Can this Photo by Peter Lik Possibly be Real?

Peter Lik, whom many believe is the world's most successful photographer, recently released an image that is pretty unbelievable. 

Although Peter Lik is one of the most successful photographers on the planet, he is also one of the most controversial. Peter's work is undeniably impressive, but the controversy surrounding Lik's work usually has to do with the amount of post-processing done on his images. His sales team would have you believe that everything is straight out of his film camera, from a single shot, but anyone who has ever tried to photograph a landscape knows there's more going on. So how far does Peter go when it comes to post processing his images? I personally never felt like he crossed the line until he started releasing images of the moon. 

Yesterday, Patrick forwarded an email he received of Lik's new image "Moonlit Dreams" to David, Mike, and I, and of course a massive debate began. How could this possibly be real? 

Dynamic Range

Is it possible to get a correct exposure on the moon, sky, and foreground all at the same time? We all assumed it was not but David actually proves that this is possible in the video above. 

Lighting Direction On The Scene

Is the lighting in this shot realistic at all? What is lighting the sky and clouds? Is that moonlight giving the clouds their backlight appearance? Is that even possible in a single exposure? Why do the trees appear to be lit from above?  Can the foreground cliff face have enough light on it at the end of the day when the image is exposed for the moon? There are so many questions we have about the overall lighting in this scene.

Lighting On The Moon

Is it possible to see shadows on the moon that aren't pitch black? Why can we see a shadow on the upper right side of the moon that are a washed out yellow rather disappearing into the earth's atmosphere?

Depth Of Field 

Is there any camera on earth capable of capturing both the moon and trees in perfect focus at the same time? If not, is it even possible to get this shot with focus stacking? Using this depth of field calculator, Patrick used a modest f/16 at 1000mm on a normal Nikon D800 35mm camera and the total depth of field was only 1,300 feet.  

Size Of The Moon

How far back would Lik need to stand to make the moon this large in relation to the trees? Why isn't there any atmosphere distorting the shot? What millimeter lens would have to be used to register the moon this size on the camera's sensor?

The Clouds

One of the stranger elements of this image are the clouds. If you look at the left side of the moon, you can clearly see some clouds in front of the moon as they should be but other clouds appear to be behind the moon. This makes the moon look like it's actually WITHIN the Earth's atmosphere. Why do all of the clouds not appear in front of the moon?

Is This The Same Moon From Other Shots? 

David put this image on top of another one of Lik's moon images and they matched up perfectly. Although the shadow density isn't the same, the size and shape of the shadows on the moon appears to be identical. Could Peter simply be recycling a high res image of the moon he shot on a clear day and using that throughout much of his fine art images?

Why does this matter? 

Peter Lik has become extremely wealthy selling prints that his sale team swear are "real." As we all know, each photographer (and the general public) has their own view on how much Photoshop is too much, and at a certain point, we can easily cross that line. Although we haven't spoken with anyone working for Lik about this particular image, we imagine they will say that this too is a single, unaltered frame. So the question then becomes, how far is too far? If Peter simply used Photoshop to focus stack the moon and the trees to get an acceptable depth of field, most people would be ok with it. But what if he enlarged the moon to twice the size? What if the moon wasn't even in the shot at all and he added it in? What if he has a single shot of the moon that he is Photoshopping into a bunch of different prints? 

What do you think? Could this shot be real or is it crossing the line that separates photography from digital art? 

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175 Comments

Previous comments
Jon Dize's picture

Certainly, I don't have a clue... You're right! My error... Won't happen again, I promise!

Felix Wu's picture

No better how much reference you put in it cannot save this fake image. It's fake from the inner core...

The moon is too round and too sharp (pull up the exposure to check), it is too perfect a photoshop layer put on top of another shot.

1) The real moon at that close to horizon would have atmospheric distortion
2) you never get a perfect round moon because of craters
3) moon shadow darker than the sky
4) cloud behind the moon
5) top down lighting on foreground
6)...

You seem to have changed the numbers in the DOF calculator unrealistic levels. You can't fill the frame at 600mm. Plus, what about the 10 other aspects of this that prove that it is fake? Out of the hundreds of comments on this post and on Youtube you are literally the only person who believes this is real.

Jon Dize's picture

Never said it was real. Said it did not have to be fake.

Aaron Lyfe's picture

I think it is a composite. I've never seen the moon that low in the atmosphere not photograph elliptical in shape due to the atmospheric distortion. Plain and simple, it is too round to be shot that low

Great discussion. It is impossible to get such a sharp image of moon so low above horizon unless you are in low humidity environment like desert or high mountains which we see this is not the case. and do not let me start on the clouds. Composited image for sure.

Motti Bembaron's picture

On time mark 16:14 to 16:47 we see properly exposed moon and foreground. Yes, it seems to be possible, however, what we also see is complete lack of details on the moon. It looks like in order to see details on the moon the photo has to be underexposed and therefore the foreground would disappear in darkness.

At time mark 15:58 we see a beautiful moon with glorious details however, it was shot in complete dark and therefore much higher in the sky, meaning, less (thinner) atmosphere interference.

It seems highly improbable to have so much details on the moon when it is lit by the setting sun AND has the thickest amount of atmosphere between us and it.

George Popescu's picture

That's no moon!!!!

Sorry, I thought this was a Star Wars forum, how everyone in their right mind would assume that this photo is NOT a composite and try to find reasons to explain that it was a one-shot it's beyond me.

It is impossible for the moon to be that size in relation to those trees unless the moon was very close to them or the trees were very close to the moon, in space...somewhere.

Why is this even a discussion?

Not sure that’s true. Far enough away from the trees they could be this size in relation to the moon.

Matthew Saville's picture

You're far too trusting. Dantooine is too remote to make an effective demonstration, but don't worry...

The *appearance* of clouds behind the moon- possible but only on shots very low on the horizon. If the moon is that low it no longer looks circular. It looks elliptical. Check out http://stuartwalmsley.com/shooting-the-supermoon/ Note the apparent vertical compressing of the moon. Also note the aberration of the disk. The edges of the moon are wavy in places. It has nothing to do with his camera - it’s the Earth’s atmosphere.
Additionally, I’ve never seen such crystal-clear detail from a single photo of the moon shot at the horizon.
This Lik shot - composite.

james aitcheson's picture

love this format of sitting an discussing. As for the image, I have to say it is totally composite. I have shot the moon on my 1200mm telescope with crop sensor for the crop factor and I have never gotten crisp edges of the moon like this or a depth of field like this without stacking images. Way too much about this image says composite. I have no problem with composite images but don't sell it as done in camera when it isn't.

Graham Glover's picture

I'm 3:41 into the video. It's fake. Whoever picked up on the clouds is right. I took the image, brought it into GIMP (yes I use Lr and Ps, but GIMP was perfect for this), and zoomed and posterized it. There should be evidence of clouds in front of everything. Posterizing would quickly show effects of clouds in front of the Moon, as it does in the lower portion at the 7:00 position. In GIMP I looked at various posterize levels from 3 to 256. Except for the obvious clouds in front of the Moon at the bottom, the Moon is otherwise untouched. It's fake.

I've liked Peter Lik's work in the past from a family trip down under many years ago, but his confidential sale of "Phantom" showed him as being a different kind of artist (intended).

It's a nice image, but it's fake. There's no story here.

Scott Basile's picture

Reminds me of the logo for Mr. Miyagi's dojo in Karate Kid. Lik's genius lies in his marketing, not his photography. And man is he ever a genius at marketing. Wish I had one percent of his talent in that regard. And OF COURSE it's a composite. The dude selling canvas prints at the farmers market makes shit like this.

Vladimir Ambia's picture

I also took this the other night when that full moon was all big and sheit, SOOC fyi.

Patrick Hall's picture

I think this is fake. Look at the wood wall below Lee's hand! I think that is a dead giveaway

Gil Aegerter's picture

THE REAL GIVEAWAY is the small salamander on the cracked rock at lower upper right. That is a Bolitoglossa jacksoni. They are native to Guatemala. However, the rock strata in Lik's image is from the Cambrian Formation in the Wisconsin Dells. And THAT, my friends, is the proof that this is a fake.

Matthew Saville's picture

Here's my problem with this whole situation:

Peter Lik could have easily settled for being the most financially successful digital artist, or photo composite artist, or I suppose "fine art" photographer, ...whatever you want to call it. He would have still gotten filthy rich, because his art is eye candy, and his sales tactics are highly polished.

But instead he decided to lie, repeatedly, insisting that his artwork is "true" landscape photography when it clearly isn't. Like, so blatantly impossible, that it's the laughing stock of all "purist" landscape photographers who have ever photographed an actual moonrise.

In my opinion this is partly because socially, the title of "photographer" simply holds more prestige than "photo composite artist", at least it currently does in this digital era we are just now exploring.

In other words, Lik knows that people WANT to believe a photograph of a beautiful scene. They like the thought of it actually happening. That the moon actually rose in that exact spot, that it was actually that "big", relative to the landscape beneath it, etc. Or the Milky Way, or whatever else.

Like it or not, society has engendered a strong element of inherent factuality and truth to photographs in general, (naively or not) and now some "photographers" are abusing this aspect of human nature in order to make their art APPEAR more impressive than it actually is.

A lot of photographers nowadays will say, "So what? Photography is art, and all photos are edited to some degree; who cares if some artists break all the "rules", don't we always say that rules are meant to be broken?"

Well, I just explained why it's a big deal. It all boils down to this: If you're HONEST and OPEN about your art, then bravo! You're an artist, pursue your craft. Some viewers might not call your art "photography", but that's fine.

However if you LIE about your artwork, whether by omission or blatantly, because you're afraid that some viewers will either say "this isn't photography!" or, "this form of art isn't for me" ...then that's on YOU, not your viewers.

So instead of getting defensive, or starting to lie altogether, maybe you should seriously reconsider either your methods, or what you classify your art as.

People will scoff at me for "making rules that conveniently 'disqualify' others' work", or "dismissing composite images as something inferior to 'true' photography." These arguments completely miss the point. My point is, simply put, we're entering a whole new era of digital artwork, and there's no sense in being terrified of "drawing a line" between the two distinct art forms any longer. We've already been praising CGI movies, from outer-space sci-fi to middle-earth fantasy, for decades. Nowadays the average photographer has easy access to incredible compositing tools that Lucas or Spielberg would have paid a fortune to get just 20-30 years ago. And they are legendary artists. So I say, it's high time we call a spade a spade, and be proud of whether we pursue "traditional photography", or "digital composite artwork", ...instead of feeling shunned or ashamed.

Jon Dize's picture

Now photos that are "eye candy" are not real photography either? I never cease to be amazed.

Matthew Saville's picture

1.) You've totally misunderstood my point, but I guess that was probably inevitable from someone who enjoys being argumentative, and who only engages in a discussion for the sake of "winning" it.

2.) Deleting all your other comments was a pretty childish move, don't you think? Were you frustrated about people not seeing your side of the argument? Don't worry, I read everything carefully, and I understood your points very well. You made some very good ones about AA and the red filter, etc. But apparently if you can't "win" then it's not even worth leaving a record that you ever had the discussion in the first place? Seems a bit "1984" of you, but whatever.

If you're frustrated by the direction that this discussion has gone, that's on you.

Going back to item #1, I'll say this- if you love creating eye candy, that's great! In fact I absolutely love good sci-fi eye candy, or fantasy art, including digital photo composite artwork. I've seen plenty of stunning pieces of artwork, and in my opinion there will soon (if not already) be wings in museums dedicated to the craft.

But at a certain point, you can't call it photography any more. And, wherever you draw the line as an artist and a photographer, your viewers will decide what to classify your final result as. And there's nothing you can do about that; it's the viewer's prerogative. So get over it, and be proud of who you are as an artist.

Jon Dize's picture

Matthew Saville, again you presume way too much. I am not like other people, most people. I don't enjoy gaggles. I have never seen a football, basketball, baseball, soccer game, I don't get Spectator Sports where I watch people play a game I am no good at and then cheer them on as though we have some kind of connection, my boys, my team, when in reality, they don't care about the fans, except that they need money from them. I'd rather be boating, flying, SCUBA Diving, golfing, spelunking, hiking, exploring, traveling... things I can actually DO, not just WATCH OTHERS DO.

I am allergic to humans on a species level, I think as a species, from what I have seen over 63 years, the entire friggin' species is PSYCHOTIC.

So, I don't gaggle, nor do I play GAMES.

I follow the attitude of Groucho Marx, "I would never want to be a member of any club that would have someone like me as a member."

I am not my biggest fan.

I don't participate in GANG MENTALITIES, such as the Catholic Gang, the Baptist Gang, the Hindi Gang, the Democratic Gang, the Republican Gang, the Tea Party or Flea Party Gang. To me the only difference between these GANGS and the Crips and Bloods Gangs is that two of the GANGS honor their membership with their lives and the rest... well they wear nice suits and pray a lot.

I presented a point of view based on years of experience and a healthy education in the Art, Craft, Science and Business of photography, which has been pretty much my entire life for 43 years as a licensed, bonded professional.

I was unware that there had been a MOON comparison of Peter Lik's moons which appear to be identical in two different images. Once Lee Morris pointed me to the link that showed the comparison, instead of arguing that Peter Lik did not create composites for those photos, I conceded that it appear quite clearly that he did.

I still contend that it was not necessary that he did, the components of the image were doable with Lik's resources, but UNLIKE many, once I had made my point, I did not feel the NEED, nor DESIRE to sit and play Texutral Ping Poing for DAYS, WEEKS, MONTHS on the same topic. JUST NOT MY GIG!

I posted my point of view. I accepted the FACTS that Lee Morris showed me regarding the composite and agreed LIk very likely did use composite images, including the same moon twice.

What would you expect or want me to do, argue about that for weeks?

Once I stated my point. I got opposition and we went back and forth for most of the day... Why would I intentionally drag that out for two days or three days? I don't get it... Why would we have to argue the same point for several days, weeks?

Leaving my comments on the page would EVOKE EXACTLY SUCH REPITITION to where I get notices every hour of the day wanting to argue the issue, which I had very likely aready moved away from. I DON'T DWELL FOR DAYS ON END! Again... not my gig!

So, again... those who know me, know that after I have said my point of view, reviewed and accepted as many responses and arguments as I have time to deal with, then I move on.

On FACEBOOK, once I have posted my comments to people, ESPECIALLY FRIENDS AND FAMILY... I give the comments a day or two to be read, responded to and then I PURGE my comments, because after a day or two of bickering back and forth, comments just become NOISE!!! A HUMMMMMMM!

I also developed a habit of removing my comments from FRIENDS AND FAMILY facebook pages within hours of my commenting, SO AS TO FREE UP THEIR TIME LINES SO THEY DON'T HAVE TO CRAWL OVER DOZENS OR HUNDREDS OF COMMENTS THAT ARE DATED AND HAVE BECOME LITTLE MORE THAN OBSTACLES.

Is that hard for you to understand? Does that make any sense to you at all?

You see my removing my comments as some kind of childish move, because you have been trained to think that way and likely cannot imagine any other reason.

You don't even know what you don't know, when it comes to ME and how I do things.

I removed my comments TO GET THEM OUT OF YOUR WAY. TO REMOVE MY NOISE FROM YOUR SCREENS. TO MAKE WAY FOR SOMEBODY ELSE WHO DOES NOT WANT TO TRUDGE THROUGH DOZENS OF LINES OF NOISE EVERY DAY.

I do it as a COURTESY, especially to familiy and friends, so as to not clog up their timelines and comment threads.

Once I say my point, answer or ask a question and I am sure the intended reader has read it... I DELETE IT! Why leave it there?

That is how I do things. EVERYONE on my Facebook page knows every few weeks, I use software to TOTALLY PURGE ALL OF MY COMMENTS ALL THE WAY BACK TO 2009. I start FRESH every four weeks or so, when I get tired of reading my own NOISE.

THAT is why I remove my comments, not just from THIS THREAD OR THIS TOPIC, but from my Facebook page.

In fact, because of the clientele I photograph, largely celebrities and Rock Musicians, within two weeks of signing on to Facebook, I had 2,260 FRIENDS. After a year or two, I realized most of those FRIENDS were my friends, because of the people I know, so I REMOVED MY NOISE from their timelines, by UNfriending them. I did the same for Family and Friends who I knew did not share my own political views. I MUTED THEM, so they did not have to listen to my NOISE all day long.

I removed 1,680 Friends on Facebook over a Friday and Saturday and even more the following months.

Why? Not because I was mad at anyone or did not like anyone... but because I was trying to remove MY MONOTONY from their pages every single day. I did not feel they should have to be blasted with my political views all day long. I did not dump 2,000 friends, because I did not like them, I did so, because I respected their SPACE, which did not need ME in their face every day.

So, believe what you want, but THAT is why I far more often than not, delete my comments once I am sure everyone I expected to read them has done so. I GET THEM OUT OF THE WAY AND FREE UP THE SPACE FOR OTHERS!

Yeah, I will likely leave this post, because it helps clarify the error you made in presuming why I deleted my posts. Shame on you for making me leave this long ass novella. I would have otherwise deleted it as well.

Hey! Love ya, MEAN IT!

Matthew Saville's picture

It's a shame, really, because I'm a lot like you; I couldn't care less for team sports, or spectatorship in general. I also strongly dislike un-productive discussions that start off intelligently but quickly descend into bickering, ...or get erased altogether.

The discussion was a good one; you made intelligent points about depth of field, and the fact that the image is /THEORETICALLY/ possible.

Then you deleted it all, leaving a lop-sided discussion that makes no sense.

I'm sure you know your own motives better than others, but in my opinion it would have been more productive to simply leave a new comment that mentions your newfound observations of the two-moon comparison, and your new conclusion.

Certainly, your experience is longer than mine, but I do have 10+ years worth of experience moderating online community discussions, for what that's worth.

Jon Dize's picture

Thank you for the sensible and reasonable response.

Photography has provided a great life for me.

All of my dreams accept one came true.

I always dreamed of being a helicopter pilot, I became a fixed wing pilot instead.

My client list of celebrated souls, NASA STS-26 assignment and hundreds of other events were beyond my wildest imagination, in fact, I never imagined I would ever do such things growing up as a Waterman/Oyster Tonger in the Chesapeake Bay pre-teen.

But I swear, it gets harder and harder for me to talk with photographers.

I remember when I was 25, having acquire a large body of knowledge in photography, I was approached by an old man who introduced himself as a long-time professional photographer throughout his extended life and I remember after several minutes of listening to him ramble, surely about his prideful life-long passion, I thought to myself, "Yaddah! Yaddah! Will he ever stop?"

Now at 63, as I said a licensed professional since the age of 18.5, which I always offer, but my wife says I just turned 19 at the time... I realize. I am now that old man, pridefully rambling.

Sometimes I could swear I can read in their eyes, "Yaddah! Yaddah! Will he never stop?"

Such is life!

Wish you the best life has to offer Matthew.

Matthew Saville's picture

Do take pride in knowing that people still want to read your ramblings, even if they disagree, and even if you change your mind. I hope that next time you might remember that, before things get too Orwellian on the internet. Alzheimers runs in my family, so I can only hope that by 63 I still have long, rambling discussions about the things I'm passionate about, and the people I care about.

Ariel Martini's picture

Well a quick google on his name brings this https://news.artnet.com/market/new-york-times-exposes-peter-lik-photogra... that tells us he is not only NOT successful, but also HAVEN'T sold that picture for that record price, having cheated his way into the headlines. The article says it all: cheesy looking, heavily manipulated pictures that appeal to the great public, being far from any artistic or resale value.

Samuel Flores Sanchez's picture

OMG welcome to sanity!!! Thanks for that link!

Stas F's picture

Mwahaha mystery solved

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