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

  • Kate

    The elbow is not clearly visible to my eye. And the shadow is wrong. I understand that movement but there would be a bend in the arm, and the wrist would be turned. It’s very awkward if it is real, and quite impossible to achieve unless the arm is deformed – it is debatable enough to question.

  • evrmoor

    If you look closely, the whole arm, if not the whole teacher is superimposed….there’s a slight halo and the sharpness between him and the wall is wonky

  • David Stewart

    There are simple things that very reasonably explain the arm: That he is wearing a black cloak or similar garment and that the sleeve is part of his shirt beneath it, which is a different color. And that to write at an angle to the wall serving as a blackboard, he may have raised his elbow away from his body, forming an L to the wall (which would make his arm appear to be higher in relation to his shoulder). Lens compression could contribute to it, though I don’t know if it has, I haven’t seen any EXIF data for the shot.

  • ambleyonder

    my eye was drawn immediately to the teacher when i read PS in the title and i thought something looked a little odd with him.but could be just an awkward pose.I am glad people pick up on things like this and do question the authenticity,its in no way a slur on the photographer by petapixel .i certainly would not feel offended, its a simple matter of producing the original to clear up any doubt.

  • David Kilpatrick

    I see the issue but I think you may need to check one thing out before accusing the photographer of fakery. Clearly, no attempt has been made to sanitise the floor or clothing and this image has not been ruined by excess use of masking or clarity enhancement (like one of the other winners). Trying
    to believe the image, what if the arm was covered with a cloth which
    shows some signs of being used to wipe off chalk writing, and much sign
    of collecting colour from the daub wall being using as a blackboard?
    Where else would the teacher put his board rubber – he’s hardly going to
    be using a western schoolroom board eraser. So before making too
    detailed accusations, consider that this odd ‘sleeve’ may simply be the
    cloth he uses. Now that I’ve considered this possibility, the overlap and the oddness of the ‘sleeve’ make sense. I’m seriously thinking this could just be his chalk eraser.

  • Matt

    I don’t know if it is a composite or not. I’d error on the side of not though. I’m not convinced there is a problem with his arm and I’ve seen no other complaints of the image. It is a little akward looking. I thought the arm did jump out a bit, but that is more than likely a micro contrast artifact. But, can’t say it is a cut and past. The image is too soft, dark, and low on details to start a witch hunt.

    I think people’s imagination and paranoia is getting the better of them…

  • Lena B

    The teachers head is really small compared to the girl standing by the same wall – or is the room maybe bigger than what I understand?

  • Gatot Jaka Timur

    maybe the old man structure is like that. some old people has high shoulder and long arm.

  • RJ Hill

    I don’t like debunking pictures, but I have also always followed the rules when entering competitions. Analyzing this, the arm does look as though it is photoshopped in. Anatomically speaking, the hand looks extremely large compared to the man’s head. You must always be aware to make adjustments with relation to the size ratios when adding body parts. There is also definite inconsistency where the sleeve meets the overcoat as well, the overcoat falling seemingly behind the sleeve where the arm is extruding. How is that possible given the angle of the arm? I’ve been working with Photoshop since it’s inception into the market, and it seems pretty obvious here that some work has been done to the photograph. However, it is a nice composition.

  • Scott

    Then be honest with your readership: you’re passing judgement and you intended to (which I’m fine with as long as you’re honest about it). You quoted the Facebook page: “I could be wrong, but that arm, and various other bits of the image, all look a little bit strange to me.” and then followed it up with “And a little bit is an understatement. Here’s a closer crop” at which point you attempt to appear unbiased by stating “Of course, we’re not passing judgement here, simply asking the obvious question”.

  • Valenten

    indeed, I feel the same but it migt be the room that is bigger… hard to tell :/

  • Scott

    Unfortunately, PetaPixel has adopted the sensationalist attitude of other sites (i.e. Gizmodo) where everything has to be AMAZING, INSPIRING, UNIQUE, etc. Yesterday’s article on the large portraits stated “between the lack of emotion, the detail in the images, and the overall result of the photos, it certainly flips the definition of “portrait” as we know it on its head.” I’m not quite sure how large portraits and lack of emotion is someone new or unique. Its unfortunate because commentary like that takes away from the legitimately interesting parts of the articles (and often leads to the cynical comments).

  • bbear

    Just to reiterate what I said earlier: by publishing this before waiting for either the photographer or HIPA to comment is simply not responsible. This wasn’t a rigorous scientific analysis of the photos: this was some random guy on the internet pixel peeping a low res version of the photo.

    Now we are seeing “anti-Chinese” comments starting to pop up, and the image is being “slammed” by many as authoritatively being “fake and many are citing Petapixel as the proof. Waiting a few hours for a response wouldn’t have hurt this story. No need to sink to the gutter Petapixel.

  • Cynical Bloke

    Does look strange but the arm looks like it’s coming from inside the cloak. It looks like too much photoshop generally though to get that look, competition judges need to take some lessons in Photoshop.

  • Louis Mayer

    The arm looks strange…but what about the entire scene? What is this man teaching these few children? It can’t be what’s written not the wall—the children are too young for that material, it seems. They’re not taking notes, and the child on the right is too distracted to be instructed here. The overall scene doesn’t seem quite authentic. And the power of a photo really lies with how viewers interpret it. So, authentic or not, some may not feel the power of this photo.

  • Don Tusk

    Bad case ontario

  • Global

    The flow of the cape/jacket is what makes the indication of the arm being in the wrong place — not necessarily the arm itself. The man could have a very bad hunch in his back (which seems probably, not only by the curve of his back, but also by the position of his lowered arm, which seems very pulled back and close to his body). It could be possible these are his real arms — especially because the hands appear to match. HOWEVER, it does seem to be a composite, at the very least with the extended arm being added later.

    Again, the key is the flow of the cape/jacket. It seems to pour over his right side of his body — and while it IS POSSIBLE for ones arm to be extended the way his is.. it is not possible for it to be extended that way while the cape is flowing as it is. Either the perspective or the flow of the cape is broken and either indicates a photoshop.

    Can you see: The deep shadow in his cape right over his right arm? It would not be possible to have that deep of a shadow, if his arm were truly extended, the arm would be breaking the flow of the cape and making a much more shallow or even flattened shadow/cape. The arm is an afterthought.

  • Ed

    I agree that the arm looks wrong but there are several other aspects of the photograph that are equally curious. The perspective of the desks is odd. The lefthand desk is either significantly larger than the other desks or the floor is sloping upwards from the chalk written wall. Why is it that the only part of the wall that is adequately illuminated is that to which to which the teacher is pointing and why is there writing on the rest of the wall in near darkness?

    It is a beautiful picture and personally I don’t care how it was created but if the competition rules have been broken, which I believe they have been, it should not have won a prize. This is far from the only instance of prize winners being found, after the event, to have significantly broken competition rules.

    Given that in this digital age most photographers shoot numerous frames from which to select, then simple proof of editing non-intervention would be for a jury to check the winning entries against a batch of exposures taken during the same shoot. Few entrants would have the patience necessary to fake every exposure.

    Maybe I am cynical and maybe in this instance quite wrong but open and honest debate of these matters should be encouraged, think of Lance Armstrong.

  • Global

    I disagree, I don’t think that the majority of users come here for Journalism — they come here for stories. That’s a completely different thing. Its like FOX News vs. real news. One is entertainment on subjects you enjoy, the other is boring as hell and pretty much watched only for the weather forecast. Sometimes running a story is exactly how more news is generated. If everyone waited to have every side of the news present, then most of the time, the news couldn’t be run at all. That might be great when Democracy and Global politics are on the line — in fact, it might be a pillar of democracy itself which is currently threatened in the current environment of sensationalism — but it has nothing to whatsoever with Photography hobbies and industry. I think its fair to receive stories as long as they are updated, without it having to conform to the standards of World News. No nations will fall, and no governor will not get elected because this story doesn’t have an interview with the photographer, an interview with the agency and third-party professional skeptics.

  • Global

    But don’t you think that raising the question publicly often (if not almost always) is what gets parties to respond? Generally speaking most organizations and people HIDE faults, unless it exposed. “We’ll brush this one under the covers.” That’s why Nikon tried to do with the D600. If people were saying, “Oh! Let’s wait for Nikon to respond,” before they posted anything online or shared any opinions publicly, the fix never would have happened.

    This is an interest stories site — not hard-hitting journalism. How many people with journalism degrees are reading this site? It seems like people don’t understand the current environment of blogs and facebook. Its not a matter of being first or being beaten by competitors, its now out there or it isn’t out there. There is no in-between time and there never will be again.

  • bbear

    It has already been made public. It was made public, by David Nightingale, when he shared the image off the official HIPA Facebook page. There was literally no chance of this being “swept under the covers.”

    The D600 went on sale in 2012. This story has only been a story for under ten hours. To compare the two is absurd.

    I perfectly understand the current environment of blogs and facebook. It is perfectly possible to destroy reputations in minutes as a story becomes viral. This entire story is based on a post by a random internet dude on facebook. Yeah, the guy is a photographer and business owner, but so is everyone who reads petapixel, he isn’t an expert and his analysis wasn’t scientific and he relied on a low res version of the image. You are correct: it wasn’t a matter of being first. Which means holding off until getting comment from HIPA and/or the original photographer is something responsible organizations would do.

  • Gav

    They should request a copy of the RAW file with each entry…

  • f64

    Looks like a bad Photoshop job to me. On par with the Chinese bureaucrats inserted into an image.

  • Jason

    What a dick way to write a article. ‘Since you guys are dumb, I wanted to make sure you actually test your images, and I really want to cast public doubt on the winner without having any proof against them.’

  • Tareq Hadi

    The image has serious issues with the shadows all over, but I am most concerned with the absence of the shadow not casted by the said arm on the wall or face of the teacher.

  • rabthecab

    The humerus/radius ratio is way off – it looks to be about 1:4. And that’s not a illusion caused by his upper arm being drawn back, unless his radius is seriously bent (beyond breaking point.)

  • Stephen Godfrey

    Dang , now that you mention it I cannot not help but see how weird it looks. I think we will hear more about this image in the coming days.

  • arthemus30


  • Dover

    “What a dick way to write a article.”

    Are you six years old?

  • Dover

    Even if there was no serious manipulation (adding an arm where there wasn’t one etc),….if this image had all the elements in place as shot….it is still a cooked image. Ham handed hdr rendering. So 2012.

  • MohanBonda

    I think the left arm of the teacher is fractured and resting on a support (that’s tied from back of neck).

  • Francis Estanislao

    kind of awkward in size and position but maybe its just the angle. even the head and shoulders look awkward.

  • Bob B.

    Great image ..if this guy brushed up on his Photoshop skills and cleaned it up , the image would be a great illustrative, inspiring image for the world to enjoy. Unfortunately, Mr. Zhou has submitted a half-baked altered image to a contest where this is clearly breaking the rules. Let justice prevail.

  • Rodolfo C. Manabat

    it may be a good winning photo but, a cut and paste of the arm ruined everything…it is a failure of the photographer to work it finely. it should be disqualified…. as a rule…

  • Jason Wright

    I wouldn’t. It looks pretty obviously edited to me. Not only does the angle look almost impossible unless he has a deformed arm, there is a “gap” in the material where a chunk of arm is missing. Add in the fact that it appears he is clasping both hands together in front of himself and thus has 3 arms and I am pretty sure it’s photoshop.

  • Jason Wright

    I agree, looks like the guy simply merged two shots to get a slightly “better” image. He probably should have replaced the entire ‘writer’ rather than just chop the arms up.

  • Rodolfo C. Manabat

    yes, it’s a big photoshop fail… when you raise your arm with your cape..the tendency of cape in the shoulder will raise due to raising of the arm connecting his shoulder….admittedly it’s a nice photo and good lighting…..

  • PJ

    Please refrain from calling anyone on Petapixel a journalist…

  • Sean Sprague

    Two things get me as being wronguns:
    a) The outstretched arm looks like it’s coming from the middle of his chest, but most significantly…
    b) The resolution. All the kids and furnishings are in nice high resolution; as you would expect. He looks like he has been photographed using a Box Brownie – low resolution, no definition on the headscarf or face; and very poor colour definition on him in general.
    I just realised another disturbing aspect – he looks exactly how he would in a Stereogram – a 2-dimensional disjoint image in a 3-dimensional setting


  • David C

    This definitely highlights what looks like a cut and paste effort, the arm cloth clips over the “cloak” in a way that isn’t natural.

  • David C

    Though we don’t know how it was lit it does look off – that and the shadows of the legs of the kids in the foreground vs the one near the wall. Different directions, but without knowing the lighting details we can’t be sure

  • Phil Ruberry

    Firstly, i wonder if petapixel or whoever come up with this article good be done for slander before there is any official word that this is a so called photoshop fail.

    Secondly, If this is indeed the richest photography competition there is around they`d be pretty stupid not to check the RAW file before awarding that amount of money.

    Thirdly, Just loving the photoshop experts posting comments on here ranging from `oh its a badly hdr image so 2012` to the `the kids are to young to be taught whatever the teacher is teaching` seriously i didnt realise we had so many experts on this website, nothing short of typing something that makes you sound like a prat rather than a know it all.

  • jmco

    Could just be his robe and he is using the chalk to point at something. Those combined with the light = pixel peeping troll delight.

  • Tareq Hadi

    Three bone arm

  • Keith Goldstein

    This is why I hate competitions. I think they always flawed and biased. With advanced editing skills available to most anyone these days, it is quite easy, with a sense of skill and imagination, to dream up any kind of image one wants to. On the other side, that’s the beauty of it, and there should be a competition for this sentimentality.

  • Bruce Thiel

    It’s not just the arm. How does a piece of chalk manage draw letters so clearly on such a rough surface? Not only are the letters very solid but manage to get into all the crevices.

  • Bruce Thiel

    To me the point is fairness to all the other photographers who didn’t doctor their photos contrary to the rules of the compitition.

  • Torsten Schöneich

    this is soooo fake… did anyone mention the teacher being too small compared to the children ???

  • Andres Trujillo

    oh, the irony

  • whoopn

    You can do a lot in Adobe Camera RAW…so i don’t know if photoshop is exactly the one you can blame, or salute, here.