Are Telephoto Lenses Creating Fake News of People Ignoring Social Distancing?

With people’s tolerance of confinement starting to strain, the media has been paying close attention to crowds seemingly violating social distancing advice, with photographs taken using telephoto lenses potentially misrepresenting the density of people at certain locations. Deliberate or not, are camera lenses creating fake news?

The issue flared in the British media last week when tabloid newspapers were accused of manufacturing outrage by deliberately publishing photographs that were shot using telephoto lenses. As this Twitter thread explains, a photograph showed a densely packed boulevard, suggesting that government advice was being ignored. Closer examination, it is argued, suggests that the 40 people were in fact spread out across almost half a mile.

In the U.S., a photograph published by the O.C. Register suggested that the beach in San Clemente was packed with sun-seekers, all blissfully ignoring social distancing:

The image in full can be seen here. Five days later, this photograph led California Governor Gavin Newsom to close all of the beaches in Orange County which in turn prompted crowds to gather to protest against the order. Newsom was later accused of making decisions in response to a misleading photograph rather than actual data.

The O.C. Register later published the metadata from the controversial image in response to suggestions that it was not taken when it was claimed or had been manipulated. The EXIF data shows that it was shot at a focal length of 380mm on a Nikon D5.

Lens compression at 380mm is very noticeable, as detailed in this Fstoppers article from a few years ago, and discussed in the KTLA segment shown above. Here’s the gif mentioned by presenter Andy Riesmeyer:

Lens compression, animated gif

The contrast with the helicopter footage is stark, though, as the presenters note, it's impossible to make a genuine comparison without having more information.

The response from O.C. Register makes for some interesting reading. While the question of whether people should be congregating in any numbers will no doubt draw impassioned debate, it's fascinating to see how a straight news photo has the potential to mislead, reminding us that fake news is not necessarily politically driven, and can be highly complex. Certainly, none of this is helped by the fact that, despite the best intentions, advice and regulations in response to the global pandemic can seem inconsistent, unenforceable, and illogical.

Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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LOVE this article! Thank you for sharing!

Stuart Carver's picture

No fake news, we have been told to only go out for essentials like food or key workers to work.. Newport Beach, last time i checked, didnt cover either of those things.

Motti Bembaron's picture

The government pays for those beach days so why not? Right?

Alfonse Diantonio's picture

How does the government pay for a beach day? I’m retired. Does that matter?


Motti Bembaron's picture

The weekly or monthly stimulate that people receive from the government are for people to stay home, isolate themselves, not go the beach. You need to be away from people, right? That's why we don't go to avoid being in crowds and such, right?

I honestly thought it was obvious.

Alfonse Diantonio's picture

Oh ok. I’m retired so I get social security. But I don’t get money not to go outside. I’m staying home to be safe and not hurt others or myself! I hope people who lost jobs get money. i just didn’t under stand about the beach point.

Sorry it was Not obvious to me I’m new here and it’s difficult to understand internet talk sometimes. Thanks for your patience!

Motti Bembaron's picture

We all should do our part helping keep our society safe so we can all get back to our lives as it was before.

I feel bad that retirees cannot enjoy and take full advantage of their retirement. Not being able to travel and go places, not even a nice dinner at a restaurant.

I feel that this will be a reality for a little while, maybe even longer than a little while. We were not able to visit my wife's parents for almost two months now. Summer is approaching and I hope we will be able to at least enjoy the company of friends and family.

All the best

Alfonse Diantonio's picture

I bet your wife’s parents are sad they haven’t seen you two, but proud that you are doing the right thing by staying away and keeping them and everyone else safe! That’s how I feel with my nieces and nephews.

We old ones are tough! We will get thru is with everyone else!

All the best to you to.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Yes, that too shall pass! All the best!

Given that nearly all “journalists” are leftists and the media is no longer accurate, how is any of this surprising? Years ago, the NYtimes publishes a famous photo of an Israeli policeman with a baton grimacing menacingly over a bloodied victim who they “mistakenly” identified as a Palestinian. Problem was that the victim was a Jew who was beaten up by a Palestinian mob and the policeman was protecting the victim. The problem is and was the truth doesn’t fit the narrative the non-objective “journalists” want to convey. It may be uncomfortable, and it should be because the distinction between “journalism” and propaganda is quite narrow. Thank you fstoppers for courageously presenting this information. Hold on, you’ll be attacked resoundly.

Motti Bembaron's picture

journalism = propaganda for a very long time now...

Alfonse Diantonio's picture

You know all about this Please help me find news. Where do you go to find news? I don’t want propagandas.

Alfonse Diantonio's picture

Help! I'm more confused now. I went to Google and found the story of the photo. But everyone said it was ap not nytimes, and that it was a mistake that nytimes wrote to say sorry for. Can you explain why this is leftist propaganda if they made a mistake and said they were wrong and then fixed it? I don't understand. I thought propaganda was lying. not making a mistake. Is propaganda the wrong word? Were you think of something else?



Propaganda can also be to publish a lie in the front page and retract without the same exposure.

You push a narrative. And Everytime you make a mistake is in the same direction

Alfonse Diantonio's picture

Wow that's really nasty. So scary and sneaky this propaganda! So nytimes put the picture on the front page and then didn't say sorry on the front page? The Google search said it was on page A5, is that the first page? And the Google search said nytimes wrote a whole article saying sorry and talking about the poor Jewish man in the picture and the policeman trying to help him. Is that fake news? Did that not happen? Is the Google page I found also propaganda? You seem really smart so I'm asking you these questions.Thanks!

Also I would appreciate no negative votes from you. Its mean and I believe in the power of positivity! Why are you so negative? I'll pray for you.

Leftist? Nope. The deceptive 380mm photo was published by the Orange County Register. That newspaper is owned by Digital Media First, which is owned by Alden Global Capital, which was founded by Randall D. Smith — a registered Republican known for his use of offshore companies.

Alfonse Diantonio's picture

Why did you not respond and be negative instead? Please answer my question! Thanks!

"the throngs were estimated at up to 40,000 on Friday with a similar crowd expected Saturday."

telephoto or no telephoto. thats too many people in one place.
I too have the beach available to me very close. I dont go. the world wont blow up (yet) but im doing my small part to keep my distance wear a mask I see news footage of cities in the US. man, people not wearing masks or keeping distance.

USA, my heart cries for you guys. very sad to say, but its going to be absolutely horrible. 30000 infected daily for a month, nonstop. do your protests but youre all yelling together close to one another. poor folks.

Alfonse Diantonio's picture

Its very sad. I pray for all those lost. Thank you for your concern!

With love,
An American

damn I hope you guys pull through fast. theyre talking about a 2nd wave. but at this rate, the 2nd wave will just like a continuation of the first wave.
god bless you all.

Alfonse Diantonio's picture

I believe in America and the world. We we get thru: just have to be tough and smart and act in love (like the love and care you show!). Blessings to you and your country too.

I love your positive attitude! bravo!

Alfonse Diantonio's picture

Thank you! Very kind of you to say!

Michael L. McCray's picture

A lot of journalism is partisan and the photographers' job is to reinforce the editor's message. Thank you for this article it is a wonderful piece.

Nothing new... photographers have been using their choice of equipment and composition to drive the narrative since before the Great Depression.

Doesn't matter, beach is not an essential service and it's not just about leaving distance between them while they were sitting, I am sure most of them have come close contact at some point during their beach stay.

We blame gov for not doing enough and then blame them for trying something. No one knows how this thing will turn out, but doing what we can will help.

Last thing we want this summer is a second wave of pandemic, much more aggressive due to these behaviours.

"No one knows how this thing will turn out"

well, with 1.2million infected and 70000, its turning out bad worse then bad? catastrophe is a better word? if the numbers dont come down, and they havent for over a month (30000 infected every day for more then a month) then the 2nd wave may be a slight imperceptible bump. im not even in the US and im scared as hell.

1.2 million 'affected' is not catastrophic, but if these behaviours continue, it may lead to few millions dead and then it becomes catastrophic. 1920 Spanish flu 'killed' 200+ million people approximately.

Despite, it is still prudent to take measure. I am not scared as hell, but I am cautious.

Fristen Lasten's picture

Never once have I seen a lens show up anywhere and create a fake photograph.

Alfonse Diantonio's picture

I think they mean the cameraman did it. Mr. Stopper: please fix? I don't want you to be propaganda

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