature winners (with a Red Fox on a stump) was proven to be a fake too (digital I think). Obviously there are much more sinister photography crimes but its a pitty that the little nature that we still have left in the world can't be appreciated for what it is. What we could be left with is only idealized forms of nature.

    Not that any of this is new. The American Landscape painters of the mid 1800's and the Hudson River school of art (like Cole and Church) were famous for creating dreamly western (US) Landscapes that never existed. I doubt they were the first to do this either.
  13. I am presenting the following real nature, unstaged flight picture with technical details, because it has some similarity to the National Geographic photo: Allen's hummingbird (click on the picture to get a larger picture) Canon EOS 3, EF 300 mm f4L IS lens at closest focus (4.9') at f18 (depth of field is about 2.5"), Provia F 100 ISO slide film. Canon 550EX main strobe on right, 1/64 power, 8" from bird, Canon 550EX fill strobe on left 1/128 power, 8" from bird. Blue paper background 2' behind bird, lit by 2 Nikonos SB105 strobes on slave mode at 1/16 power. Manual focus, manual exposure. To get proper framing and exposure, the hovering bird had to be placed within a patch of air about the size of a cigarette box. This is possible, but difficult with a hovering hummingbird. In my opinion, it is impossible with a bird moving at 20-35 mph.
  14. Corrections: the film was drugstore scanned Gold 100 (later I switched to Provia). I ran the distance and f-stop through a depth of field calculator, and it said 0.8". Makes it more clear to me why I was throwing out so many out of focus shots.
  15. Don,

    thank You for posting good examples about the hovering hummingbirds.
    You are right, it is impossible to get similar shots with a bird moving at 20-35 mph in front of the lens.

    You can find few more kingfisher pictures from the authors of the web page, at the following link:
  16. mbb


    Excellent information – I can only hope that public knowledge about this will help to stop talented photographers from even thinking to do the same. I personally enjoy taking photos in nature and also in controlled conditions (like Zoos for an example) as well as manipulated some of them as illustration. But presenting staged, faked photographs to pure nature competitions or magazines is a simple fraud, which should take all the credits from the photographer. You just can’t trust him/her anymore. Just another very good example how the chasing fame can make people becomes very unethical.

    On another hand can’t stop myself from posting probably the standard email reply the NG is sending to photographers – see below. This tread is showing one more example that they are not really good in judging people or photographs. I have a hard time to believe that pro photo director and editor did not have serious doubts when they saw that photo.

    Thank you for contacting the National Geographic Society.

    The Society does not accept unsolicited manuscripts or photographs. Our editors meet regularly to discuss possible story ideas. If an idea is decided upon, the article is then assigned, usually to someone with whom we've worked before or to someone with many years of outstanding work in the field of journalism.

    It is extremely difficult to win a first assignment with the Geographic. The editors and Director of Photography do not look at unsolicited portfolios. Because there is a large investment behind each National Geographic article - including travel expenses and fees for the numerous personnel involved - we are conservative in choosing writers and photographers. Our editors continually review the published work of top journalists and invite those whose work
    impresses them to send a portfolio. At this time, we have far more interested freelancers than we do assignments.

    If this all sounds negative, I apologize. It is, however, a response dictated by a rather precise goal for the style of the magazine, coupled with the limited number of stories we are able to publish each year.

    Thank you for your interest in the National Geographic Society and its work. I hope you will continue to enjoy the magazine.
  17. Since National Geographic allows pictures taken with dual color filter to be published, I have lost my confidence in it.
  18. I was very skeptical when I first saw the photograph of the Kingfisher in question a few months ago and I am glad that several experts took the time to analyze it. I also remember the previous thread in regard to the fake NG image of Yosemite. My concern now is that we all seem to be discussing these issues here without taking any further steps. Has any Photonet member written directly to NG asking them for an explanation? I believe that we should all do it and that we should not let NG to put these important issues to rest that easily. At least not before adding our humble contribution to the case.
  19. Thank You for all the post.
    The naturArt has tried to negotiate with the NG many times by E-mail first, and personally later (as You can read in the article)

    It seems, that nobody else done the same (until now). I think most nature photographers are afraid to do the same, because they do not want to stand against the famous NG. But I never heard any other opinion, only that this photo is a fake nature photo.

    After reading Mr Kenneth Brower's article in the "The Atlancic Online", I am sure, that we have to stop this type of "story-making" techniques...

    Here is the mentioned article:

    Maybe Ligia has truth, and all we have to write E-mails to the NG to sign that the hungarian nature photographers are not alone with this opinion.

    I am sure, that the NG is not capable to investigate all the pictures one by one, and the pressure is extreme high to be in the first line of magazines today. It is a normal behaviour to serve the readers with such a high quality articles, like we read in every magazines today.

    I think the TRUE Nature Photographers (even the amateurs) has to help out the NG (and all of other magazines too) with opinions, feedbacks, letters. It is more and more easy today, when the E-mail is so easy to write.
  20. Very impressed by the level of analysis given the photo. Seems like a job of hoodwinking a mag with a photo, somewhat similar to how an east coast newspaper recently was hoodwinked with a series of fabricated news stories. For the newspaper, it came down to a matter of beefing up their screening process... especially for the fabulously excellent stories. The editors are the gate keepers of fact.

    This statement jumped out at me, "guarding the moral of nature photography" which I have an intuitive sense of, but am not sure of the exact definition or how it is interpreted by the general populace. How 'staged' can a photo be and still represent 'nature'? There are inevitably going to be grey areas, but this photo doesn't seem to exist within those grey boundaries.
  21. For about 20 years I've felt that many of the shots that I have much admired in National Geographic were "staged."

    The first time the thought came to my mind was Steve McCurry's cover photo of the man carrying the sewing machine thru the water. It looked posed. But that would not be documentary work.

    Expressing my thoughts is not meant to be inflamatory, but I do point out my suspicions that I have seen others mention as well.
  22. Let me first make clear that I find this hoax completely horrendous. However, I have sometimes been contemplating the inherent limitations of photographic illustrations. Maybe, I have thought, that for the purpose of illustrating a natural phenomenon that cannot technically be taken in one shot, it might be OK for a skilled naturalist to stage a shot or digitally combine several shots för the purpose of illustration. Of course labelling it as such! This article, however, points out that even if you stage your shot meticulously, there may always be some detail that just isn't authentic. For instance the age class and gender of the emerging may-fly in the example. So I have come to the conclusion that not even illustrations that are intended to show a 'realistic' situation should ever be staged, since most viewers will expect a photograph to be 'real', and you cannot be sure which part of a picture will be of interest to a particular viewer. After all, what's wrong with drawings anyway?
  23. Just an example: Change the kingfisher for a baby elephant, what is hunting for the mayfly. Ok, flying with just two relatively small ears is not easy, but who knows...? The Jumbo Jet more heavy than a baby elephant, and it is able to fly is not it? The photos are always evidences.

    The elephant not hunting? Hm... ok, if nobody seen until now, not means, that is not true. The science is changing every day. The photos are always evidences.

    The elephant not able to catch the mayfly with its trunk? The trunk is a really versatile tool! The photos are always evidences.

    The elephants are only living in Africa, and India? I have seen many of them in Europe too... Even during the winter. Paris, Wien, and Budapest have pretty nice zoo!

    The picture was on the cover of NG? This is the true evidence is not it?

    If a photo like this mentioned above, will be publish in the NG, we will believe, that a baby elephant hunting for mayflies over the Europian rivers?
  24. Does anyone want about last 5 years worth of NGs ..lovingly preserved ? I have come to despise this magazine and so want to get rid of all of my issues. Please let me know.
  25. Does not surprise me abour NG. They've been doing the same thing with the subject of evolution for years.
  26. NG is silent thus protecting the sinner.
    Another American dream has fallen to ashes.
  27. Here is NG reply to my letter:

    Dear Ligia Dovale:

    National Geographic takes very seriously our reputation for accuracy and
    veracity. Before we published the Mayfly story, the pictures and text underwent
    exhaustive research to ensure their accuracy. After hearing concerns from
    naturArt, we asked several prominent ornithologists, entomologists, nature
    photographers, and photo editors to review the pictures, especially the
    kingfisher picture, and to seriously consider each points they raised. They
    informed us that there are legitimate explanations for each of the objections
    outlined. Accordingly, they concluded that the coverage shows natural appearance
    and behavior, and was photographed in the wild.

    Because of their reaction, we are confident that this coverage meets our
    rigorous journalistic standards.

    It is the policy of National Geographic magazine not to alter, either by
    electronic or conventional photo-engraving techniques, the editorial content of
    the photographs it publishes. In two well-publicized instances some years ago
    (1982), the Society altered photographs as experiments with the technology. It
    was subsequently decided that the integrity of our editorial content was far
    more important than the benefits of using this technology to create images. We
    have not published an altered photograph since, except in instances where the
    legend clearly stated that the photograph was changed and the reason for that
    change--such as the"Monkey Business" photograph in our October 1995 article on
    the Information Revolution.

    I hope this helps to clarify our position on photo manipulation.


    Joseph M. Blanton
    Research Correspondence
    National Geographic Society
    Washington, DC
    (202) 857-7656
  28. Hi all,
    I am a Hungarian, amateur photographer. Besides the bilingual website starting the debate, I am fortunate to understand the articles written at about the scandal - following up the story as the ONLY media entity. There were other Hungarian papers involved, but the story died.
    Now NaturePhoto Soc. of Hungary contacted NatGEO and the photographer to show the public the original negative/slides of the shots.
    The guy (mr. szentpeteri) refused to do so. Let me note that several years ago he was convicted for submitting "fake" or "staged" pictures to a Hungarian nature photo contest.
    The latest article can be read at sorry, only in Hungarian.

    The fisrt Hungarian edition of NatGeo appeared in Hungary in May, with the mentioned picture on its cover.

    Someone with the necessary contacts should submit the story to New York Times or Washington Post, or Science or something similar.
    I am sure NatGeo then would respond accordingly.

    Gabor Radvanszki
  29. Gabor,
    the first Hungarian NatGeo was published in March and not in May!

    Ligia, thanks for sharing the response you got, but I can't help thinking that they're bullshitting us, as their experts still have no name or, and they're not willing to argue about ANY of the proofs in detail.
    It was quite funny to read that their manipulated pyramid photo was an "experiment". Yes, an experiment how gullible their readers are.. Luckily, they could not get away with that, and that time they have drawn the right conclusion, that it's unaccaptable. I can only hope that they will do the same this time, but there seems to be very little hope for that.
  30. Dear all,

    Very interesting topic indeed. Without repeating technical issues again and without stressing once more the picture is fake, there's one thing I've missed so far: anyone who's a bit familiar with this species behavior (Common Kingfisher, Alcedo atthis) will imediatly see this picture is pretty much impossible for the follwing reasons.

    Common kingfisher is a bird that primarily feeds on small fish in flowing streams. Only in winter they use other (stationary) waterbodies as well. When feeding, they dive in an almost vertical line straight down into the water, primarily from a post such as a overhanging branch. So, hunting for an insect above the watersurface is as far as I know not known in Common Kingfisher (look at the bill, doesn't look like an insecteater!). It's an absolute foodspecialist. Second, when feeding, they plunge down in the water, they certainly don't do any horizontal cases over the watersurface! (as is suggested in the picture).

    Bas van den Boogaard
    the Netherlands
  31. Hi all again,

    Guess I didn't completely read the presented article; most of the "biological" arguments I came up in my former email were already dealt with........Anyway, they still stand though.

    Bas van den Boogaard
  32. Hmm.. I am pretty sad to know this! I used to consider any information provided by NG as if it is beyond question. The analysis provided is seems so depressingly authentic that I have to concur...
    Pretty bleak outlook for the future..
    Thanks for the info and bringing up this discussion.
  33. To clarify my position, I just shared the letter that I received from NG as a matter of information, not because I believe in it.

    After reading the article submitted by nature photo to NG, it is quite convincing to me the way they analyzed the image of the kingfisher. It particularly called my attention the fact that there is no movement in the water whatsoever. I do not need to be a scientist to know that this would be unrealistic in the wild.

    Perhaps I should write another letter to NG asking about this particular point ...
  34. mbb


    In this discussion we are all forgetting about maybe even more important issue. Photographer is also a researcher with quite a few publications according to his website. Who is going to check those? If he will be fond guilty of faking the photographs I will not pay 1 penny for his scientific work. To my understanding it was already proven in the past that he is capable to cheat. Why they not stop this guy from spreading the fakery in science and photography?
  35. dear Ligia,

    on 9th of this May, a similar email was posted to me (and to some of my fellows) from Bernard Ohanien (NG) - word by word the same as we have questioned the photo then.

    On the 28th of August naturArt made a press conference with their facts.
    On the 29th of August NatGeo made a press release (see on their web-sit) that is just the same that (i) you have received, (ii) we have received many months before.

    Who would believe even for a moment that NatGeo took seriously those questions raised by naturArt?
    Who would be that "expert" who could give his/her name "in-a-day" research for all the subjects that have been questioned?


    Please, keep informed both the NatGeo and other journals about your opinions!


    The author now have returned from his trip and starts to take his "nature photographer" course in a Hungarian university.

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