Reuters Photograph of Rebel Firing RPG Accused of Being Fake

Update: Erin from Reuters contacted us informing us that this is in fact a genuine, non-manipulated photograph. Here’s a good explanation of why it’s real.

Reuters published the above image as an Editor’s Choice photo yesterday, and almost immediately readers began leaving comments questioning whether the photograph was Photoshopped. The debate soon spread to other websites, including Reddit, and it appears that the photographs has since been taken down (though it can still be seen in its original slideshow from last week).

Here are a couple of the comments arguing for why the image is fake:

You would […] see the launcher in the shadow- an RPG & its launching tube are over a meter long. You would also see the shadow of the smoke and exhaust that we can see. Uneven ground can play tricks on shadows, but this looks like flat ground.

I’m a vfx guy on movies and this would never pass muster The fire would be brighter than the sun on his shirt and there would be no shadow side. There would be a hot core that would get cooler at the edges. Sorry. photoshop fail.

…and a couple counterarguments:

This photo appears surreal and unique, but factually, if this exhaust is just exiting the rear of the launcher, it will not glow as you say, particularly if just ignited. There would not be a brilliant hot core necessarily if smoke were the first thing exiting; you’d have exactly what you see here, a turbulent muck. Just a few moments later, you’d see as you expect perhaps. But brighter than the sun? Not necessarily. There would not be any lighting on his shirt until the middle of the fire exited -beyond- the darker smoke. And to those saying the photographer had to be a certain distance back, well there’s always the possibility it was learning on the job day. ; ) I could do a vector analysis on the shadow, but don’t have the time right now. I am sure the photographer had a lot better things to do that day than think ,” hey, let’s take a photo of a guy using a cell phone and pass it off as an RPG launcher, that’ll sell papers”.

This photo could very well be real. The lens is focused to the distance of the rebel on crutches. The area around him is the most pristine, clear, detailed part of the image. The background is blurred because of the aperture, iris, f-stop, shutter settings, lens, etc, etc. Based on this, one can logically state that the explosion, which is at approximately the same distance from the camera as the rebel is, would be in clear focus. The very fast shutter speed explains why the blast looks “fake” (as we are not accustomed to seeing images taken like this). The small aperture and fast shutter speed also explain away why the blast is not blindingly-bright (as there is less light allowed onto the image plane/sensor, the explosion is not over-exposed). Also, the shadow is so obscured and visible at such an awkward and twisted angle, that you can barely judge the proportions of the man based on the shadow cast, let alone the existence of the weapon.

If you want to examine the published photo yourself, here’s a direct link.

Editor’s choice – SEP 26, 2011 (via Reddit)

Image credit: Photograph by REUTERS/Anis Mili

  • Carla

    I say send it to the Mythbusters and see if they can recreate it. 

  • Andrew Miller

    where is the exif data I asked for then??!!!! Lets see the original data from the original shot.

  • Christian Rudman

    Who cares? All the news is fake on this side of the planet anyhow.

  • Phil

    JPEG Error level analysis, a tool that attempts to see if different parts of a picture have been saved at different times ( ) suggests that the “rocket” was added later than the original picture.

  • Pēteris Rūcis

    I would vote that it is fake. The position the man is in, is not a position you would fire that kind of weapon. And, with 2 crotches that make him quite unstable it doesn’t seem realistic. And the fact that there is no target in the direction he is shooting doesn’t quite help the case.

  • Fnmphoto

    Sorry. Not buying it. There’s no shadow of the weapon. The blast is better in resolution than the rest of the image. There’s no target in sight (what is he shooting at?) The edges of the blast are soft and opaque. He’s on crutches and his stance is wrong for firing a weapon like that. Can we see the image of him on his ass?

  • James Hole

    Does no one wonder how a guy on crutches and his leg in a full brace (see it just above the right ankle) walked out into the road with an RPG, let alone stay upright with his feet so close together once he fires it? He’s on the phone.

    (seems two people did while I was writing this!)

  • Guest

    I think its fake, seeing there is no tube on the shadow AND where is he shooting at in the first place? Lastly, how is he holding it when his shoulder is holding the crutch? I’d love for Reuters to show more pictures of the shoot (assuming there is more) with the guy holding a RPG :)

  • Trevordeanphotography

    All I’d like to know, is how a guy on crutches was lugging around an RPG lol!

  • electroginge

    aside from the fact he’s not stablising himself (because he can’t), it just looks like he’s on the phone… What you can see of his left arm it looks like it’s nowhere near holding the other end of an RPG launcher!

  • Eugenio B@

    A quick question. Suppose it is real. What is he firing at? He seems to be aiming at a clump of trees, which, in my opinion, if they were any danger, the man would be extremely exposed to return fire. Also, he does not seem to be aiming it, since his face seems to be looking at the (suggested) RPG launcher, which seems mora as if he were holding a cellphone or eating something.

    And in any case, the launcher would have a strap-especially in the case of a man in clutches who otherwise would be seriously impaired to carry it AND the clutches.

    Plus the whole shadow thing… Idunno. Does smell funny.

  • Dominic Arkwright

    If you look at the original (which is not very big either) you can in fact see the rear end of the weapon. What looks at the smaller size to be the shadow of the man is in fact partly a black/dark grey object on the floor (tubing or similar) so it could trick the eye into expecting darker shadows than there are for the RPG too. There is also a slight suggestion of a shadow in front as well, although I agree it looks shorter than you’d expect the weapon to be. Assuming this is a pretty long lens it’s pretty hard to be sure about the shadows, where perspective is so crushed.

    Giving the photographer the benefit of the doubt, I’d assume the relative light levels could be down to dodging/burning, excessively or not, and the fact that the charge has only just ignited.

    It’s highly unlikely that there isn’t somewhere out there another shot, taken within seconds, that contains either or both of the shooters involved.

  • Dean W. Thompson

    What is he “shooting” at? Sorry but it looks like it’s angled to hit the other side of the street. Also, the blast looks like a perfect feathered circle. 

    My two cents. 

  • Peter

    Where’s the crutch shadow?, and where’s the columns shadows?

  • Rick Bennett

    I vote fake for all the above reasons combined:
    1) shadow doesn’t show rpg tube
    2) stance of the fellow doesn’t look right
    3) no obvious target
    4) right arm looks like he’s holding a cell phone
    5) fire of launch doesn’t look bright enough compared to the exposure of his shirt
    6) fire of launch isn’t casting ANY light on his shirt
    7) he’s on the “front lines” standing exposed like that? Srsly?

  • Brian Strauss
  • Rick Bennett

    Nice! How did you capture that exploding golf ball? No way that was photoshopped.

  • Brunno

    come on people, who would give a rocket launcher to a guy with screws in his leg and standing on crutches?

  • Anonymous

    The guy is on crutches, and you can see he has some kind of leg pin brace thing under his pants, I am truly amazed Reuters would let this pass

  • Joker23

    This man seems to have a phone call instead of firing a RPG… And it’s crutches and not some kind of tripod… Fake!

  • newoldmate

    Well there looks to be a shadow of a weapon, but if anything it looks more like an ak47’s shadow. It looks fake to me for a number of reasons.

  • Will

    I doubt its real, but no visible target is  hardly a valid argument, how many combat photography stills have you seen with both the shooter and the target?

    A photog who takes those photos doesn’t last very long because in that instance the shooter is actually making themselves a target. cheers w

  • Letitbe

    A RPG without a strap….

  • Rpgguy

    The RPG is real, someone added the guy! Truth, I was there. The RPG was just… there, by itself. I know, I was right there.

  • Rpgguy

    The RPG is real, someone added the guy! Truth, I was there. The RPG was just… there, by itself. I know, I was right there.

  • Jeff Bridges, The Actor

    I can tell its a shop from seeing quite a few shops in my day.
    I can tell by the pixels.

  • Erich

    Crap Fake!

    Chop the hands of the photographer!!

  • USMC

    Pathetic fake! No RPG in the photo!

    Real RPG:

  • Anonymous

    I love when people with very limited experience with Photoshop scream “FAKE FAKE FAKE”. It looks surreal though.

  • kendon

    ppl are actually discussing this? my mother could spot this as a fake…

  • Lereisn

    Looks to me that someone was just ultra-keen to get out and fire off his first shot with his new Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8!! Not quite the mushroom cloud i would have expected.

  • F1reverb

    The sun is directly overhead if you look at any other object in the photo.  No shadows for the light poles or planters, yet the image shows a shadow for the person as if the sun is low on his right.  Fake image.

  • LuvFox

    Actually the RPG, standing there by itself, was firing at the HMMWV driving towards it, just beyond the 3-story hotel in the background. But unfortunately both the HMMWV as well as the hotel were removed when the body was added. I swear to God, that’s how it all went down. We have to believe it, it was on FOX news just the other day.

  • Guest

    That’s one brave photographer to stand directly behind the exhaust of a RPG

  • Analyst

    FAIL – You obviously missed the part where it says “If you are unsure how to interpret the results, please do
    not claim the results of this tool as proof of anything.”

  • Analyst

    Please read the analysis here, then feel free to continue with the misconstrued analysis in the other comments:

  • Michael Zhang

    Thanks for bringing that post to our attention. Reuters has also confirmed the authenticity of this photo with us:

  • Anonymous

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  • Liamcalpine

    there are no heat blurs. even apart from that it looks fake as shit.

  • Colinday

    what the hell is he even shooting at? i say its a photoshop fail!

  • Guest

    It’s a one handed shot…and he’s shooting at that guy in the grassy knoll. Next…he’ll toss grenades with his feet and drive a tank with his teeth.

  • many truths

    What is the target? One of the trees on the other side of the street? This is bogus. The rocket flash looks too too much like a section of some nebula.