Community calls Peter Lik out over “photoshopped” Moon photo

Feb 6, 2018

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

Community calls Peter Lik out over “photoshopped” Moon photo

Feb 6, 2018

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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Peter Lik is one of the bestselling and the most successful landscape photographers in the world. But one of his recent photos has sparked a serious discussion about how much it was photoshopped. In their recent video and article, the guys from FStoppers wonder if photo titled Moonlit Dreams can possibly be real. From their debate, it appears that the Moon was photoshopped from a different image.

YouTube video

FStoppers posted the video and the accompanying article debating whether or not Moonlit Dreams is real. As they write, all this matters because Peter Lik’s team reportedly swears that his images are “real.” So, the guys from FStoppers decided to figure out whether or not this is true.

They explore several elements of the shot. The first problematic element is the lighting and its direction on different elements of the image. The shadow on the upper right side of the moon also looks off. Then, they wonder if it is possible to achieve a shot this perfectly sharp at a single shot, or even with focus stacking. The position of the clouds looks unnatural too, and it’s fishy that there’s no any atmosphere distorting the shot.

In addition to analyzing the elements of this image, Steve Cullen of FStoppers compares the moon from Moonlit Dreams to the one in Bella Luna. They seem identical. Cullen explains that it would be “extremely unlikely to capture the exact same face of the moon in two separate shots at different times and in different locations.” He explains this is because of the moon’s movements relative to the Earth.

Images: Peter Lik (YouTube screenshot)

Regardless of the heated debate, “Moonlit Dreams” seems to be selling well.

FStoppers team says they haven’t spoken to anyone from Lik’s team about this image. But, the guys assume they’d sell it as a “single, unaltered frame.” So, this makes you wonder how much Photoshop is too much. “How far is too far?”

You can compare the photos and see for yourself, and I’ll let you be the judge. You can find Moonlit Dreams on this link, and even zoom it in to do some pixel peeping.  Another photo, Bella Luna, is available here.

[via PetaPixel, FStoppers; lead image: YouTube screenshot (left), Bagima (right)]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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27 responses to “Community calls Peter Lik out over “photoshopped” Moon photo”

  1. Jim O'Donnell Avatar
    Jim O’Donnell

    The moon in these images are simply too large to be real. Come on. Go outside and look at the moon. It never looks like this. It is obviously on its surface a piece of wonderful art made with photoshop. Nothing wrong with that.

    1. Steve Cullen Avatar
      Steve Cullen

      Photographically, the moon can look this large but it would require a lens in the 1500-2000mm range. That would mean that Lik would have had to be standing a few miles (or more) away from the cliff face in the shot. From my understanding of the park in China where it was shot, there isn’t a place to shoot from that far away.

      1. Jim O'Donnell Avatar
        Jim O’Donnell

        Steve, thank you for your response. I will learn more about the compression that is possible.

  2. mrussell24 Russell Avatar
    mrussell24 Russell

    Can’t be real. If I remember anything about Science class, it’s that the moon is much farther away than the clouds. How could the moon be in front of the clouds in the background. Cool image, but don’t sell it as a single, unaltered photo. It’s a conceptual composite image.

  3. Duncan Knifton Avatar
    Duncan Knifton

    The Moon can look huge when it first arrives….however, I’m doubtful on his one….

    1. Ash Avatar

      The moon appearing extra-large is an optical illusion. The moon is always going to be the same size in your image given the same focal length, same shooting location and same elevation above the horizon.

  4. Astro Avatar

    First, the moon is actually NOT too large in that to be fake. If you are far away and are using a very long lens (like 600mm), this is a realistic shot if you judge it just by the size of the moon.

    I’m also not convinced by the argument it’s the same moon as in the other photo. It’s not. The left limb appears slightly different, though this COULD be due to simply cutting out a few pixels of the moon around the edge.

    However, there are several things that indicate, to me, it’s a composite and highly modified. (1) The clouds are behind the moon except for the one at the bottom. Impossible, plain and simple. (2) The part of the moon in shadow (the dark crescent) should be dark. It is lit but featureless. So it was at least colored in post-processing, and it was lightened. (3) At sunset, that phase of the moon is low in the sky, and you will get atmospheric distortion, even if you’re on the top of Mt. Everest. Because of distortion, not only will the moon NOT be a circle (it will be a distorted ellipse), but it will be blurry. This is simply too sharp to be a single exposure of the moon at that time of day at that position in the sky. (4) It is highly unlikely that the colors you would get in the clouds in a direction OPPOSITE the sun (as it must be for this phase of the moon, regardless of if it’s sunrise or sunset) are almost never this colorful. That adds to the likelihood it’s a composite but does not make nor break it.

    And, as a side note: (5) The shot in late twilight on the right in this article is also a composite. The part of the moon that is in shadow should not be so dark relative to the sky. It should be either slightly lighter or the same color. Keep in mind that the dark side is in shadow of the moon from the sun, so it’s receiving no light except from Earthshine. So it should be as black as the sky. *As*the*sky*. (Or, slightly brighter due to Earthshine.) It should not be black with the sky brighter.

    It’s pretty, but speaking as an astronomer and astrophotographer, both these shots are composites and have some pretty obvious tells.

    1. Rob Avatar

      I disagree on the darkness of the shadow. During the day, the shadowed part of the moon is considerably darker than the surrounding sky. Same with the “blue hour”.

      1. Astro Avatar

        I disagree with you on this. I’ve photographed the moon many times during the day and it’s always similar to the surrounding sky, or brighter due to Earthshine. The only possible slight exception I can think of is when I photographed the moon occulting Venus in the dawn sky, but I don’t have those images with me and I’m on travel so I can’t check.

        Regardless, the moon should NOT be as dark as is in that second image on the right: The moon’s shadowed area does not *absorb* scattered light within Earth’s atmosphere, plain and simple, which is what it would have to do to be darker than the sky.

    2. Steve Cullen Avatar
      Steve Cullen

      Hi there! I’m the author of the Fstoppers article and I just came across this thread, thought I would chime in here. Without a doubt, it is the same moon in both shots. Besides the features lining up almost exactly, the shadow on the right side is the same on both shots. The shadow in “Moonlit Dreams” only looks the way it does due to shadow recovery being done in post. This is a very common “look” from bad post processing. As for why the left side appears to move just a little bit, well that’s simply an issue of scaling the images correctly. The scaling is just a tad off so you see what appears to be a difference. It would be impossible for the left limb to be different without the entire rest of the moon’s face being different as well. Also, you’re looking at images with two different resolutions. “Bella Luna” is lower resolution and the moon appears to also have been intentionally blurred a bit. 100% they are the same moon.

      1. Astro Avatar

        Fair enough, I wasn’t sure and didn’t try to superimpose them and do a difference to check.

      2. udi tirosh Avatar
        udi tirosh

        Thanks for dropping by man!

        1. Steve Cullen Avatar
          Steve Cullen

          Absolutely. Happy to add to the discussions!

      3. spam Avatar

        Of course it’s the same moon. We have only one.

        1. Steve Cullen Avatar
          Steve Cullen

          LOL. Yes, true. I have been trying to be careful when I write this stuff to say “same moon image” since the point is that he used the same snap of the moon in both “Bella Luna” and “Moonlit Dreams”.

          1. spam Avatar

            Sorry, couldn’t resist the comment. And of course it’s a composite image with the clouds behind the moon. Not sure if the moon is from the same image file. It certainly could be, but he probably have lots of moon images to choose from.

    3. Alex Ramsay Avatar
      Alex Ramsay

      Apart from anything else, a 600mm won’t produce a moon image of anything like this size – you would need about 2000mm, and would have to be a couple of miles away from the foreground. Nothing wrong with a composite image like this, as long as it’s not sold as news

      1. Astro Avatar

        You are incorrect, for you are assuming a certain number of pixels — i.e., it wasn’t cropped NOR was it on a crop sensor. For example, my 400mm lens on my 7D Mk II is effectively 640 mm, a field of view 2.1° high such that the moon fills 1/4 of the height of the frame, which is plenty to get some nice detail. If you stack and median-combine multiple shots, you can get it to be pretty sharp, too. A 2000mm lens would have a FOV 0.69° high, so it would capture the moon, but the atmosphere will prohibit you from getting pixel-perfect detail, it will be blurred by several pixels. Less is actually more in that case unless you’re reducing it in size later.

        As for shooting from several miles away with that focal length, yes, that’s true and that’s what I was talking about. And lots off people do that in order to get this *kind* of shot *without* any image manipulation. Such as the shot posted here:

        1. Alex Ramsay Avatar
          Alex Ramsay

          Fair point – I stand corrected

  5. Chris Avatar

    The only thing missing from this photo is three howling wolves.

  6. Peter Kwok Avatar
    Peter Kwok

    It is astronomically incorrect! The north pole of the Moon is on top, exactly the same way astronomy sites would show it. You can only get this orientation when shooting from the Arctic area.

    I think he probably copied from NASA. I can’t say steal, since NASA photos are public domain.

  7. Stuart Pike Avatar
    Stuart Pike

    I like the photo. Photography is an art form to me and I’m not going to make sure things are the correct size at the correct angle in the correct position. If I like it I like it.

  8. Mick Flynn Avatar
    Mick Flynn

    It’s art, but if it was sold anytime as a news image it’s deciet.

  9. timothyf7 Avatar

    If you look at the bottom of the moon on the left (at about 7 o’clock), you’ll see upon enlarging, a cloud is suppose to be in front of the moon. This is the exact spot where the rocks block the base of the moon on the right. Same moon shot. He may have taken the picture of the moon on the right, but he definitely composited that moon to the photo on the left.

  10. Jennie Contreras Avatar
    Jennie Contreras

    I was at the Peter Lik Gallery in Aspen 2 days ago and this image was in the dark display room where they show you how the images change with light… As part of the presentation, the sales guy explained that this image was shot in China and it is a composite of 2 images. He was very open about not hiding the fact that it was heavily post processed… So… there you go! ;)

  11. Loren Monson Avatar
    Loren Monson

    i bought this from the peter lik gallery and they always said it was a composite. before i even bought it. it is still a beautiful piece of art

  12. Michael Gmirkin Avatar
    Michael Gmirkin

    M’yeah, the moon doesn’t ever come inside the atmosphere. So, it can’t be in front of the sunset, or clouds.

    Of course they’re Photoshopped, and he’s a lying liar.