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Is this photo physically possible?

Real or fake?

Poll closed Sep 28, 2014.
  1. Shadow is possible

    10 vote(s)
  2. Shadow is impossible

    3 vote(s)
  1. Mar 12, 2014 #1


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    I am looking for expert commentary on this photo. I am hypothesizing that the shadow on the far-left figure is impossible. My reasons are:

    1. The sun is 93 million miles away and must cast shadows of parallel angles.

    2. The appearance of shadows are a physical phenomena and not dependent on the observer.

    3. The shadow on the figure should be consistent with the angle of the other shadows due to the distance of the light source.

    It has been noted that there is a difference in the surface on which they are sitting. In other words, does the difference in the orientation of their planes correspond with the change in the angle of their shadow?

    Attached Files:

    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 12, 2014
  2. jcsd
  3. Mar 12, 2014 #2

    Simon Bridge

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    Shadow also depends on the shape of the surface it is projected onto - each of the shadows are on surfaces that slope in different directions. The slopes are consistent with the way the shadows look.

    The fact that it is a photo is important too - cameras are prone to emphasize perspective, depending on the lens, so in a photo of shadows from the Sun on a flat surface, the shadows may appear to radiate from a common spot on the horizon.

    The idea that "shadows from the sun should be parallel" is a common misunderstanding - appearing most frequently among "moon landing" conspiracy theorists.

    To be certain, I'd need to know a lot more about how the picture was taken ... you can, of course, get the same effect by carefully combining three pictures or just completely faking every aspect of it. But it is much easier to just take the shot.
    Last edited: Mar 12, 2014
  4. Mar 12, 2014 #3


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    Yes it seems the figure on the left is on a plane which is tilted about 15 degrees counter-clockwise. But wouldn't that only make the shadow more narrow? Even so, the change in angle seems too drastic to me. They look like two completely different times of day.
  5. Mar 12, 2014 #4


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    These too?


    http://ak2.picdn.net/shutterstock/videos/1060891/preview/stock-footage-trees-shadows-moving-in-sunset.jpg [Broken]
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  6. Mar 12, 2014 #5


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    Wrong. You can verify this by looking at any two distant spaced parallel lines even with just your eyes. One that passes you to the left is angled left to right and one to your right is angled right to left. This is the whole point of the concept of perspective:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perspective_(graphical [Broken])

    In essence, the wider the field of view of the lens, the sharper the angles. And lines perpendiculr to the field of view will curve about the center of the field of view:
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  7. Mar 12, 2014 #6

    Simon Bridge

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    What you deduce, what seems right to you or me or anyone, may be perfectly logical and internally consistent, but that does not make it true.

    Note: - the Sun is very high at the time the shot was taken - this makes the surface effect bigger.
    If the Sun is very low, the perspective effect is bigger. But the details of the camera are also important re post #5.

    All the women's shadows are pointing in different directions - but consistently so.
    i.e. Left shadow points to the left and right shadow points to the right is a consistent perspective effect.

    I can make a shadow fall on a plane surface at different angles according to how the plane is tilted and how I lean the object. So can you.

    I think you need to get out in the sunshine and take a few photos before getting back to us.

    But Why the question in the first place?
    Do you have some special information that leads you to suspect the picture may be faked?
  8. Mar 13, 2014 #7


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    from a photographer's perspective, I dont see any problems with the shadows in the people pic

  9. Mar 13, 2014 #8
    The sun rays are parallel to each other in the 3-D world, but not in a picture which is a 2-D projection of the3-D world. You need to get out more and pay more attention to what you see.
  10. Mar 16, 2014 #9


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    Thanks for the explanations. I do not know how I did not notice this effect before. Clearly the shadows move to the left and right from the photographer's perspective. There is no way to prove the shadows are precisely correct in their placement, but they are consistent with how they would appear normally.

    The pictures of the trees you posted demonstrate this clearly.

    This photo is part of a series of photos where fakery was conclusively proven through the observation of digital editing artifacts, impossible positioning of anatomy and incorrect placement of shadows and light.

    In the other cases, the manipulation had been obvious: A piece of background left in between the arm and side. Clean lines around the subject (no semi-transparent hair), transparent grass, use of clone-stamp, and areas where the artist simply forgot to delete straight edges from transparent layers, box-like formations around organic elements, and many others.

    So there was sufficient reason to find fault with this photo, as the subject with the questionable shadow had been conclusively 'pasted' into other photos. Many had pointed out the shadow as looking 'odd', but it may be that either this photo is simply genuine, or that it was faked so well, there is no evidence of it.
  11. Mar 17, 2014 #10

    Simon Bridge

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    So you did have reason to suspect the picture to have some fakery about it.

    The shadows of the women are consistent - which is what you asked about - look elsewhere.

    I think the suspicious subject is the man standing in the background.
    He seems out of perspective to me. A closer look at that part of the picture is in order.
    Is he close enough to the woman in yellow to cast the extra shadow?
  12. Mar 18, 2014 #11


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    Most definitely had cause to expect fakery. Which fueled the speculation on the shadow.

    I must say they are oddly arrayed, as a group. They seem disconnected and unaware of each other. But this is just more speculation. I will see if I can find a higher resolution version and place it under the scrutiny of Photoshop.
  13. Mar 18, 2014 #12


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    I don't find the look odd at all. This is how groups of people often look. They are paying attention to the camera, not each other.
  14. Mar 18, 2014 #13


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    They're all focused on a single point, the photographer, looks very normal.
  15. Mar 18, 2014 #14
    If I had to guess under the pretense that there is fakery in this photo, I'd put my money on the girl in the white closest to the photographer. It may just be me or some phenomenon in photography I'm not aware of (I'm a simple hobbyist at best) but the lighting on her seems to be more off to the left than any of the others. If you look at where the highlighting is from the light source, she seems to have a good amount coming from the left, more so than any of the others who have maybe a sliver of highlight, indicative of mostly backlighting. On her, it seems like there is a lot of highlighting going on where the highlights are encroaching a bit too much suggestive of some extra source behind her and a bit to her right (or to the left from our perspective).

    Just a guess, from a non-pro and who is now biased towards seeking out some inconsistencies. I would never have thought twice about it at a glance.
  16. Mar 18, 2014 #15


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    It seemed odd to me that the right hand edge of the white rock that the left hand girl is sitting on, seemed unnaturally straight and is making an almost exactly "vertical" line down the image. But you would need a higher resolution image that what is posted here to check it out.
  17. Mar 19, 2014 #16


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    The girls in white looks washed-out, out of focus and out of perspective (too big) to me while the guy looks too small. But the perspective and focus can be explained by an unexpected camera field of view: close-up, wide-angle. That would also make the shadows' divergent angles steeper, which was the OP's first concern. That may even be able to explain the wash-out (closer=brighter). So I can't say I see anything inexplicably odd.
  18. Mar 19, 2014 #17
    I google searched the image and ran it through fotoforensics.
    ( http://fotoforensics.com/analysis.php?id=4c1a670654413c33be782a89a449e4ff2c8ec9f3.49836 )

    The google search coughed up a few conspiracy webpages about: (wiki)

    Victoria Leigh "Vicki" Soto (November 4, 1985 – December 14, 2012) was an American teacher who was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.

    (premise of the webpages being she didn't die. The curious may google it themselves. I don't want to risk an infraction.)

    The 'doctorations' suggested in the sites were about the shadow as mentioned in the OP and 'anatomically impossible' posture of Soto.

    In the fotoforensics analysis jpeg quality was 65% meaning the picture had been re-saved many times. Which means ELA wouldn't show up anything(According to the site's tutorial).
  19. Mar 19, 2014 #18
    So they believe she was put into a picture where she didn't belong in order to cover up the fact that she died?
    I don't see how their conclusion follows the premise.
    Seems like in the mind of a conspiracy theorist, if there's anything they suspect of being weird, no matter what that is, that allows them to make up any story they want, regardless if it has anything to do with the suspected weirdness.
  20. Mar 19, 2014 #19

    Simon Bridge

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    Where is the collection of pictures please?

    I initially thought you were referring to a "spot how this was faked" type site - but this photo does not seem to appear on any of those that I can find.

    I have been unable to find any reason to suspect that the photo is a fake - apart from your assertions above or those of conspiracy theorists.

    And poor speculation at that - you can easily find photos like it online. It is a posed shot - posed shots always look like that, which is why photographers prefer not to take them unless they have to.

    Is photoshop a good tool for this?

    What you want to do is called "digital image forensics and authentication".
    It's quite an involved process.

    Note: all jpeg photos have been doctored - by the jpeg compression itself.
    This process removes information from the raw image requiring interpolation to reconstruct it.
    As a result you are certain to find that the image has been altered but that does not mean it was faked.

    I wondered about that too - and it has been brought up on conspiracy-theory sites. I don't think it's all that unusual - I live in a rocky area and have several shots I have not used because of the unnatural straight lines that emerged. The grey rock goes behind the brown one. There are other rocks of both colors in the background.

    Yeah - that's what I ended up concluding.
    There is nothing there to suggest a fake - leads me to wonder about the other "conclusive" fakes from the collection this is supposed to have come from.

    The idea seems to be that the whole school shooting is some sort of conspiracy - the picture was faked to make those three look like they were all in the same family when they are actually unrelated actors etc.

    The US government (or other favorite bee-in-bonnet) has the resources to make these pictures perfect - but that does not deter people: they just say that the poor quality of the cover-up is part of the conspiracy.


    We see it all the time - start by assuming the truth of your theory, then hunt down evidence to support it. Exactly the opposite of the scientific approach.

    All the purported artifacts are consistent with some aspect of the photographic process.
    There is no context for the dated photo pior to the shootings to suggest that it is a fake.
    Therefore - no reason to suspect a fake.

    I suspect that the source of the photo and suspicions are some conspiracy-theory website and we should give no further consideration to the question unless a legitimate reference is provided.
  21. Mar 20, 2014 #20


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    Staff: Mentor

    Conspiracy theories are not allowed on the PF. Thread is closed.
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