February 16, 2014

#Photoshopping fakery from the Department of the Interior



The Washington Post recently (as part of its move, like all newspapers, to click-bait us with pictures and video) put up a set of the "the best" of the Department of Interior's Instagram account pictures.

I like the photos as far as artistry. I do NOT like them as being officially presented by the  when not all are "Natural" and not all are photos, but rather, photo illustrations. Slide 4, at Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, illustrates both problems. The backlighting of the arch is done by artificial light, and the Milky Way and sunset are clearly two, separate,   together night scenes, and, neither one is the night sky from the actual arch scene because the artificial backlighting would blow out the sky around the arch. It's false, and promotes a fake view of the outdoors.

Update, April 29, 2014: Via the International Dark Sky Association, which has a version of this on its website, which I learned by seeing it on a High Country News blog, I learned that both photo versions come from a Jacob W. Frank. It's on the slider on his website homepage. I've emailed him re the apparent photoshopping. I also left a comment, with a link to this post, on the HCN blog post. Stay tuned on both counts.

And, I have a partial answer from Frank so far, but not as to my main question. He says he shot a version with a headlamp (above) and one without (Dark Sky Association/HCN). That was the lesser of my issues. The bigger is about what appears to be two different sky backdrops, the "stars" in left and center and the "sunset" at right.

That said, he has followed up and said that the "sunset" is clouds reflecting light pollution from Moab. I've hiked up to Delicate once at night myself. It was pretty much a cloudless night, so I wouldn't have seen the same cloud bounce. Fair enough on the source; it's not a sunset. Nonetheless, I still lean toward the thought that it's a photoshopped image out of two different originals.

Why?

Clouds are about 1 trillion times closer than the Milky Way, to put it mildly and literally. Clouds of any thickness in general, let alone clouds thick enough to bounce light pollution from Moab street lights, would hide stars behind them, I would think. Even high ice-content but thin cirrus clouds wouldn't come off like this, I don't think.

So, great creativity, Mr. Frank. But, I still doubt it's a single image. On the other hand, if it were two different skies as a panorama, why wouldn't he have cloned out the stars on the right? To be fair, I'll try to remember to eyeball some night skies in this area when we get a few clouds. 

That said, I'm not going to ask any more questions. I explained my background as both an amateur nature photographer and as a newspaper editor, regarding my own photo experience.

Anyway, back to the original blog post.

Arguably, other photos also present a fake view of the outdoors, staying with my contention about the Arches photo, but in different ways. the photos tell a selective story. The Yellowstone bison picture has nothing about bison being hazed back into the park, for example.

The Photoshopping fakery, and the untold storylines, as in the Yellowstone picture, are problematic for other reasons, too.

First, the Delicate Arch picture also "blows out" the night sky. It's a LOT darker there than the planetarium-type picture shows, and I know that because I've taken a night hike to Delicate Arch. Unfortunately, my timing was off by a night or two for the perfect picture of shooting a moon, with lingering sunset, either in the arch's keyhole or just above it, and I don't Photoshop stuff like that. And, by not having any of Delicate Arch's background scenery in place, people don't realize that this is a hike of more than a mile, one-way, with a steady climb, almost entirely over slickrock sandstone. The Photoshopping has eliminated that backstory.

As noted, the Yellowstone story doesn't show the reality of bison who try to leave the park boundaries in winter for food being hazed back inside. It doesn't show bison being shot over the myth that they give brucellosis to cattle, when it's actually the elk being given hay at Grand Teton and elsewhere that do this. That, in turn, shows how larger environmental issues are omitted from the picture, like the unnaturalness of elk being fed hay, the unpictured naturalness of wolves hunting both them and bison, the extreme anti-wolf bias just outside the park's boundaries and more. (I've seen a couple of wolves casually wandering at the heels of a small herd of bison.)

Nor does Instagram from Interior show the reality of fracking for natural gas within view of that same Arches National Park that holds Delicate Arch, let alone oil sands extraction not too much further away in Utah.

In a day and age where Richard Louv can write about "nature deficit disorder," providing such false and sterile pictures of nature does no good.

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