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

  • sam

    i feel like just someone using direct flash…

  • Teun

    You wouldn’t see the shadows of the flash on the floor and it appears that the sun is rather low and some sort of low wall on the left casts a uniform shadow. I really do not see anything wrong with the shadows.

  • dustin dowell

    You didn’t account for prespective. The curb would be “larger” if he were standing right next to it. Either way, I still think the photo is fake.

  • OrphanIsland

    Even at 10% variation it’s not in scale, It is an immaculate photoshop job, who ever did it deserves a raise IMO.

    The curb I used was behind the man on his immediate right, and is only 3-4 feet away, I.E. a minimal perspective difference.

  • dustin dowell

    Shadows don’t just seamlessly blend together because they’re occupying the same space. Overlapping shadows make it darker in the area that they’re overlapping. 50% shadow + 50% shadow = about 75% overlapping shadow in my experience with mimicking shadows with photoshop.

  • dustin dowell

    This is my quick take on how I think the feet shadows should have looked.

  • dustin dowell

    Possibly a 5cm difference? :D. I still think it’s in the range of plausibility. The thing that bugs me are the lack of shadows and the blurry ness of the pant legs on all of the people.

  • dustin dowell

    I think that footprint would be hard to see in a high resolution photo, let alone, a low res one. The dirt/sand is pretty bumpy anyway. I’m more concerned about shadows and the pants being blurry.

  • Zos Xavius

    which is why you wasted your time posting this comment right?

  • OrphanIsland

    Lighting is definitely an issue as well, and of course without some kind of ruler the scale thing is just my eyes, and unprovable beyond what I’ve done, but the curb I used is almost the same distance from the camera, which is why I used it.

    Whoever did it must have spent hours getting the interface points as clean as they did.

    The group photo reminds me of other photo’s as well, which makes it even more dubious.

  • OrphanIsland

    It’s definitely a photoshop, layer ….

    Very well done, but black lines on his hat ????
    (A Gimp sharpen #65 wont add black , sorry)

  • Burnin Biomass

    I think (guessing with the rest!) what someone did was get rid of the shadows from the ground in the image (but not by the hands). Perhaps the fill flash’s shadows were noticeably bad (like the hand shadows). That’s why the legs look odd. Their clothing show signs of some dappled sunlight (Great leaders head shadow is on the man in blacks groin area (not judging)).

  • whatever_dude

    No feet have disturbed the obviously soft-looking ground even an iota. What, no one shuffled his feet, or scuffed arriving at the spot? Not a single footprint?


  • hysyanz

    whoever designS the uniforms for these guys needs to be fire. IJS

  • Rob Elliott

    the primary shadows are fine… all the shadows I would expect exist. the fill flash shadows are all right where they should be if the flash is placed where it would be to cast the shadows of head.

    I think you are looking too hard to find fault because you were told there was fault to find.

    I’m not saying it isn’t, but the shadows aren’t really has bad as claimed.

  • Rob Elliott

    ya see AO is something that is in video games, and don’t work the same way in life. But the lack of shadowing around the feet is the most damning evidence, but it could be explained purely be the angle of the light at the end of the day

    Every piece of evidence isn’t explainable, as just bad post processing.

    Again not saying it isn’t, but the evidence is taking a photo that looks off and over thinking it,

  • Rob Elliott

    that wouldn’t explain the consistent highlights on the shoe in the lit sun and shading in the softer shadowing.
    Even on Kim Jung there is a speckle of light right around his right foot (his right) that illuminates his shoe as it should.

    on the guys on the left there is dirt consistent with the soil on their shows (or appears to be)

    The only foot in the whole shot that looks out of place is the little guy in black between the guy in brown and Kim. and it’s one shoe and I can’t tell if something was altered or if there is just a mound of dirt there.

    The shadows from fill flash do in fact adjust based on distance, they are also cast by angle.

    In the case of photography and not computer graphics. if the shutter is set at 1/60 and the flash is only on for 1/200th of a second, then more ambient light will fill in, and will weaken shadows where ambient light is (though only very slightly). like behind them. (it would also account for the slight blurring if people moved a tiny bit after the flash froze)

    Add to that the placing of the flash so the bodies are actually in the way of the flash and as such the shadows that are missing would not be visible from the perspective of the camera and only the tiniest sliver of those shadows would be seen (which would also account for the slight “blurring”)

    everyone else shadows behave exactly as you would expect. in fact the fill flash is certain to be behind the photographer.. because his shadow is actually being cast in the frame. (around the groin of the guy in black on the right)

  • dustin dowell

    AO might not be correct term for it outside the video game and CGI world. I do a lot of reading about graphics and that’s just the word I chose. But it most definitely is how the real world works. There’s no such thing as a 100% solid shadow. That’s ridiculous. They fade.

  • dustin dowell

    The guy on the left is casting a very severe shadow onto the guy next to him. Why aren’t the shoes of that man casting any shadow at all onto the ground at all?

    I think you’re over thinking it and blaming too much on lighting. Two photos. One with people taken with a cheap flash and some misc. lighting from the left. The other, a shot lighted by the sun. Put them together in photoshop, mask out the people (and ground shadows, but not shadows from where people overlap), plop one on the other, crop and do small fixes with lighting by using blending effects and a white brush and TADA! A picture good enough for the people of North Korea to not even think twice.

    Which seems more plausible? Extremely rare circumstances with lighting or a country with a history of photoshopping their photos to make it look like they’re actually doing stuff, photoshopping again?

  • dustin dowell

    Because it’s fun.

  • Richard B.

    I agree with PDX-John…
    Try to take a photo of people under a shade of a tree in broad day light, fill the shadows using a direct flash, and you’ll be surprise it will look like this photo…
    I have photograph some similar situations and it really looked flat, sometimes they looked like they were poorly pasted on the background, that’s why strong direct flash is not good…

  • Innebandy La

    One way you can tell it is a fake is that Kim Jung-un has a different light on his face, than the other guys.

    Since a flash is used very close to the lens – an even lit face should have been the result. See the darker nuance on his left cheek.

    The ambient light is stronger than the flash in some parts of the picture. But it is very unlikely that the sun would have given him the darker left cheek in this case.

  • tornadoes28

    You don’t even need any analysis of this. It is so obviously fake it’s a joke.

  • mijami

    If the flash was strong enough to leave a shadow of the hands then it would leave a shadow of the feet as well. Conclusion: Fake

  • Ali

    I can’t believe people are even arguing over whether this is fake or not. It is a blatant fake! The lighting, shadows and colour balance don’t even closely match up. There are zero highlights around them. They have seemingly soft, cold lighting yet in an environment of warm harsh light. Off camera flash would light up the ground around them, yet it hasn’t. They are all evenly lit with this off camera flash yet it suddenly stops at their feet and then there is zero spill on to the floor. Off camera flash that is strong enough to produce a shadow on the guy closest to the camera, yet not strong enough to produce any light on the ground or a shadow on the floor behind any one of them.

  • gallowaygrumblefield

    Kim Jung-Un vs. Chuck Norris: Whaddya think?

  • Ayur Sandanov

    This is an fill lighting, an offset flash, obviously needed because they stood in the shadow with a bright background.

  • Ayur Sandanov

    Direct flash makes solid shadows. That’s why it looks unnatural.

  • GeraldWeinand

    None of the men are casting shadows on the ground, as they ought to be – even slight ones. The building on the right has the feel of being computer generated.

  • LionJ

    I dont think it is a composite. I think its an improperly exposed photo that the editor tried to fix with an overuse of the “shadows/highlights” filter. Look at the white statue in the back. The shadows are grey and should be darker. The man with the hat is in a patch of light and blocks all but one sliver coming thru to the left.

  • Durian

    A little worried about the article on Kotaku, thats the kinda stuff that’ll get you killed in North Korea. I feel sorry for the poor sap who photoshopped that picture :(

  • Sam Borg

    Nothing wrong with this. They used a big powerful diffused flash, thats all. That would get rid of the shadows we normally expect from cheap flash or bad use of flash. Only thing that could be fake is Kim’s height. His part may have been enlarged, hard to tell. There seems to be a bit too much light between his shoes.

  • Sam Borg

    Where do you see direct sunlight, place where they are standing is in shade. The little light falling from left of the left guys jacket also shows this is real.

  • zen-tao

    It’s likely a non legal copy of photoshop dowloaded through rapidshare. They are short of cash.

  • jefff

    the sun is on their left side, so the shadow is soft ad blurry, then the photo was taken with a flash, and the shadow is dark and filled with contrast.
    Both shadows from different directions .. nothing wrong there.

  • jrconner

    I think it’s a blue screen operation.

  • Bruce

    It is fill -flash. Jeez – mountain out of a mole hill. 두더지 언덕의 산맥의 중. 거기하지 않는쪽으로 안타를 가져옵니다.

  • senseimitch

    Very interesting. So we believe Photo forensics when we are looking at pictures from North Korea or China; but, when someone presents photo forensics dealing with a forged birth certificate presented by the White House, they are obviously crazy, wacko tea-baggers. Interesting, how selective logic gets applied…

  • Jan Chilton

    So obviously photoshopped. I do that, and could put them anywhere….on the moon would be nice.

  • Joe Sacco

    Definitely Photoshop. The light sources do not match. The men are lit by artificial light, most likely in an internal setting. And the angle and intensity of the light does not match the outdoor photo. The light source would also be more filtered on the men, meaning there would be more intense highlights in spots and soft shadows in others. The lighting on the men is flat, a tip-off tat they were artificially lit.

  • Matt

    Is nobody going to point out that they are standing in the middle of a dirt road with clean shoes?

  • marcpope

    That’s the fakest pic I’ve ever seen. I’ve been using Photoshop for 20 years, maybe I could get a job there. At least they wouldn’t look photoshoped!

  • marcpope

    Look how long the shadows are in the background it was early morning or late at sunset.. there would be some long shadows on them. The people look like they were shot indoors in a studio. They are all crisp, the background is grainy. It’s 2 different photos.

  • Cleareye

    I have been doing Photoshop for almost 20 years. This is poor Photoshop work.

  • Atomicrob

    As a graphic designer and photo stylist, I’d say it’s a lousy quality photo. And it does appear to have a superimposed, layered sort of “flat”appearance. I’d have to see the original.

  • Scott Linklater

    You don’t get fired in NK, you get the firing squad!

  • Scott Linklater

    I’m not an expert but that photo looks so fake it’s ridiculous! It looks totally shopped!

  • mikeb666

    Totally obvious. Looks like they are just floating in from of a green screen, but I know they aren’t that sofisticated. Someone one teach them how to using lighting effects properly!

  • s0nicfreak

    If there is a flash or strobe or any sort of artificial light source, how is it that the people are illuminated (their whole bodies) yet the ground is completely shadowed except for one strip (intersecting with the right-most guy)? In order for their legs to be lit up, some of the artificial light would have reflected off the ground as well. Otherwise they would have to be in shadow like the ground is. Also, the guy to Kim Jong-un’s right is standing on some divot in the dirt, and it APPEARS that his foot is bent slightly, but that may just be a trick of the brain because if you look at his leg, it does not look angled like it would be if he is standing on a divot. And the guy in black’s right foot is just totally messed up.

  • ch3burashka

    I remember when there was a possibility Un wasn’t an insane dictator that would slowly but surely turn around the Titanic known as North Korea. There’s still time, but it doesn’t look good for now.