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

  • Paul Raspu

    It is North Korea, they don’t fire people, they put them in happy little learning camps…

  • Brian D’Broker


  • IceStormer

    OMG!!! This is an unbelievably bad ‘shop job.

    The feathering around the figures is terrible, the shadows are wrong, the difference in image quality between the figures and the surrounding area (depth of field notwithstanding) is blatant and obvious, and the list goes on.

    The NKs really stink at this.

  • Um Duh

    It just looks like a bad photographer, frankly. The guy probably thinks he’s an awesome photographer because he has a big fancy flash, but he doesn’t know how to use it. Is that so surprising?

  • IceStormer

    Nope. If they had used a flash – or flashes – powerful enough to provide the wash they are getting, there would be shadows behind them.


  • Jeo Ten

    This is clearly photoshopped … just look at the photo from an angle from below and look at the artifacts surrounding the tops of the trees.

  • Doc

    Much ado about nothing. Welcome to outdoor flash photography.

  • tryanmax

    I’m a designer, but not much of a photographer (I can take a picture, but I usually have some one better do it for me, lol). I agree that a fill-flash can make things look pretty fake, and maybe that’s all this is. The strange thing is, at first when I look at this pic it looks really fake, but the longer I look at it, the more natural it seems.

    I am inclined to suggest that perhaps everyone except Un was in the original and he was pasted in, but I’m not entirely sure.

  • Otheus

    Multiple flash sources, setup like you would in a studio. It’s staged, not shopped. One point in favor of it being ‘shopped is the lack of footprints on the ground. But NK is cold and it’s possible the ground here is too firm for footprints to show up. Also, note the angle of the shoes with respect to the the terrain: they mostly match. There’s even some dust and debris on the shoes on the Kim Jung-un and the man to his left and right.

    I’d say the suspicious part is the two men on the left side of the photo. They are the source of the strange shadows, and the feet of the one seem to hover a bit. Perhaps they were standing in a different position and were ‘shopped to appear closer. Or perhaps it’s more nefarious.

  • Elad Jordan

    He has sand on his shoes

  • Linda

    You can tell they were put there, look at the whole picture with them in it, it is fake.

  • Whitney Woo

    If this photo were completely real without manipulation, everyone would have shadows stemming from where they stand on the ground, even if they are standing in the shadow of a tree or anything else. There are no obvious shadows under the feet of any of the men. Also, note the guy on the right with the darker suit. Look at his right foot. Why is it bent upwards? Could be that the ground is uneven, but in which case there would be an obvious shadow between his shoe and the ground, which is supposedly uneven.

    Not buying that this photo is real. Even in the slightest.

  • Ralph Hightower

    Looks like a bunch of cardboard cutouts.

  • Rob Elliott

    The shadow you expecting wouldn’t be visible at this angle.

    What seems more logical, that they went out of their way to add dirt in logical amounts to shoes, match sun speckle, shadows, highlights,matching feet to the terrain and then forgetting a tiny bit of shadowing on the feet which they took such great pains matching every things else on?

    Or that the geometry of the location means you just can see that particular shadow?

    There really is no reason to fake this photo. But as you say the country has a history of it, and there is certainly post processing going on here but I don’t think it is to the extent people are claiming.. I could be wrong, but the work that went into it if it is a significant composite is well beyond the normal attention to minor details.

    If they went to such lengths to match the photos to the terrain why not use a better image of people? Why use a photo with hard shadows like that, and then take the time to match sun speckle, dirt and feet to the terrain?

  • Allgonetohell

    More importantly, don’t you think that maybe one guy could’ve said “I’ll take notes on what the little twerp says, and you can put your notebooks away and look cool.”?

  • Mike Chambers

    “But the difference between that photo and this is that this one doesn’t seem to be controversial enough to require any Photoshop”

    Yes, but it’s not always about how controversial something is or about making something up. Sometimes it’s just that a higher-up says “we need a picture of x-y-z for the press” and it’s faster/more convenient to do a quick photoshop than set up a real photo shoot.

    Companies and governments do this all the time, it’s nothing new. It’s just that the North Koreans seem to have missed a few Photoshop 101 classes.

  • Swordfishtrombone

    That “photo” looks fake even at a glance.

  • SohoRiot

    100% Fake from a Photoshop expert of 15 years and counting. Scary people would comment that dont know what they are talking about.

  • Sohoriot

    Very photoshopped photo.

  • Joe Boyer

    Just look at their hard outlines, it’s obviously fake.

  • Gengis Cohen

    Its nothing but a posed photo of a fat, faggy little meglomanic dicatator who enslaves 350,000 of his “people” in death camps while he pretends to personally take charge of building children’s hospitals by dictating engineering and expert archtectural notes to terrified looking hangers-on. The only children who get any kind of medical care are those of his immediate minions and this ONLY happens in expensive Swiss private hospitals. The rest are staggering about malnourished in grinding poverty or shot for sport by the guards in his concentration camps, ground up and fed to the other inmates. Its all true. Close down the appalling North Korean dicator and his murderous team of arse-licking sycophants now, or the world must live with their consciences when the truth finally emerges. 30% of what passes for N Korean GDP is produced by slave labour – what in God’s good name is holding us back???
    Oh we always forget – the capitalist machine has no conscience, thinks N Kore’a potential market value sufficiently interesting to think genocide and cannibalism permissable…… I’m so ronry……

  • Justin

    Shadows from light coming from above, areas that should be dark that are lit, dark bands around subjects…

    NO footprints anywhere in that partially wet clay-like dirt. NOTHING on there shoes at all…. Their feet look like their floating.

    The threshold between their feet and the dirt is just not right looking at all.

    EVEN IF they were standing in a shaded spot, the guys with brighter light on their bodies coming from the left should have cast secondary shadows on the already shaded ground, considering they have visible light hitting their bodies.

    The white balance obviously could be affected by a flash, but all over? If they had such great coverage, from person to person, every corner of their bodies, shouldn’t it have lit up the ground with the same cool light? of caused shadows with the flash as we can see on the men themselves… there is either a soft light or hard light… soft light could explain the odd white balance but then how are there shadows cast on the men by other men that are sooo sharp?

  • Zac

    correct. The photog was attempting to gather as much detail from the background as possible while not turning Kim Jung and company into dark blogs in the foreground. In order to do so they had to compensate with off camera lighting.
    Now I cant speak to whether the photo is fake/photoshopped or not but I can say, as a professional, that the shadows are not reason to discredit the man. Trust me, he’ll do plenty more to do that himself, please for the sake of quality, find a different reason.

  • Shivas

    Explain why the flash threw hard shadows of the hands, but no other shadows that you can see.

  • Kevin Patrick Robbins

    And there are. There is a shadow of the second guy from the left’s head on the shoulder of the third guy from the left.

  • Emily Munn

    yes but there would be ground shadows as well and there are NONE at all……

  • Kevin Patrick Robbins

    Well, the physics of light, such as the inverse square law and angles of incidence, disagree with you.

  • Emily Munn

    fake. and no one has yet mentioned the fact that there are spots of light on the ground between KJ and the guys he is looking at. Those spots of sun would not be there if those guys were standing there, because their supposed shadows would be blocking them. Also, there is no way these men were standing in this dirt…. brown guy’s feet are even at an angle that would men he was standing in a different angle to the camera than the background is positioned…..

  • Juanito

    I just love everyone pants…

  • AK

    I blame the funny look on their velvety soft pajamas…


    NK’s are desperate paranoid twits…..24/7

  • diverguy

    Kim Jung must be a deity because he’s floating.

  • chupacabra007

    Man, this is some really strange “fashion” and shoe choices. Does everyone have to dress like Dear Leader?

  • Michael Powers

    Very poorly done Photoshop (or what passes for Photoshop in N. Korea).

  • jatomusik

    Seems like no one notices the lack of shoe prints…very odd photo. We might not all be photo experts but everyone sees professional photography everyday. A prime example is advertisements, news clips etc. When a photo “feels” odd and gives the impression of altering, I would say most likely it has been. The stance is posed, the color is odd, shoes appear floating, lack of prints and ground disturbance lighting is off, all around the photo “feels” fake. Sure one or two odd effects in a photo can be explained away but with the full package of issues the photo appears to have been staged on another site and stiched together with a “Children’s Hospital.”

  • Derek Kerton

    Looks real to me. Complete with the latest OS7 North Korean tablets in everyone’s hands. I think the one guy is playing “Words with Friends, Pyongyang edition”, where you write a word down, and later you tell your friends about it.

  • Vahid Javan

    it means the Photoshop artist has lost his/her head already. you should have just talked about it in press for the sake oh artists life. s/he is know a dead man

  • urallnutjobs

    all this talk of flash and shadows and you all are missing the obvious.
    they are standing on bare earth; yet there are no footprints in the mud or signs of dirt on their clean shoes, or pant legs?

  • Benny

    Why are all their clothes so BIG??

  • Rob Elliott

    Study Flash photography look at the crappy photos by Terry Richardson, you will see exactly the type of hard shadows you see in this photo.

  • Teodor Nikov

    The perspective is the first obv giveaway. The curb is HUGE compared to that man in the dark suit. It was obviously shot at different angles, probably with different lenses.

  • Mike Lovett

    Does there need to be any argument over this? Of course it’s photo altered! There is a great book about how Joseph Stalin had key figures from the former leader Lenin’s entourage erased from publicity photos, after Stalin had them systematically killed. Just Google Censorship in Russia, or find this title on Wiki:
    Censorship of images in the Soviet Union

  • Mike Lovett

    Even in mainland China, you will see this. I lived in the Pearl River Delta of China from 2001 to 2006. The men there tend to wear very baggy pants and jackets. It’s a holdover from the Mao era. And they also tend to hike their pants way up past the navel, using their cheap shiny imitation leather belts to hold them up so high. They also like to carry man purses, more like a clutch purse. Very odd when you see them en mass.

  • Mike Lovett

    Emily Munn, the Shadow Queen of Rules of Light & Darkness

  • Mike Lovett

    Nearly 90% of fake US 100 dollar bills come from N. Korea, THAT is the reason for the new $100 bill rollout. Expect to see that happen about more and more. When I lived in China, Hong Kong had recently gone to some brilliant paper money concepts, borrowed from Australia, using small transparent plastic windows within the bill, among other things. In the Chinese mainland, counterfeit currency is rampant. I even got 100 RMB notes from bank ATMs! If you live anywhere in Asia, you become very good at learning to detect forged currrency.

  • Mike Lovett

    I get your point. Why do it? I think it is about time and effort. It is easier for the propaganda dept. to use stock footage of Kim and add it to new photos, like this image, than for Kim to be actually troubled to move about the country. The propaganda team can crank out 20 images using various stock images of Kim and his cronies, and Kim can stay in his palace and watch porn and DVDs that are generally unavailable to the public.

  • Matthew Wagg

    Yup the fill light is from a speedlight on one of the auto modes. Its more about the photog not knowing their craft than being a shopped photo.

  • thecrud

    shopped without doubt.

  • CCCrazyPanda

    Even if a powerful fill flash was used for this photo, the lighting in it just doesn’t add up.

  • dustin dowell

    Alright, flash photography creates solid shadows, sure. The shadow in question was cast by the Sun anyway.