HIPA Grand Prize Winner Looks Like It May be a Big Photoshop Fail


The photograph above by Chinese photographer China’s Fuyang Zhou just won $120,000 as the Hamdan International Photography Awards (HIPA) overall grand prize winner. The theme was “Creating the Future,” and you can see why the photo won: it’s a wonderful composition that captures the spirit of that theme. And yet, something seems off about it…

Pointed out to us by photographer and creative director David J. Nightingale, something seems very wrong with the arm of the teacher in the middle of the image. As he put it in a Facebook post about the image:

I could be wrong, but that arm, and various other bits of the image, all look a little bit strange to me.

And a little bit is an understatement. Here’s a closer crop:


Of course, we’re not passing judgement here, simply asking the obvious question because the HIPA rules are extremely clear in this case:


So, what do you think? We’ve already emailed HIPA and requested comment but haven’t heard back yet. As soon as we do, we’ll post an update and notify you. But until then, let us know what you think is going on in this award-winning image (higher res available on the British Journal of Photography website).

Is this a Photoshop mess-up created by merging two images together badly, or simply a trick of the light that makes it seem this way?

(h/t David J. Nightingale)

Image credits: Photograph by Fuyang Zhou

  • Robert A. Resto

    From my perspective Mr who ever you are judging a picture, In those cultures who wears that type of clothes, I will explain why it looked wrong to you, because usually all who wears that long robe, when they use the first hand to do something, by default their second hand grabs the robe not to drop down of their shoulders, so if u see the curve under the arms u doubting and the other hand holding it, that made you feel its unreal, And for your own info, Its not 1 judge who goes through the pictures, there is Professionals and experts and watchers and editing experts who sits and watch every single picture carefully judging it, I don’t think its wrong…

    Robert Resto

    Director Of Photography/Cinematographer/Editor.

  • JReagan

    I don’t see the problem with this. If I read an article that doesn’t yet have all the facts/sides of the story then I simply reserve my own judgement until I have all the facts, or at least all the facts that the parties involved want you to have.

    Maybe it’s the readership that needs to be honest with themselves and recognize that they can’t come up with their own opinions so they need the article come up with it for them. That is the only reason I can imagine someone would need an article to contain all of the facts and sides of the story from the start.

    The problem with our current need for content isn’t that the outlets spread information too quickly to get the entire story, the problem is that the people absorbing this media are not intelligent enough to recognize that the first story isn’t the whole story. People rush to judgment based off of the “breaking news” report and then get upset when the story evolves and their snap judgment turns out to be incorrect. No one likes to be reminded of their sub par intelligence so the first thing to do is blame it on someone else. It’s those darn journalists fault, they aren’t thinking for me in a satisfactory manner!

    Not that any of that really matters with this story, it’s a photo contest, who cares.


    his forearm looks too long..

  • the truth hurts

    dudes just jealous and wants to make up some controversy

  • DilbertJ

    Is this why your headline already strongly implies that the image in question is a fake? You’re passing a judgment in the title without providing any evidence whatsoever. That other people on FB and Reddit are saying the same is not an excuse. You posting this article just lent credence to a whole bunch of spurious claims because you put your name behind it. I’m a PetaPixel fan but I agree with Christopher – baseless accusations do not equal journalism. It’s sensationalism and it hurts all photographers when this noise enters the blogosphere.

  • brianhirschy

    I’m very reluctant to write about award winning photos that receive photoshop accusations, mostly because I think if someone is convinced it’s a shop, they’ll find evidence.

    I agree with many of the comments about bad timing, the need to wait for ‘proof’, etc. When it comes to high profile, award winning photoshops, official response or proof should be there before accusations fly.

    HOWEVER, I’ve got my strong doubts about this – basically the entire picture… mostly has to do w/ perspective, detail, etc. I’m also curious, because it doesn’t look like any part of AnHui I’ve even ever heard of – at best I could believe QingHai or XinJiang. I could go on and on from a culture perspective w/ things that don’t seem consistent, but I won’t because they are simply conjecture. Suffice it to say, I think this would have to be a very rare occurrence based on the entire image – which if it’s all kosher, makes the composition very deserving of the award.

    Take a look at the larger image in the link provided above. Doesn’t the chalk on the dry, mud wall look overly sharp to anyone else? I have doubts that chalk on a mud wall can achieve such sharpness. Furthermore – the font on the left is… bad Chinese at best – it’s like the writings of a 3-6 year old uneducated Chinese child (Which is very very likely… since it’s about as good as my Chinese). Looks like a kid wrote it… but its 2 feet above the reach of a child. It’s possible that it got there a number of ways and isn’t a sticking point (but perhaps corroborative evidence), but it certainly adds to my suspicion.

    I lived in China for the better part of a decade as a working photographer. From very VERY personal experience working with print shops in China, I’ve seen working press photographers and AP photogs go into a shop and literally CROP out someone else’s name/signature/watermark, and then submitted for assignment or press. I’ve had many confrontation about it. I’ve seen this SEVERAL times. My images have been stolen DOZENS of times in China to the point where I had to embed watermarks in the highlights and lowlights of images and finally blocked the entire country from my website. Also, I had to be vigilant to make sure my digital copies were never stored on shop computers. I love China and desperately miss living there, but that was part living there. To be clear, I’m not presenting this as evidence, but more a general attitude among photographers in the region. I’d never accuse this photographer of that, but wanted to add at least my personal experience (and my personal experience and opinion certainly does not dictate fact by any means)

    Don’t call something out until their is proof. My comments are speculation at best…

  • Schmidt

    There is not only the arm issue. There are shadows missing, there are different angles of shadows, multi-manipulated objects. Ever for a newbie with a bit of attention the “pasted” arm is evident, how can that “experient” juri publish a winner photo without a bit of attention to this issues ? I have nothing against manipulation in art photography, but this is against the rules and very unfair for the other photographers that sent non manipulated photos. Related to the teacher arm, only someone that understend nothing about human body and anatomy can sai it is natural. I say more, all teacher do not belong to this photograph, also the boy carring the girl do not belong to this photograph.

  • laith alnakeeb

    The man has no shadow at all

  • Mark

    Addressing your points:

    1. His arm extends from beneath his cloak, not from a sleeve in it, which creates the illusion that the arm comes from his chest.

    2. Good point. However, I think it’s not so much a difference in resolution as it is a difference in lighting. I think the teacher has been significantly dodged and appears low-resolution from this. However, that doesn’t mesh with how much light and sharpness that wall in from of him has. If he has been dodged as much as he appears to have been, then the wall right in front of him should also have been dodged as well, but it doesn’t look like it has been. In light (ha!) of this, I surmise that he may have been added in from a different shot or something funny has been done with the wall.

  • DomDdom

    It very well could be that the “teacher” has a coat hung over his shoulders without his arms in the sleeves and his “offending” upper arm is merely pointed out and down while his forearm is raising up to reach the wall. I see nothing wrong, or at least nothing nearly conclusive to say that this is in any way manipulated, other than the slanderous and incendiary tone that this article (and I’m sure many others) has taken to try and jump on anything that has been even possibly been altered.

  • DomDdom

    There are, from what I can see, two light sources. One from frame right, the other over the teacher’s head. Neither of which would produce shadows on the chalkboard surface.

    His hand shows proper lighting angles from these two light sources. Look again.

    I’m not saying that this image hasn’t been manipulated, but I see nothing that clearly shows it has been, and I lean toward it not having been manipulated in the way that this article and various statements accuse it to be.

  • benjiK

    If you put this photo into fotoforensics you will see how it has been manipulated. Tried to post a link to it but petapixel must not like links to proof.

  • Diana Patricia Acevedo Mira

    Concerning the picture:

    Besides the anatomical incongruences already mentioned. The clothes pieces have different shadow angles and seem to be from different material too. Also the teacher doesn’t have a proper shadow in the background and considering the proportions of the room, children and the distance between the teacher, he looks unusually tiny. If you compare him to the boy carrying the little girl with magenta sweater in the right, you should notice she looks pretty big to be a kid.

    Concerning the article posted:

    It does lack information. It’s clear he quoted this guy called David J. Nightingale as some professional opinion background but, unless you click the link of his name you don’t know where he works or who he is and why is being used as reference. Studies, career titles or workplaces must be stated in articles when quoting people, just to give these quotes some credibility for the readers. The source is also important, a Facebook random post comment has zero validity, at least he could have said the post was done in the official page of the HIPA, but he didn’t. So maybe it’s not sensationalism of PetaPixel, just a poorly written article.

  • p.rock

    Agreed. I think it happened around the time that Petapixel started hiring “writers” a year or so ago. Kind of a bummer but I guess that’s the way the game is played today.

  • Jim Johnson

    Yep. Bend your elbow to about 60 degrees then lift your arm to the side. The angle of the hand is about the same. Add billowing clothing, dim light and optical distortion from the lens and it is possible it is perfectly legit.

    It could be a PS job, but I’m not seeing the absolute proof the other comment section “experts” have. Although, the clothes don’t seem to match up either.

    How ever will I be able to ferret out such injustice without real proof.

  • Zaid Sameer

    The teacher is chines. not Arabic and the (bisht) is different than the Arabian coat

  • Eugene Chok

    its so obviously fake, the tonality and colour is totally wrong as well as bad blending, too bad i think the image is just as strong without it

  • Chris Pickrell

    If you notice, the coat goes up to the back of his head. So everything looks raised to begin with. If you account for that, and assume his shoulder is below his neck, and not the coat line, the arm lines up fine.

  • John Sage

    The fingers and the chalk show that to be his right, or nearest arm.

    Yet somehow the drape of the cloth over his right (or nearest shoulder) is unbroken by the posture that would have to have taken place to put his hand where the image shows it.


  • Christopher

    Here is what I don’t understand, why would these contests with huge prizes not require the winner (prior to announcement) to submit the original raw file or negative for confirmation that the winner is within the rules? It would avoid having this shadow hanging over the winner’s photo (and prevent some cheaters from winning).

  • MEEfO

    The arm is clearly pasted there. There’s also a chance some of that writing is fake or manipulated as well

  • Bill

    Peta Pixel is a kick ass website, it’s my first stop for “pitcher” news, when did they claim to be journalist. By the way this is a legit story, and needs to be discussed, it (being the photo in question), looks suspect.

  • Bob B.

    +++1000 !!!

  • bbear

    I’ve put a couple of my own photos through the “fotoforensics” process and according to the process they were maniupulated. Which is odd, because they were actually SOOC JPEG’s. I have little faith in the analysis sorry.

  • punku

    What I see in here is that the arm is just okay, but what the real problem is is that the whole image of the teacher is just pasted on the scene.. Even that kid carrying a baby, it looked like it’s also pasted on it, and its shadows are off from other shadows…

  • Becca Gulliver

    You do realise that my shoulder pad comment wasn’t a serious comment don’t you?

  • JJ

    Agree, the man looks like he was lifted from a oil painting.

  • Andy

    Oh joy, another photography witch hunt

  • Casey

    An obviously bad PS job. The arm looks like it was roughly pasted on. If you look close at the bottom of it, you can see where it doesn’t come out from under his coat, but instead sits on top of it. Very bad.

  • Amril Nuryan

    don’t judge all indonesian photographer always doing CGI…
    are you know what’s the meaning of CGI ?? can you prove there’s a Computer Generated Imagery on that photos ? there’s a big difference between CGI and Photo editing…
    And your comment is a big offense to Indonesian Photograhers

  • Stefan Mutch

    Certainly looks odd to me. It looks like you can see the teachers hands both linked or held by the other,

  • Dany

    Is it the same photographer? how did you get the picture?

  • Jeff

    This is a mud wall school in Jiangxi, China. There is tons like this one bacause this schools are part of some “guided tours” for tourists and photographers.

    If you look carefully, the teacher have no left arm due a traffic accident some years ago. And in the HIPA awarded photo he appears with 2 arms or with 2 hands. Last year one of the awarded photos have won previous awards and HIPA do nothing about. By HIPA rules, they dont accept previous awarder photos. So, is a waist of time complaining about this issues. They dont care at all.

  • C Matter

    The arm is fine, I believe. The man’s robe is covering his upper arm.
    I have entered HIPA’s contest several times. One of the main rules (that no-one has bothered to mention) is that original files or negatives of all prize winners must also be submitted.

  • 9inchnail

    Cry me a river

  • OurJames

    I just don’t see where his upper arm could connect his elbow to his shoulder. Also, his coat or cloak hangs perfectly down. Wouldn’t it have to be pushed aside to allow his invisible upper arm connect with his shoulder?

  • Alfred Weidinger

    agree with kate, arm is in the wrong place




    After adjust brightness, this is the DETAIL :

  • james coleman

    look at the shadow on the little girl and the tables