Questions were raised this week about the work of photographer Paul Hansen, who won first place in World Press Photos’s annual competition for his Nov. 20 photo, “Gaza Burial.”
The criticism started earlier this month, when Hansen declined to talk about the editing process of his winning photo and claimed to have forgotten to bring the customary RAW file to the World Press Photo award ceremony for before-and-after comparison.
Then, on Monday, Extreme Tech published a story — “How the 2013 World Press Photo of the Year was faked with Photoshop” — citing research by forensic image analyst Neal Krawetz.
Krawetz’s conclusion is that Hansen’s image is not a photography but “a digital composite that was significantly reworked.” The World Press Photo contest regulations state the “content of the image must not be altered. Only retouching which conforms to the currently accepted standards in the industry is allowed.”
In his analysis, Krawetz points to the photo’s metadata and the history of the file.
Converted using Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw 7.1 (Macintosh) on 2012-11-20T17:19:09+01:00.
Converted using Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw 7.1 (Macintosh) on 2013-01-04T14:44+01:00. Now, you might be thinking “why are there two conversions on two dates”? This is what you typically see when a picture is spliced from two sources.
Derived from Canon-RAW to TIFF (unknown date, but we know it was 2013-01-04).
Converted using Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw 7.1 (Macintosh) on 2013:01:04 15:43:45+01:00. (Make that three sources.)
Saved by Adobe Photoshop CS6 (Macintosh) on 2013-01-04T16:08:44+01:00. Notice that there was not an earlier “save”. This is the first time the picture was saved, after incorporating multiple distinct sources.
Converted from image/tiff to image/jpeg. (No date, but we know it was on 2013-01-04.)
Saved again by Adobe Photoshop CS6 (Macintosh) on 2013-02-15T11:23:04+01:00.
Then there’s the time of day the photo was supposedly taken.
The shadows from the left wall line up with a consistent sun location. The sun isn’t exactly low but maybe the reported time is wrong. At least the sky brightens in the direction of the sun. Unfortunately, the lighting on the people does not match the sun’s position. The people should have dark shadows on their right sides (photo-left), but their facial lighting does not match the available lighting.
So here’s what likely happened… The photographer took a series of photos. However, the sun’s position made everyone dark and in silhouette. So, he combined a few pictures and altered the people so you could see their faces.
Hansen strongly denied the allegations, explaining his edits to news.com.au.
“In the post-process toning and balancing of the uneven light in the alleyway, I developed the raw file with different density to use the natural light instead of dodging and burning. In effect to recreate what the eye sees and get a larger dynamic range. To put it simply, it’s the same file - developed over itself - the same thing you did with negatives when you scanned them.”
In response to the accusations, World Press Photo said it was confident in Hansen’s work but would ask “two independent experts” — professor Dr. Hany Farid and digital expert Eduard de Kam — “to carry out a forensic investigation of the image file” anyway. On Tuesday, the investigation concluded with no indication Hansen had violated the contest rules.
“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…”
Krawetz says he isn’t surprised World Press Photo is doubling down.
World Press Photo claims to feature the best in photo journalism and claims to strive for ethical integrity. But I’m just not seeing it. World Press Photo and I seem to have differing opinions regarding what is ethical and what is acceptable manipulation. And they can run their contest however they want.