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? 

Log in or register to post comments

175 Comments

Previous comments

Composite, for sure. The moon is never grey when at the horizons, but yellow/red/orange. That moon was shot later in the evening.

So the Thomas Kincaid of photography gets caught in a composite? I'm shocked, shocked!

The lack of atmospheric refraction should be a dead giveaway. Also, the background sky illumination is so far off that it's not even funny. When the moon is rising after sunset, which is the only possible scenario when the moon is three days past full (as it is in this picture) the sky towards the horizon is darker than it is higher up.

Eduardo Mugica's picture

in mexico we have a similar photograper http://www.pepesoho.com/the-work.php , who too says he dont retouch his images, that all his work is straight out of camera. is really similar.

Clouds should never be behind the moon that crisply. Am I missing something obvious? This seems like a slam dunk composite.

I enjoy his work. I believe some of his photos are “out of camera” but nearly all I have seen are retouched. Some are clearly more than others.
Some points- that photo may not be in his gallery when you go there...
-I’m not sure they claim all his work is out of camera. He does enter photo competitions like ppa and those are probably where he lays his credibility down. I would be shocked to see this moon photo in a competition unless it’s in a composite category.
- I’m pretty sure to achieve that much moon detail you need many exposures using a sky tracker.
-I see the moon in front of the atmosphere and the pic would have been nice even w out the moon tossed in. Even if he did I don’t think it really matters unless he specifically has this art sold claiming it’s one single exposure.
- also in gallery sales people refer to him as “Pete” and he “uses lots of cameras”.
Dec 3 2017.
- if I’m wrong about anything within also please don’t sue me.

Did nobody else notice the moon just disappearing after a certain point by the trees, when there should still be moon visible? Or just me?

Juan Stockenstroom's picture

no need for a 30 minutes discussion trying to analyze the photograph, reverse search on a popular stock image site brings up an image that contains a moon with an uncanny resemblance (which was also clearly composited from the original source. https://www.shutterstock.com/.../buddha-statue-face-moon.... Now here is where it gets interesting if I screengrab that image from Shutterstock, reverse search it in google..... look what pops up: https://www.gettyimages.com/detail/photo/full-moon-royalty-free-image/46...

I have, yet, to see a critique of a painting where people argued about the medium. What paint was used, what was used to apply the paint. What was going on in the painter's mind.
Also, aren't NASA photos, free for anyone to use, however we want?
I believe that art has no rules. Why do photographers impose arbitrary rules on themselves?

Jon Dize's picture

Lee Morris - February 2, 2018 Destin Sparks
As long as they admit it’s a made up image then I have no problem with it. I just don’t know how many people would want to buy that.

Show me the interview or content where Peter says he does not manipulate his images and then we have something we can find fault with. Of course he does! I have never said he doesn't. I've the Super Moon image DOES NOT HAVE TO BE FAKED! It is an image that could be captured in camera. AND THEN MANIPULATED as we all know it was.

Jon Dize's picture

Hey guys... I have exceeded my Textural Ping Pong budget for the month. I really should have known better at my age. I will refrain from this point on.

Jon Dize's picture

I spent the day typing, when I should have done something more rewarding, like having my Hummer washed. Damn you Peter Lik! That's my quarter's worth... I'm all in! Adios!

It's very simple: If Peter Lik Just assumed he used multiple exposures and focus, with some level of post, this discussion would be over at a long time

Well! This is obviously manipulated image. I'm not against manipulation as far as the photographer mention about it in caption/about of the photo. I've seen many amateur and also professional photographers compositing image without mentioning anything about that. And what I feel that he is making people/audience fool, those who don't know what Photoshop can do start appreciating photo like, "wow! What a timing/what a creativity" And that's not fair. I love peter lik's photo. But for me from this photo, I'll have a less respect for Peter lik.

David Wilder's picture

Hey Lee, Patrick, David Mike.... I’ve got some interesting info for you guys that could be interesting to bring up.

I have a friend who will remain anonymous for obvious reasons. They are a former sales rep for Lik and worked in his LV galleries. They explained to me what they are instructed to say when asked about photoshop. They are supposed to inform the buyer that Lik “will only manipulate the image in such ways that are possible in a dark room.”

So I don’t know if this changes the outlook on this image or not. For example they said that a shot of the moon could be exposed in traditional dark room methods and then the rock face exposed from another image through the enlarging process. Or another example was enriching colours through different developing meathods.

Now from what I remember in high school photography, you can do some things but exposing multiple images on an enlarger and getting that kind of result makes me leery of the explanation I was told, beyond many other holes in the explanation. Things like noise, sharpness etc etc.

I don’t think my friend is telling a lie, I just think that’s what they are told and that’s what they go by based on what Lik tells them. Regardless there is something fishy happening for sure.

I think Lik has the sales reps bend the truth real hard. I know Lik works with his film camera still but I’ve also seen him with a digital back Hasselblad. So photoshop has to be in the workflow.

An interesting video for you guys to do would be a comparison of what functions in photoshop are actually possible in a darkroom. Maybe find one of the best darkroom manipulators around and have them do the same task on images. Like colour manipulation, dodge and burn, can you composite in a dark room, etc. I know you guys would use someone like Elia for the digital half of that video but hey give me a shout if you guys use the idea I would love to be involved. Lol

The photo is perfectly real. 100% OOC. Size (ratio), sharpness, clouds, illumination, white balance, ... completely plausible. I shot the attached pic a few days ago. Just be at the right place, right time, have patience, wait for the decisive moment and bring in quality gear. Geeeze. Get a live, you jealous lamers...

Eric Snyder's picture

He more then likely did this for marketing, because it got ALOT of people talking about him now, And I'm sure even people that never heard of him before, new clients?

To me the focus point is at the closest part of the cliff and the DOF (in the "first" of the photos used it it is a composite" doesn't even extent to the back of the cliff, nor does that look image look compressed enough to be the same lens as the moon.

Jim Radford's picture

I've seen Lik's work ... Stunning, but stacked. Ive done it for a church, shown below. Huge DOF. But in his defense, consider just the clouds as possibly defracted light? Here's a shot I made looking WEST of Hanalei Bay from St Regis Hotel in Kauai ... at dawn. Not at sunset. Not dusk. The sun was behind me. Light was just high enough to bend or reach over the clouds. Maybe not the same app as Lik but similar concept? And still a great shot by Lik.

Hey guys. I do astrophotography and have some light to shed on this. Yes, I was face palming with some of the stuff you guys were saying in the video.

The first thing you guys should have done was used Stellarium to find out where the Moon and Sun were positioned for this image. The way the Moon is illuminated, the positioning of the terminator line, and how it is rotated gives us two clues. It tells us the time of day and the latitude on Earth. This was taken about 10-20 minutes before SUNRISE, two days after a full Moon, at a latitude of around 70 degrees in the Northern Hemisphere. If the Moon was near the horizon, which it appears it is here, then the sun would be less than 5 degrees below the horizon, just about to rise. Therefore, IT IS possible that the sunlit atmosphere would be softly illuminating the clouds and foreground just enough to balance this dynamic range. That would also brighten the atmosphere enough to cause the Moons craters to not be black.

70 degree latitude would place him in Alaska. The cold dry air there “could” also lead to a sharper image of the Moon and foreground even though it’s that close to the horizon. Especially if it was taken on a mountain at a high altitude. (less atmosphere to shoot through).

What lens was used? Can not be determined for sure. The edge to edge sharpness tells me a refractor was used. Not a reflector telescope. The Moon does not fit in the frame. Assuming it is not cropped, the focal length would HAVE to be more than 1200mm. My telescope is 1500mm and a full frame sensor will fit the entire Moon in frame with some room to spare. Even if he used a 1200mm lens with a cropped body, it would still fit the entire Moon in frame. So it would have to be a 1200mm lens with a 1.4 teleconverter and a cropped body. After observing the foreground for quite some time. I would bet that the large tree is only around 30ft tall. Which would give us about 100ft worth of foreground height. If a 1200mm lens was used with a 1.4 teleconverter giving us 1680mm focal length, we would have 0.9 degrees angle of view with a cropped sensor. That would put the foreground at 6,366 ft away. Now we can calculate depth of field better. The far focus limit would be infinity at f/14 and up. So with my "estimations", it WOULD even be possible to have foreground and Moon in focus.

HOWEVER!

I’ve taken many high quality moon images and in my opinion, this is still a composite. The detail in the moon is too exceptional for a single shot. That Moon image is the result of stacking many photos to improve signal to noise.

So here is how I would have done this and maybe its how he pulled it off. I think he knew the place he needed to stand to capture the Moon behind these trees. On January 3rd, he arrived before sunset and set up. He brought with him a 1200mm lens, 1.4 converter, a cropped body, and a very sturdy computerized equatorial telescope mount. He polar aligned his mount, attached the massive 1200mm lens and got ready to image the moon. In the middle of the night the Moon would have been around 35 degrees high in the sky in Alaska giving him much better atmospheric conditions to image through. He would have been able to shoot the moon for a few hours. (A computerized equatorial telescope mount is capable of following/tracking the Moon as it moves across the sky, allowing him to take hundreds of identical images of the Moon.) Then he would have waited until sunrise. Approaching sunrise, the Moon would be getting close to the horizon. As it began setting into the trees, the sunlight from the sunrise would begin illuminating the foreground and the fog/clouds. He snapped a bunch of pics and chose this composition as the best. All would be aligned, and pretty well contained dynamic range speaking. However, the Moon would be pretty blurry from being so low on the horizon and a single shot. But no worries. He was able to capture hundreds of images a few hours prior that he could stack and process to produce a wonderful image of the Moon. Then all he’d have to do is replace the real/blurry Moon with is identical process version and there ya go. A composite? Yes? But when ya think about it, if he really did it that way, thats pretty freakin awesome.

Or, it’s all completely fake. lol

On a side note;

The other moon image you found that looks like the same moon is a composite. It’s easy, you can’t expose the Moon and stars together. Moon exposure would be low ISO and fast shutters. Stars would be high ISO and long shutter. Thats why that inky black side of the moon confused you guys so long. Its IMPOSSIBLE to expose in that way.

Great video.

First off, the horse has been beaten, but I want a kick haha. Of course, the attention has only boosted his sales lmao :)

So many great and obvious points that this is a composite coming from yourselves and the community. I have no problems with the piece - it's a cool composite, I do however have a problem with the claim that this is out of camera and/or a single frame. That's just bogus.

- I'm surprised nobody talked at length about the clouds. Assuming the clouds aren't moving like a torrential windstorm, the motion blur in the clouds indicates the shutter was left open for 1+ seconds. Anyone that's ever shot the moon in perfect exposure knows you need to be quick... well because it moves fast.

- Moon's edge suffers from over compensating on the mid-tones/shadows - anyone that's ever used luminosity masks knows when this happens

- The obvious dead give away that the moon is within our atmosphere - lol - the tides would crush our cities, our children running for their lives, and the gods will have their vengeance

- The light source on the trees may be coming from somewhere else, but it's not of the moon - the temperature of the light from the trees is completely off from the backdrop

- the detail of the moon in relation to the foreground in highly questionable - how do you get that kind of dynamic range with the brights and darks, and maintain perfect detail with two objects that are vastly far a part from one another? You'd be using a pretty tight f stop, fighting with the iso to keep the noise down, and fighting with the exposure time to not cause the moon to blur

- If you know the location and date/time this was shot, you'll know exactly where the moon was in relation to the horizon -- I doubt you'll ever get that information

Look at his shot in high res:

http://7f2b5f59a7afa6593cfc-4e0509009ef8b486dac274773f048c2c.r60.cf1.rac...

Zoom in closely and look at the rock ledges and how crisp and contrasting they are to the moon and compare it to the the way the rocks contrast against the leaves - different. There isn't even the slightest of pixel fall off or aberration from the rock ledge melding with the moon which means that a precise selection has been made. They could have at least soften the edges to make the blend look more realistic for pixel peepers. Further, the image exhibits 0 noise. None. You need something like DFine from Niks or Topaz to make it look this clean among other ways.

I attached a series of shots I took with a specialized custom scope with a 28" f/2 mirror. It's a deep space scope but had some fun with the moon with it. It's a stitch of 6 individual shots I had to take while the scope was tracking the moon. Total size 13793x8621 (attached image obviously down res'd) and placed it side by side with the 3000px image from his site to scale. Notice how the moon's perimeter is a cookie cutter - it does not exhibit the natural edging the moon has. It's a perfect cut.

http://farm8.staticflickr.com/7281/8874270432_8f4a146b57_o.jpg

Anyway - Photoshop's fingerprints are all over this; it was a great edit but with some glaring and obvious signs of a multi composition. Again, NO problems with these types of edits. Just don't BS people thinking you got the camera to do near impossible things in a single exposure. Be honest about how you put it together. It's art, and stand behind your process.

Surprised there was a debate around it, but hey it was entertaining.

Peter Lik: "Having the ability to shoot High Dynamic Range (HDR) from a smartphone camera is amazing! Usually, I need to shoot upwards of 15 frames or more with my pro gear in order to capture panoramic scenes in their entirety. With my smartphone, it is all in a single click. When I am out on the road capturing photos for my gallery walls, I will often use my smartphone to assist in determining the best angles and framing, especially when dealing with difficult terrain that might not be so agreeable to a tripod."
Certainly he admits here that he shoots 'multiple frames' to obtain one 'printed image'... that however does not rule out that this image (the moon in particular) could have come from a different day, and different location, or even a different camera to obtain this (obviously highly processed) image.

Here is a history of how and why Canon have created a 50-1000mm lens: http://fototips.ru/art/istoriya-sozdaniya-canon-cine-servo-50-1000mm-t5-...
The goal was to be able shooting 1-1.5m animal to the whole frame of the super35 sensor (18x11mm) at a distance of 100m.
atan(1/100) = 0.5 degrees. Our Moon has the same view angle size (http://www.lmgtfy.com/?q=moon+angle+of+view).
Next thing: with the lens of F1000mm on a large format camera the image size of an object of 0.5 degrees shall be about 10cm.
So, the photo is quite feasible to take on LF. The only concern I personally have is that the clouds on the left of the Moon do not cover the Moon itself.

I can personally say I have worked on a number of Peter Lik Photographs.

In the early 2000's I worked for an agency who did a series of Peter Lik's Early work. I can not comment on the last 16 years or so of his work, but what I can say is that back when we work on them, and I visited a gallery, and the sales agent told me the photographs were ‘out of camera’. seeing I knew the truth, it soured my feelings on the photography by Peter Lik. They are beautiful composites but they should never be sold as such as a single image!

The Process back in the day was;

Scan numerous negatives or slides by drum scanner for each image.

Colour Correct, almost go HDR on them. Then build the single image with numerous images.

Once the image is built, He would sit with the colourist.

Corey Weberling's picture

It's obviously a composite.