Is This Another North Korean Photoshop Goof Up?


The image above, which was published by Pyongyang’s official news agency KCNA, seems to show Kim Jung-un and some of his underlings touring the site of a children’s hospital. However, like so many of the photos released by KCNA in the past, its authenticity is being called into question.

According to Kotaku, Internet commenters have pointed out several issues with the photo that seem to indicate that Kim Jung-un and all the rest were inserted and not actually there. It’s nothing as obvious as China’s floating inspectors you might remember, but there are several strikes against the photo.

For instance, Kotaku points out the odd shadows around the hands, one case of slightly “floaty” feet, and overall fuzziness around the legs. An error level analysis via Photo Forensics also seems to show some rainbowing and other signs of Photoshop manipulation — the consensus seems to be that if it’s not entirely fake, then it has at least been altered.


This wouldn’t be the first time North Korea made the news for doctoring an image, but it has been a while since the county made such headlines. The last time was a military exercise where the North Korean government seems to have exaggerated the number of hovercrafts they had at their disposal.

But the difference between that photo and this is that this one doesn’t seem to be controversial enough to require any Photoshop, leading many to accuse detractors of imagining manipulation where there is none. Others say that a single light point above the camera or even a reflector could lead to “fuzzy” artificial looking edges.

What’s your take on the matter? Is this another North Korean Photoshop goof up or are people picking on North Korea and trying to find Photoshop where there isn’t any? Let us know in the comments down below.

(via BBC via Reddit)

Image credits: Photograph by KCNA

  • Kimy

    The shadows are never wrong… So fake ! Dide they joined the Photoshop Cloud ? :D

  • harumph's_law_of_headlines

    If there was no reason for them to fake it, then it probably isn’t a fake.

  • Rob Elliott

    I’m not actually sure this is a composite. It looked weird but it might just look weird or the result of bad post processing rather then the Compositing/doctoring that is usually associated with photoshoping.

    If it is “ligit” then you may have a strop on the left, maybe even with a barn door or grid on it. That would account for the shadow issue.

    The Fellow further back on the left feet meet the contours of the ground which suggests either he is there or they did a good job in that area.

    Kim Jung-un and the other two on the right look as though they are lit naturally.

    When you look at it thought something seems off, and it might be a hard ground that looks soft, and a odd usage of a strobe with a grid.

  • Eugene Chok

    yea it seems like a combination of strange flat light and bad sharpening, reminds me of the early days of digital

  • Teun

    I’d say sun on the left with a fill flash. Nothing extra ordinary.

  • Kevin Patrick Robbins

    Actually you’re right about the shadows not being wrong, but you’re wrong about it being a fake. It’s just multiple light sources. A flash from the camera direction combined with the sun.

  • 9inchnail

    There is always a reason to fake a photo like this. Propaganda.
    He wants to present himself as the dear leader that worries about his people while he is actually sitting in his palace, watching movies and drinking whiskey. Just like his father did.

    Thing is, the average North Korean doesn’t even know what Photoshop is. Even a sloppy job will go unnoticed. They don’t know that it’s possible to fake photos.

  • R0N_

    It looks a bit weird but if you look at the rest of the photo you notice that the sun is very low (long shadows). The strange shadows around the hand look like they are there due to a flash.

  • Martin

    everybody who know how use the flash, see, that nothing is wrong with this image.

  • Charles

    They have no idea what theyre doing with a flash if this is a real photo

  • Benoit DelChevalerie Lambeau

    Toshop made with feet ºJº

  • Shivas

    If you look at the brown officer, there is a bit of sunlight on the ground by his feet. The sun is low and therefore the shadows are long, but that shaft of light that goes to his feet and continues a little behind him does not appear to illuminate his leg.

    It would have been better to have a hi-rez image to work with to find other anomolies

  • Brian Fulda

    You’d have to be using one powerful as hell flash to get that kind of illumination on your subject in direct sunlight.

  • Rob Elliott

    any modern portable strobe will do it. it is clearly off camera.

  • Brian Fulda

    I agree, a strobe could do it, but if it was off camera, it would have to be barely above the camera itself, leaving one to think there should be more shadows. It just doesn’t add up.

  • james_lee

    there’s mercedes s-class in north korea huh…

  • PDX-John

    As much as I enjoy seeing North Korea caught making something up, this isn’t one of those times…
    As a photographer of 35 years and a retouching expert, I can say that there is nothing suspiciously manipulated in the photo. The shadows are exactly correct owing to the low angle of the setting sun plus a pop-up flash on the camera, used as fill lighting.

  • Rob Elliott

    well judging by the direction of the shadow it is a few feet to the left and likely a little higher the head height which has has been said suggest someone that hasn’t quite learned how to use it.

  • Matt Wheeler

    Completely fake; shadows, lighting, color and depth are all inconsistent, just like their threats.

  • arkhunter

    Yeah, just bad use of flash it looks like.

  • arkhunter

    I see what you’re saying, but I think the crappy job with the fill flash is overpowering that light. I think there’s just a tad of yellow light on the tops of the folds on that leg, below the knee.

  • Shivas

    I looked at that, but felt that if the fill flash was that strong you would expect some shadows on the ground from the flash. Not necessarily near the brown guy but certainly on the left. The flash appears to be off camera and high left, so we might even expect more shadows than just the hands.

  • Sharpie

    “Retouching expert”

    Given your analysis i dont think so lol.

  • dustin dowell

    No one is mentioning the lack of ambient occlusion around their feet or any shadows cast by the people in general. Yeah, it’s in the shade, but people still cast ambient occlusion in the shade.

  • dustin dowell

    The people were all definitely from the same shot. The background, was not.

  • Anthony

    There have been a good few people comment on the lighting and how it could have been from a flash/multiple flashes being used in a very strange/amateur way. Personally, this is a fake. Why? Who knows. The thing is it looks crazy odd and the biggest thing that no one seems to notice are the lack of shadows from the people. It’s clear that the rest of the photo was taken just before golden hour meaning longer shadows. These people have none. Ok, if they used flash then you may not see shadows from the sun but then you’d sure see at least a little shadow from the light. There’s none. When was the last time you took a photo where the person gave off absolutely no shadow at all?

  • Anthony

    Damn, you just beat me to it. Exactly my point.

  • Pearl

    This photo is doctored for sure. You can see that the building/hospital in the background was created with an architectural programme, the grass is too perfect, the white of the building is too white in real sunlight the colour-cast should be different and the perspective is off. Furthermore if they had walked on the surface they’re “standing” on their shoes should have some dust. Look at the shadow behind his feet where the curbing is there are long shadows from trees I presume, one shadow starts after the curb along the grass – that’s wrong the shadow should start along the ground over the curb into the grass. The longer I look at it the more obvious the flaws become.

  • Rob Elliott

    actually they do.
    You can see the flash shadow of the middle guy on the left (there is an arrow pointing to it)
    the guy on the far right in brown has a shadow behind him like he is being lit by the same natural light. Everyone else is either in the shadow of something off camera or is casting some of the shadows you see.

    Without seeing a wider shot you can’t know more about the shadows.

    could it be fake sure, could it be real with bad processing.. yes.

  • Steve Hughes

    The bottoms of their trousers are very clean considering. Also the guy at the back (third from left,, should be giving a shadow as well.
    Also Im sure if they took grids or strobes out with them – seems unlikely – but wouldn’t it look better then this as someone should know WHAT to do with them etc

  • Carl Meyer

    Sunset + flash = Photoshop X-D

  • ras

    there is nothing extraordinary about this picture.. they are obviously standing underneath some trees or shaded area if you study the pic, and therefore the sun light source from the left is not so prominent. Looks like the photog just used the fiil light filter too much and it looks funny.. but as for it being photoshopped to the point of people being inserted , i dont think so.. just my opinion.

  • Eric Lefebvre

    It looks shopped to me. The feet /ground is what is killing it for me here.
    If it’s not shopped then their photographer needs to be fired.

  • Ballookey Klugeypop

    Hard to say, but a fill flash on the camera used in this situation almost ALWAYS makes the photos look fake. The person being filled in by the flash never looks like a natural part of the rest of the photo.

    Doesn’t mean it’s not fake, though. Absolutely nothing about it feels right, but without staging and testing a similar photo under similar circumstances I couldn’t say.

  • Zos Xavius

    the shadows on the ground are inaccurate. the guy in the back is partially in sunlight according to the ground and yet casts no shadow whatsoever and also has no difference in lighting on his person. fake.

  • Zos Xavius

    Fake: the shadows on the ground are inaccurate. the guy in the back is partially in sunlight according to the light hitting the ground and yet casts no shadow whatsoever and also has no difference in lighting on his person. this is a composite. there is no complete shadow over the scene.

  • Hunter

    So obviously fake! Not one of their pants hems is soaked with water! It’s conceivable that the photographer could have used multiple flashes and taken this outside (lighting is to broad and even for their to have been a single on camera flash on such a sunny day). But you can see where their pants are touching the water and should be wet. Plus why the hell would they all stand around writing memos in a fountain lol!

  • Theo Lubbe

    Tree branches, how do they work?

  • dustin dowell

    except for the fact that not a single one of them has shadows around their feet.

  • Devin

    Here’s a question. Who actually cares? I have better things to do with my life then argue over whether or not this photo is real…

  • dustin dowell

    that’s dirt… not a fountain…

  • OrphanIsland

    The problem is scale, based on the curb height Kim Jong-Un is almost 2meters tall ….

  • dustin dowell

    It looked like the shadow you’re talking about behind the brown guy was just a tree branch shadow to me, and the guy was plopped on top and got lucky that the shadow was behind him. Still no AO though.

  • dustin dowell

    Who says curb heights aren’t different in Korea than they are in other countries?

  • OrphanIsland

    I guestimated 25cm

  • Dan

    Nobody noticed the obvious lack of footprints in the sand?

  • dustin dowell

    8in, about 20cm, would make him about 5 feet.

  • OrphanIsland

    Just coz I’m having a slow day ….
    at 20cm it makes him 2mteres tall

    Whoops didn’t load the pic hang on I’ll try again…

  • OrphanIsland

    at 20cm it makes him 2mteres tall

  • Burnin Biomass

    I have been wondering if that was the Photoshop done, removing teh
    shadows. Lets say the image was taken with a hard fill flash that cast
    shadows on the hands and ground. The photographer, afraid of being
    jailed for excessive fill flash, Photoshopped out the shadows on the
    ground (leaving the hand shadows, perhaps too hard). That would explain the no shadow at all and oddness with the legs.