Photo of Lunar Eclipse Over New Jersey Causes a Stir

A couple days ago Flickr published a blog post featuring a handful of member photographs of the December 2010 lunar eclipse. The first image in the post was “The 2010 Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse over Jersey City, NJ” (shown above) by photographer Steve Kelly.

While the blog mention instantly generated tens of thousands of views, many of the visitors began commenting that something about the image was amiss. Apparently Flickr thought so too, and the image was soon wiped from the blog post.

Here’s an error level analysis of the photo:

This reveals that the moon portion of the image was actually added to the original photograph, as evidenced by the distinct square around the moon. Kelly soon updated the image description with an explanation of how it was created:

A note on this image: This is HDR / HDRI / DRI images composed of multiple exposures. The eclipsed moon is 3 exposures and the skyline 9 exposures […]

I felt given the height of the moon during full eclipse that it would have been obvious that I lowered the moon for this image. The colour combination is what i felt made the image work here. The moon was shot with a nikkor 50mm 1.8 and the skyline at Tokina 11mm – 16mm 2.8. I will post later a cropped version per a number of your suggestions […]

If this were a shot for a newspaper or a fact driven media outlet then I am completely against any software / filter manipulation of any sort. [#]

Since it was simply a member photograph picked up by the Flickr blog post author and not a photography contest submission, Kelly didn’t really do anything wrong. However, it’s an interesting example of how “photographs” found on the Internet are not always what they appear to be.

Thanks for the tip Jim!

Image credit: The 2010 Winter Solstice Lunar Eclipse over Jersey City, NJ by mudpig

  • Matthew

    Just by reading your headline and then looking at the photo, I recognized that the moon was way too low in the photo. Even though I am on the west coast (US), I had to look almost straight up to see the moon on the night of the eclipse.

    But I guess the real question is the editing and trying to pass is off as a photo. Unfortunately there is *no* correct answer to what is considered “minor” editing. It’s all personal opinions. And unfortunately to most people that means that *their* editing is usually less than the editing of others (i.e., their photo had “just a few color corrections”.)

    Funny how nobody is complaining how the moon was shot with a larger focal length lens then overlaid onto a wide angle shot (to make the moon look bigger), or that twelve exposures were used to create this collage. To me this should be “digital art”, not photography.

  • lloyd

    another example of ‘photographer elite’ going bat-shit crazy because of technology. GREAT

  • Dsfdfdf

    who cares, it’s beautiful

  • Kurt765

    I like how people continue to refer to composites as photographs. If I take a photo of yosemite on a boring day andrepace the sky with awesome clouds I shot somewhere else, is that still a photograph? It might make a great image, sure, but if I present that as a photo I’ve taken then that to me would be a lie. I brought this up in a photography forum and was attacked. I guess seeing is believing. District 9 was a great documentary wasn’t it?

  • Tyler Webb

    I think our major problem is that of no consistent labelling distinctions to make everyone happy. If we could decide what ‘photo art’, ‘composite’, ‘photograph’ etc mean in regards to each other the majority of people might be happy.

    Then again, whats the difference between using digital techniques to manipulate the world as we see it and using various abstract soft focus or lensbaby esque techniques to do the same?

  • James

    pretty cool picture nonetheless

  • Eddie Smith

    photo art not a photograph. nice work but it should not be represented as a photograph which most people will believe to be an accurate representation of reality.
    Wire service photographers have been fired for a lot less
    so have news editors
    this was just represented on a flickr blog, but Flickr should have made sure it was described correctly before using it (you’d think the worlds biggest image bank by far could tell the bloody difference before posting it wouldn’t you)

  • Article19

    is his image, he can do what he wants with it, if you don’t like it………… who cares? as for “he didn’t really do anything wrong”! do shut up would you please!

  • Anonymous

    The guy was being deceptive, and it’s odd to me that some people who are into photography (visitors to photo blogs) think it’s OK when a composite is being passed off as a photograph.

    The late Galen Rowell had the opposite problem. Taking moon shots near an interesting horizon takes a lot of preparation because you have to know exactly where (and when) the moon is going to rise over the horizon, and you only have a couple of minutes to shoot when it does. But because there is a long tradition of faking moon shots near the horizon, Rowell was always accused of faking his shots, which pissed him off because he had very strong ethics as a photographer. So he started taking moon shots where the moon touched the horizon or mountain, to make it more obvious that it wasn’t faked. Here’s an example:{61649a0e-4519-46bf-aea8-d23da9e504b3}&p=1

    This is not one of his art shots, rather it was the type of shot he would take for his stock catalog for adventure magazines and ads. Now imagine the preparation it took to set up his camera at the exact spot necessary to take this shot (remember the path of the moon is different every night) before the moon appeared. This is also a self-portrait, which means he could not see how tall he was in the viewfinder to make sure he would fit within the disc of the moon. Was he just lucky? Of course not, he did the preparation to make sure he wouldn’t be too big or too small in the shot.

    Knowing how much hard work and dedication it takes for real photographers to take great photos, I am so NOT impressed by photographers who fake it, and by people who think it’s OK that photographers fake it without being crystal clear that it is a composite and not a real photograph. (Obviously photo manipulation is expected in ads, fashion, etc, so that’s not deception; but this eclipse ‘photo’ defnitely was).

  • adhc

    photography itself is a lie. i am constantly surprised at how upset people get at compositing and “digitally altered images.”

    if you don’t like the image, don’t look at it.

    this “image-maker” decided to be creative and make something beautiful. see if you can go make something more beautiful. i imagine most of the naysayers can’t and it frustrates them.

    “m6, tri-x, and a 50mm or it ain’t real man.” lol.

  • Osiris

    Some people are just not as good at PS as others are. . .

  • Robert Shaver

    As adhc said above …

    All images, however created, are not “the truth” and are not the same as the thing depicted in them. All digital photographs have been “modified” (at least) by the software in the camera. All chemical photographs are “modified” by the developing and printing process. What about a time exposure?

    Is a black and white photograph “the truth”? The world is in color, but I don’t think anyone would complain about a b&w photo being fake or deceptive.

    I guess the difference might be that if a viewer can easily see what has been done to the picture then it’s an “okay” manipulation.

    Technology is changing and some people are not comfortable with those changes. They think changes are somehow dishonest. We all assume we know what a word means but are then surprised when our definition isn’t necessarily identical to everyone else’s definition. Also we, me included, spend far too much time insisting that we are right. Why is “being right” so important?

    It’s an interesting topic and worth discussing.



  • Geoff Ridenour

    Would any of you consider Jerry Uelsmann a photographer?

    I do.

  • Bownephoto

    OH MY GOD! Someone used Photoshop!!!! And this is news? We should scold the photographer for using photoshop…and NOT TELLING US?
    LOL! Peta Pixel….get a life!

  • Khürt Williams

    Personally, I don’t consider doing anything in Photoshop as photography. Photo-manipulation maybe but not photography.

  • Khürt Williams

    This is photo artistry or photo manipulation.

  • Wayne

    You are simply making your own statement redundant… No one really said that Photoshop is photography. It’s Photoshop. Photography is step one… it’s own element (taking of the photograph) Photoshop is a different thing all together. Like Production and Post production. Two different things!

  • Wayne

    This guy took several of HIS OWN Photographs and put them together to make something awesome… and what’s the problem?

  • Kurt765

    It comes down to what you think is a photograph or not. If you combine two or more photographs is that still a photograph? For me, it isn’t. That’s a composite. Others here have clearly expressed the opposite view. Some people only cry foul if it’s a news story, and even then some people don’t seem to care, which goes back to my “seeing is believing” comment. Obviously, taken to a fundamental level, any photograph can be called “a lie” because of the way the camera processes the pixels, or the film crystals react to the light. This is further altered by the printing process for film, or the processing of the camera of programs like lightroom.

    Where *I* draw the line is that if I combine two or more photographs, then that is no longer a photograph. It is a composite of two or more photographs. It is digital art, or whatever else you want to call it. It is no longer representative of something that was in front of a camera that I then captured and interpreted. I have now become a creator of something completely different. This is not to say I wouldn’t blend two or more exposures of the same scene taken at the same time (via exposure bracketing). That to me is no different than using a graduated neutral density filter. I’m talking about altering the image in ways that replace elements of the picture, move them around or completely remove them. Simple things like color correction are, to me, merely interpreting the scene before me, not fundamentally altering it.

    You may draw the line somewhere else. Jerry Uelsmann makes some incredible images, but many of them are analog composites, and thus by my definition they are not photographs. That doesn’t mean he’s not a “photographer” or that he’s not a creator of really beautiful images, because he clearly is.

  • Sergio Alonso Rodríguez

    a big one, gw

  • Jeroen Van Turhout

    So he lowered the moon, big deal.. WANKERS!!!

  • Jostein Roalkvam

    I’m sick with influenza but I looked quickly through your post (go ahead, shoot me) and I’m just reacting to what you say about a composite of two pictures is not a representation of what you saw (the human eye that is). Well, the problem with that statement is that most cameras can’t record the same amount of dynamic range as your eyes see, wouldn’t that implicate that, say two or more exposures combined, is actually a more realistic dynamic range, and representation of the real world than just the one exposure? However I understand that combining exposures from different places is somewhat controversial to some people, even though it’s nothing new in the history of photography.

    I regularly shoot extra exposures to bring out the details and contrast in the sky for example, when I shoot skateboarding and stuff, because from what my eyes can see, the sky is definitely not “blown out” in real life.

    And by the way, I absolutely HATE the overdone so-called “HDR” using photomatrix or whatever (no I’m not speaking against my self :))

    (Sorry if my English is bad, it’s not my native language)

  • Jostein Roalkvam

    So, right after I posted, I read some more (yeah I’m stupid like that), and I see that you actually agree with my statement. Sorry about that ;)

  • Khürt Williams

    Ok. I still hate it and it was still deceptive.

  • Mike

    So when someone shoots film, they should just put the raw film in a frame and display it rather than develop it to their liking in a darkroom?

  • Mike

    So when someone shoots film, they should just put the raw film in a frame and display it rather than develop it to their liking in a darkroom?

  • Mike

    So when someone shoots film, they should just put the raw film in a frame and display it rather than develop it to their liking in a darkroom?

  • Khürt L. Williams

    Yep. And my answer makes as much sense as your question.

  • Khürt L. Williams

    Is it photography if I use paint or pencil to create a representation of what I see?

  • DonFromFairfax

    Your Corbis link leads nowhere…404 error.

  • streamlinedman

    I updated the link.

  • James

    If you’ve ever touched a camera in your life, you should have instantly known that was a composite. Bonus points, if you’ve ever used flicker, they might as well claim the title the home of photoshop.

  • James

    Is it a painting if I use camera raw, to ensure my colors match what I saw, and dust delete to clean up the spots on my sensor?

  • James

    But where’s the line? Say HDR for example, and no I don’t mean the over saturated vomit kind – legitimate HDR, It requires you to merge two images together producing another one what would normally be called a compositie, but it produces an image that ultimately is closer to what the human eye would see, had the later viewer of the photograph been there for themselves.

  • James

    It’s flicker, It’s safe to assume that every photograph there is manipulated, and more importantly, the “photographer” didn’t try to misrepresent his work, it was just a photo on his page that they decided to use.

  • James

    Looks more like the moon was a separate shot completely.

  • Khürt L. Williams

    Yes. You are correct. My opinions on these topics are wrong. Yours is correct. How stupid of me for not having your skill in instantly recognizing this was a photoshop job.

  • James

    Thanks man, I’m glad you understand.