Wed 7 Oct 2015
It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a naturally skeptical person such as myself, when hanging around on Facebook, tends to become somewhat unpopular with their friends. This is because it is simply in our nature to feel obliged to point out hoodwinkery when it is being deployed and propagated. And on Facebook, that’s a daily occurrence.
Seriously, I just can’t help it. It’s in my blood.
Today, we are going to dissect one such incident, and attempt to determine why it bugs me so.
If you are a frequenter of Facebook, you cannot have failed to have been inundated over the last few weeks with pictures of the so-called ‘blood moon’ (a phenomenon which used to be simply called an ‘eclipse’). The blood moon gets a shitload of mileage on Facebook whenever it occurs, with people sharing-on dozens of photographs of it, occasionally even without the anguished wails of imminent apocalypse.
The following image is one such example which drifted through my feed, with a caption that read something like “A beautiful photo of last night’s blood moon!”
Except that this is not ‘a beautiful photo’ of any such thing – you can immediately see that it’s fake. You can see that, right? Not only is it fake, it’s a particularly poor fake. In this age of incredible powers of photo manipulation, there is no excuse for such a major fail, and even less excuse for anyone to fall for it. But SO many people did fall for it (it was shared some five thousand times off the link that came to me, with comments that were almost universally in the manner of: “WOW, that is so beautiful. God is amazing!”),(i) that I feel compelled to record here, for all to witness, a forensic deconstruction of this image.
I want to say from the outset that you don’t need any photo manipulation skillz to see some of the things wrong with this picture. All you need is to have actually taken the time to observe how things look in real life. First of all – and MOST egregiously – the moon is sitting so low that it appears to be in front of the horizon. It’s entirely unnatural looking. We can make that easier to discern by racking up the image’s midrange values:
You can clearly see that the very defined lower edge of the moon is sitting a little in front of the far edge of the ocean. This enhanced image also shows you another thing: except for a little fuzziness around the moon, the luminance values of the sky are exactly uniform, right across the image. This screams fakery. That kind of thing never happens in photos of real skies. It tells you that there was something else there, and that the person who manipulated the image took it out and replaced it with fill. It also explains why the overall image is so dark – it’s much easier to hide that kind of trick if you crush the black areas right down.
Aside from this hocus-pocus, the moon in this image just looks wrong. It is way too round. If the moon was really that close to the horizon, it wouldn’t look anything like that – it would appear distorted and squashed, due to its light travelling obliquely through the atmosphere. The moon we see here is a moon that should be high in the sky, away from atmospheric refraction.
Another indicator that something funny is afoot is that to get a moon to appear to be that big on a horizon, you need to use a very long lens. A very long lens and an image taken by moonlight means a very shallow depth of field. We know that the DoF is not shallow, though, because the waves in the foreground are in focus.
That creates something of a paradox; if the image was taken on a long lens, the waves would be out of focus. If it was shot on a wide lens, then the moon would be tiny in shot. A single photograph simply can’t have both.
Also, because there is very little movement blur on the waves, and they are backlit (as opposed to a flash from the front) they give us another clue: the exposure is quite short and that means the shot was therefore most likely taken in reasonably bright light. Sunlight, for example. In other words, the moon does not belong to the same image as the bottom part of this photo. It’s just been amateurishly glued on.
For an experiment, let’s take that cropped image of the waves and do a reverse image search… hmmm… lots of shots of the blood moon photo and then, after a few pages of results, a hit on a page on a photo aggregator called Scoopers, containing this:
Well, what a surprise! I believe that is a fairly resounding QED. I suspect also that the ‘blood’ moon used in the shot is also just a normal moon with the colour altered, but, even though there are ways we could examine that hypothesis, it’s entirely unnecessary so I won’t bother. The supposed ‘blood moon’ photograph is, I think you will all agree, a complete phony.
But why does this bother me so much? Well, the thing is, it’s just another example of the insipid crap that pollutes the reality of the world. It’s the Photoshop version of religion; a thing that’s completely fabricated in order to create the illusion of wonder, when in fact it’s entirely superfluous because reality is MUCH MORE WONDERFUL. Here, take a look at some actual photos of last week’s blood moon:
Some very talented and dedicated photographers got you those images, and they are real, and they are WAY better than the miserable cut & paste of some lame hack. Mr or Ms Hack’s efforts dilute the value of proper creative people. And they get away with it – and are even rewarded for it – because of the credulity of the undiscerning.
When I pointed out, to the friend who posted the image, that it was fake, her reply was ‘Well, it’s a nice picture anyway.’ NO IT’S NOT. It’s a crummy, ham-fisted Frankenstein’s-monster-of-a-picture. Someone spent five minutes on it while waiting for midget porn clips to load. It belongs in a folder called ‘Failed Experiments’ on a fifth-grader’s computer. It’s too lousy to feature on a peeling poster on a tar-stained wall in a Chinese brothel. This is the 21st century, people. If you’re going to fake an image, there is no excuse to be less competent than a 1950s Russian propagandist.
In the next TCA post, we will examine another of these cheap pieces of social buffoonery. And one that involves science, so you can really expect we’ll have fun with it. Stay tuned.
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