A reader has just sent me this stunning photograph of sunset at the North Pole, with a crescent Moon hanging in the sky.

Wow! What an amazing sight!

But ... hang on a minute. Which planet are we on here? Certainly not Earth. There's something wrong; several things wrong in fact.

First, if this is the North Pole, how come there's water? I know we're suffering from climate change, but I didn't think it had got that bad. And where have the mountains come from? The North Pole is covered by relatively flat sea ice.

Then the Moon's all wrong too. It's way, way too big here. Despite the fact that the Sun is millions of times bigger, their different distances from the earth make them appear the same size in the sky. This is the case wherever you are on the Earth's surface.

Finally, the Moon shines because of reflected sunlight. If it was in this position you'd be lucky to see anything of its crescent. This is New Moon (when the Moon is almost exactly between the Sun and the Earth) and you can't see it for 2-3 days on either side of that phase.

Sorry to disappoint you, but this photo is a complete fake.

The Moon is a popular subject for fakery in photography. If you know just a teeny bit about astronomy - and it's basic common sense - you can pick up false Moons in all sorts of photographs.

Now, if it was just the Moon, pasted in to some landscape photo on a calendar, it wouldn't matter much. Unfortunately 'fauxtography', as it's called, pops up in other more dangerous places - photojournalism, for example. It's not unknown for photographers and image editors to 'tweak' images in order to make some incident look more dramatic. And ... gasp ... it's even used for propaganda purposes.

Photographers provide us with a stream of amazing images. Viewers - keep a critical eye open.


davethedude said...

It's obvious that this picture is contrived; but it's still a great picture. I love it. This isn't record or reportage photography, this is the photographer's own vision. manipulation is permissible!

Alistair Scott said...

Agreed that manipulation like this is perfectly permissible as graphic art. But the title is 'Sunset at the North Pole' ... which is somewhat misleading.

This raises interesting questions as pretty well every serious photographer processes his/her images. I use a polarizing filter, for example, to make skies bluer. And I tweak photographs in Photoshop. I even remove unsightly things like wires and bits of litter.

Livia said...

Spot on Alistair. One quick search on Snopes.com, and the truth is revealed. It really is a digital photograph.

Alistair Scott said...

I've just found another quote from Ansel Adams (great guy!) ...

Not everybody trusts paintings, but people believe photographs.

Alistair Scott said...

Oh boy! I've just been sent this photo again - it's now August 2009 - I guess it's going to continue circulating on the internet, fooling people, forever.