The Ghost of Snapped Shot

Or, welcome to my low-maintenance heck.

Fauxtography on the Associated Press Wire?

Big boom? Or bigger paste job?

A couple of you have sent in the photo above (thanks to Larry_from_PHX and The Elder), and pointed to a Mere Rhetoric article related. (Also: Are We Lumberjacks?)

Is it Photoshopped? I'm on the fence. There are a number of inconsistencies in the photo, the most questionable of which is the crown of the smoke cloud. There's a little indentation at the top (circled in white) that looks like it could have been retouched with the clone tool. On top of that, the debris looks impossibly big—Unless the Israeli military was exploding a barn, one would think that it would be much smaller.

The Elder points out that the original photograph was taken by AP's Adel Hana, seen on Daylife here and here. Bob Owens also thinks that the debris looks impossibly large, that it should've been broken up into smaller pieces. Not being a demolition expert, I can't really say one way or another whether that'd be the case, but there are certainly some spots in the photo that might have been inserted after the fact (circled in red). I've enhanced the color and contrast on the local copy of the image to hopefully illustrate more clearly the areas in question—And again, I can't stress enough that I'm not convinced that this is a fraud.

I'm trying to get in touch with Adel Hana right now to see if a higher-resolution version of the photograph would be more conclusive. Watch for updates to this article if and when I hear back from him!

Update: Thoughts from The Elder. Also, the kind folks at temporarily overwhelmed our server. My apologies for the outage, and hope it's working better now.

There's a Yiddish Report? That's awesome—Thanks for linking, guys!

Also: I've made this article sticky, since it seems to be what's hot for today.

Update: Hooray! Static mode!

Update: Is this a picture of the same explosion, from the opposite side? It sure looks like it might be to me, which would suggest that the photo above is legitimate—Though the date listed is different than Adel Hana's (3 January versus 5 Jan.)

(Thanks to InMontreal down in the comments!)

Update: My blogfather, Charles Johnson of littlegreenfootballs fame, has responded to this controversy via e-mail thusly:

You mean like this? (Adel Hana, AP)
I don't know enough about the terrain to judge. The buildings in the foreground do look Palestinian. I think it must have been a radical telephoto zoom, which could have shortened the background a lot. The debris in the air looks striking, but it could be large pieces of cheap metal roofing material, possibly even blown into air by secondary explosions.

I'm leaning toward not fake. At most, there's a small possibility it was mislabeled - from somewhere else. Adel Hana is in the Gaza area, though, and he's been filing a lot of pictures.


He adds:

also note that one of the captions says "in Beit Lahia, as seen from Gaza City." So it would have been taken looking north.

Which pretty much sums up my initial thoughts on the matter. For what it's worth, I'm still waiting to hear back from Adel Hana, who apparently doesn't check his e-mail very often. C'est la vie.

Update: Charles Johnson provides a more detailed writeup over at LGF. On the timestamp issue I mentioned above, he points out that both photos are correctly identified as being taken on the same day. I must've been confused by the date on the FARS photo.

A number of you have written to say that the terrain isn't Gaza, but is instead most likely somewhere in Lebanon. I'm not an expert on the terrain either, but that would presume that this and this and this are all fraudulently identified, too—which pushes the bounds of credibility.

At this point, I concur with Charles: This controversy can clearly be put to rest. Thanks to all of you who contacted me for your added commentary!

Update: A little birdie has dropped the original photo into my inbox—I'm providing a crop of a small portion of the image, which I think shows pretty conclusively that there was no cloning or retouching of the dust cloud, and that the debris is not modified or inserted in any way. The original image is very grainy, which is probably due to a high ISO setting on the camera, combined with the typical RAW-to-JPEG conversion and other reprocessing that the AP editorial desk does before retransmitting the picture.

To my "friends" at the AP: I trust that this does not violate our "agreement?"

Thanks for the additional info, my fine-feathered friend!

Update: Jules Crittenden replies via e-mail:

I bet it broke whatever windows weren't already broken.


Update: R.F. just sent a picture across that captures what I think was the target of the IDF airstrike: What appears to be a (reinforced?) concrete bunker!

Click to see full size.

Military experts: One of those could create some pretty massive chunks of debris, right?

 Tags: adel hana AP #Fact-checking


#1 AJS 07-Jan-2009
This explosion appears to me to be in a post-expansion phase. In other words, I would expect to see debris moving outward in an earlier phase, like where there are rapidly expanding gases and a fireball. This explosion appears to be beyond that point.

I personally think this is touched up. The pieces of debris are conveniently placed right above the 'mushroom cloud' and framed in the pic. If this explosion were true to its form, the debris might still be in the air, but lower and certainly farther away from the explosion.

Also, what is this debris? What do the gazans have that would hold together in large chunks like that? Large plates of steel maybe would hold together while being deformed; but not brick, concrete or any other masonry/stone type of construction. Wood would splinter to innumerable pieces in this large of an explosion.

Of course I caveat by saying I'm no expert; I'm just going with my gut. I hold that I could easily be wrong.
#2 Brian C. Ledbetter 07-Jan-2009
Thanks for the info, AJS. Would love to hear what you other demolition experts think of this!

#3 nato762 07-Jan-2009
Well as a photographer I can say that the debris definitely looks dropped in. Look at the scale of the debris vs the foreground buildings. That stuff would have to almost as big as those buildings for it to show like it does. Complete bs ..... There would depth of field issues as well with it being in focus in relation to the foreground as well. no way IMO. That debris would be very small that far away.
#4 geoffrey s. mendelson 07-Jan-2009
I'm not an expert, but I think that you've gotten the right idea, but the direction wrong. To me the debris look like they are the right size for the explosion. What looks wrong is the rest of it. My GUESS is that a small explosion was photoshopped onto a picture of houses to make a hand grenade look like an atomic bomb blast. :-)

Notice that there are three different directions to the light in the front, the middle (the debris) and the back.

#5 Brian C. Ledbetter 07-Jan-2009

That is a [i]really[/i] interesting point. Did we need a bigger explosion in that picture to "sex up" the damage?

I've taken one of Said Katib's photos (since I could get a hi-res copy of it) and done nothing more than (1) use the lasso/wand tool to select the existing explosion, and (2) use the Transform tool to blow it up to Super Massive size. And here's what I got out of it (and yeah, it's a real hack job. 5 minutes in Photoshop and all..):


Does it prove anything? Not really. But you [i]can[/i] now see that the debris that was already there is starting to look a lot bigger relative to the rest of the picture.

Maybe you're on to something... :)

#6 Ray 07-Jan-2009
Expanding the photo in my graphics program I see that each of the dramatic flying objects surrounding the crown of the explosion cloud - imposed over a gray sky have a 1 or 2 pixel wise "halo" that has RGB components slightly different from the background sky - but always in the same direction and proportions.

The only way this could happen in a real photo is if the objects all had an area painted on them of those color values and if the several objects all happened to align themselves at the moment the photo was taken so that they would appear only around the outside edge of the objects and nowhere else on them. Of course, it is virtually impossible, statistically, for such a thing to occur.

Then there's the amazing fact that the one object seen in front of the explosion cloud happens not to have that halo. (Dropping an object extracted from a lighter background would really show up there.)

These objects were all extracted from another photo that had a different but similar sky background - which is now found in those halos.

I am no graphics specialist. I just use it in my business a lot. But I've often had to take objects out from behind other objects to reduce visual distraction. Getting rid of the 1 or 2 pixel wide tell-tale halo is the most difficult part of it. This guy failed IMO.

Oh yeah, I see FARS in the bottom rt hand corner. If this has anything to do with the Iranian media what does anyone expect?
#7 Joe Jordan 07-Jan-2009
Guys, I am not an expert on photoshop or that kind, so I can not say if is it real or not.
What I can say, 100%....and nobody can desput it...this is not GAZA!!!!!!!!!!
There are no mountains around GAZA!
Gaza is flat, and the Negev desert around it!!!!!
Now, let's see how can it be explained other wise :-)
#8 Sean 07-Jan-2009
This is not GAZA STRIP.

There aren't any mountains near Gaza.

I think this picture is from lebanon war, in 2006.

Pure fake picture.
#9 InMontreal 07-Jan-2009
Regarding the debris itself, consider this photo:
Now, assuming that one isn't photoshopped, this makes this one somewhat plausible, although the debris is still rather large comparatively.

But I definitely concur with the issues of the mountains - doesn't make sense
#10 Eyal 07-Jan-2009
Not Gaza.
The guy is pulling your leg.
This is Lebanese scenery - most probably 2006.
#11 Notworthy 07-Jan-2009
There are no mountains in gaza, but the houses are clearly Pali, not Lebanese as they have black water tanks which are signatory of the Palis and are built like a refugee camp.

The mountains may be Judea mountains which are 40 miles away, but a huge lens could make them seen close. Dunno, just guessing.
#12 busywolf 08-Jan-2009
Hi Brian,

although I understand your decision to move on, I still insist that this is not Gaza, and it's not only me, I've shown this picture to a lot of guys at the office, who have served both in Gaza and on the Northern front, and in fact you can ask any Israeli who has travelled around Israel a bit, that does not look like the South - the mountains, the light, the architecture, the colored houses. Nothing looks like Gaza in that picture.
And even supposing the picture was taken facing North, the nearest mountain range would be the Carmel in Haifa (perhaps 200 km away), and that does not look like the Carmel either, not to mention that there would have to be Ashkelon, Ashdod, Tel-Aviv, Natania, Cesearea and what not in between. If the picture was shot facing east, then those mountains would have to be those around the Dead Sea or the Negev, which are barren, and either pink or repectively yellowish.
The reason that I am so stubborn about it is that I have lived in Jerusalem for the past 25 years and I'd recognize that landscape anywhere. Nothing in or around Gaza looks like that, but a lot of mountains in Northern Israel and Lebanon do.
I've taken a look at the links you mentioned, and I agree those were taken in Gaza. But not this one, sorry.
#13 forest 08-Jan-2009
The concrete thing on the hill looks like a water tank. If so, I'm sure people will be crying about it.

Maybe Hamas thought Israel wouldn't want to bomb them if they stored weapons right next to a water tank - all the schools and mosques must have already been packed full of weapons or something.
#14 sarah 08-Jan-2009
Yes, Gaza is pretty flat---but those look very much like the Hebron Hills in the background---foreshortened by a telephoto lens as you suggested?
#15 captainfish 08-Jan-2009
sorry, i aint buying the locatin either.

If you go to google maps. Look up bayt Lahiya, or Beit Lahiya, however you spell it, you see Jibalya Refugee camp to the southwest.

To the NE of Lahiya,are soem sewage ponds. To the North of that is flat nothing and sand. To the NE of the ponds there are some flat areas with destroyed areas (possibly demolished settler's homes) and more sand.

On the other side of that sand is Israel. If this image was taken with a telephoto lense looking north of Lahiya, they would be looking into Israel.

As you move in to Israel, you see trees and orchards..... life in other words.

This image is not of this war or that location.
#16 captainfish 08-Jan-2009
The only thing that it could be.....


There is a bald patch of sand to the SW of Bayt Lahiya and on the northern tip of Jibalyia. There does appear to be a line of trees on the SE flank of this bald spot. and something in the center.

But, I do not think the hill is over 10 stories tall as it shows in this picture.
#17 busywolf 08-Jan-2009
Good point, Sarah, I must admit that I am not that familiar with the hills of Hebron.
Still that doesn't solve the location as indicated by one of the captions:
"Beit Lahia, as seen from Gaza City. So it would have been taken looking north."
From Gaza City you'd need to look east, rather than north, in order to see those hills, and not the ones I indicated in my previous comment, before I could look at a proper map (with names on it).
#18 Thon Brocket 09-Jan-2009
The water-tank is interesting. It would be circular in plan, and at least 20 m in diameter, which would make it very visible and very distinctive in Google Earth imagery. I've just spent about an hour on systematically quartering the whole of the Gaza Strip north of Gaza City (about 4 miles by 4 miles), "flying" over it in half-mile-wide strips at a view angle of about 30 degrees and an altitude of 600 m (at the same time keeping an eye on the height-above-sea-level - it's on top of a hill).

It's not there.

Another thing is the sharp bluff to the left of the explosion in Hana's pic, with the low white building on the brow. It's 15 to 20 m high, judging by building sizes. Northern Gaza is flat, flat, flat. Over the whole 16 sq. miles I covered there is ony 55 m height difference (from 20 m near the beach to 75 m at the border) and no sign of any feature like the bluff in the pic.

Dunno where it was taken, but it wasn't Beit Lahiya. I'm sure of it.
#19 Larry_in_PHX 09-Jan-2009
Not meaning to bump an old story, but...

Surely the photographer would know if this is a primary explosion or a secondary explosion, yet no mention of that type of information here or anywhere else for that matter.

That seems relevant to me though.
#20 druid 10-Jan-2009
#21 Anonymous 04-May-2009
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