Has the Guardian published fauxtography?

Sometimes reality is revealed in unintended ways.  Has it been again?  Here’s Rubbisher of the Graun praising the Guardian’s favourite snapper, Murdo Macleod…

Murdo Macleod’s pictures verge on the ridiculous. They seldom fall over the edge, but they often teeter on the brink. Murdo is the gentlest of men, with a soothing, Hebridean lilt that he evidently uses to beguile his sitters to most audacious effect. He charms them into improbable poses or amuses them for long enough to lower their guard. His use of lighting is extraordinary, as is his use of props. You must always expect the unexpected. There is sometimes an element of magic, sometimes a tinge of Dalí.

And as Anthony Watts of the blog Watts Up With That? has discovered, possibly an unhealthy application of Photoshop too.

Did Rubbisher unintentionally hit on something significant when he said Macleod’s pictures verge on the ridiculous, and that there is a Beckett-like sense of absurdity lurking in most of what he photographs?  As focus turns to the Climategate 2.0 emails and people scrutinise the honesty of a number of scientists and journalists, some people are examining everything that has been said and what has been published by the media.

A number of photographs used in climate change and environmental stories seem somewhat odd and have some people asking questions like; have you ever seen black steam coming from a cooling tower?  People should know if image by Murdo Macleod is an example of him falling over the edge from visual representation to gross distortion, in support of a pre-determined editorial line.  The question is this, is it what we are seeing photography or fauxtography?

This image of Eggborough power station (above) by Murdo Macleod appears to have been used exclusively by the Guardian. On WUWT, Anthony Watts shows the output from running the published image through the PSKiller.com application to see whether it has been Photoshopped.

This output leads to a suspicion that the Guardian may have commissioned/used an altered image in order to convey a false impression of power station emissions.

AM has written to Mr Macleod to ask if he will be willing to provide the raw, unaltered image for comparison purposes, and to detail what changes were made from the original to arrive at the image above.  Macleod has also been offered a right of reply that is so often denied to subjects by journalists in the mainstream media.

It would be improper to taint the long standing reputation of a man with such a high profile in his profession if he has done nothing wrong.  This is not about getting one over the Guardian, but a simple search for the truth.  There are questions to be answered here and those answers could have far reaching implications, so we await Macleod’s response with interest.

Update: Murdo Macleod has replied to my email.  The email exchange is reproduced in full below:

Dear Mr Macleod,

I write with regard to this photograph you took for the Guardian newspaper.


There is currently speculation that the photograph has been enhanced or altered in some way to achieve a darkening of the cloud emitted from the cooling towers, as Photoshop quantization tables have been found in the image using http://www.pskiller.com. Before I write about this I wanted to give you the opportunity to respond, as the implications of this could be far reaching.

Would you like to comment about what changes were made to the image? Would you be willing to supply the original raw, unadjusted image for comparison purposes?

Yours sincerely,



Dear xxxxxxx
Perhaps this makes it clearer for you.
Best wishes
Dear Murdo,
While you have kindly sent me a photograph to act as an illustration (which has been manipulated – resized only?), it is not the same one that was published and does not explain what changes were made using Photoshop (or similar) to the original image.
People driving past the Eggborough power station say they have only ever seen white steam coming from the cooling towers. This would sound logical as only water vapour comes from cooling towers. However, your images show darkened emissions. So I am trying to get to the bottom of this.
For the sake of clarity, is this as a result of shadow as the sunlight is coming from the left? Or have you used a particular filter, adjusted the contrast, or otherwise altered the image? Or are the emissions that colour when seen from all angles?
Many thanks for taking the time to answer my questions. It is appreciated.
Best wishes,
Dear xxxxxxx

As you can see there is a shadow falling across the steam from the left towers. As you may be aware the Guardian has guidelines on photographs and their various aspects. I comply with those. There is a procedure for any readers who have any concerns about any images published. Nearly all photographs are processed in photoshop and a variety of adjustments are made for aesthetic and technical reasons. This photograph will have been adjusted within those conventions and regulations.
Best wishes
So, Murdo Macleod is clear, the darker area is shadow being cast across the steam.  It is not black smoke.  But as others are saying, his comments are interesting for what he doesn‘t say.
While the Guardian has guidelines concerning photographs that are submitted, it seems they are happy for people to take the impression that dirty, sooty smoke is being emitted from cooling towers, when the reality is the image shows only steam with part of it in shadow.  That is the power of imagery.  Is the Guardian being sly and disingenuous in the use of the photograph?  You decide.

31 Responses to “Has the Guardian published fauxtography?”

  1. 1 Junkk Male 26/11/2011 at 8:50 am

    One supposes it’s possible that the dark sections are cloud shadow, given that what could come up the towers would be a worry in that shade.

    The opportunity to explain is fair, and the answer will be eagerly anticipated.

    Especially by any a wee bitty concerned at how messages reach the public from trusted media resources, from provenance chain through selection processes to any editorial… with omission also being something that can be a powerful technique if abused.

  2. 2 Martin Brumby 26/11/2011 at 9:21 am

    I very often drive past Eggborough power station whilst at work. If I’d seen black smoke coming out of the cooling towers, the probability of driving off the road in amazement would have been extremely high,

    And I do rather think that the Selby District Council’s Environmental Health Officers (who have been quite correctly ‘on the case’ of the local Power Station emissions for decades) would have had them in Court in a heartbeat.

    But, of course, the great majority of Grauniad readers have likely never seen anything as sordid and functional as a Power Station. They don’t have so many in Islington. I remember one of the usual suspects in my aquaintance, hesitatingly venturing north of Watford Gap, asking me if the Ferrybridge Cooling Towers might be pottery kilns?

  3. 3 Katabasis 26/11/2011 at 9:28 am

    I’m particularly looking forward to the response (if any) on this, especially as I and a few others had some bruising rounds with Leo Hickman and Mods over there yesterday on his latest piece of crass hypocritical crap:


  4. 4 right_writes 26/11/2011 at 9:33 am

    Go to Google images and search Eggborough (or Drax) and look at the pics…

    There isn’t one that shows black smoke emanating from the cooling towers…

    There are a couple that show black smoke (from coal) coming from the chimney(s), but they are much taller (about double the height) and are not seen in this Guardian snap, that smoke is way higher and is there when the steam turbines are running, but not at the same height as the cooling towers, which by definition are used to cool excess heat using water… Hot water turns into steam at 100°C.

    If he has done this, and he has done it alone without input from the editor or someone, it demonstrates a degree of stupidity, since he could have just used a picture of a chimney, without Adobe’s assistance.

  5. 5 Stuck-Record 26/11/2011 at 9:43 am


    Great minds. I just did the same thing. The only black-smoker is the offending picture itself.

    Surely the Guardian as champions of environmentalism should insist the photographer release the original image with its EXIF data to allow an investigation into such a flagrant act of pollution?

    Surely they don’t have anything to hide?

  6. 6 Geoff, England 26/11/2011 at 9:44 am

    It’s almost certain to be fauxtography. Everything about the Graun is phoney. And what pretentious guff from Rusbridger in comparing Macleod to Dali and Beckett.

  7. 7 Peejos 26/11/2011 at 10:40 am

    Steam released from the turbines could never be contaminated by any carbonaceous substance; the turbines would seize instantly. No cloud shadow could make white look black; it’s obviously bogus. Maddeningly whenever the Beeb want to illustrate a climate change article it always shows a cooling tower emitting steam: the same ignorant lot

  8. 8 Edward. 26/11/2011 at 10:47 am

    Cooling towers, [for gods sake] don’t pump black smoke, this is blatant photographic artwork – black art if you like but not surprising is it?

    Local TV and national news programmes always show cooling towers, inferring atmospheric ‘polluting’ emissions, it is just the same with newspapers, it is childish guff and childish thinking brings us to Rubbisher and MacCleod.

  9. 9 Autonomous Mind 26/11/2011 at 10:52 am

    Murdo Macleod has replied to my email. He has kindly provided an answer and the email exchange will be blogged on this post shortly.

  10. 10 Junkk Male 26/11/2011 at 11:32 am

    Not sure those replies have moved anything on much.

    However there is a Clintonian aspect to these..

    ‘…the Guardian has guidelines on photographs and their various aspects. I comply with those…. This photograph will have been adjusted within those conventions and regulations..’

    … that piques interest, plus a po-faced tonality (if I may mix a few sense and idioms) that seems all too familiar, especially given…

    26/11/2011 at 9:28 am
    ..bruising rounds with… Mods over there yesterday’

    I won’t say I have boycotted the Graun, as that plays into their hands, but I am much more circumspect given the extent and now serious (de)grading of modding to stealth, if overt, censorship that would make a 50’s Kremlin May Day parade picture look like a Graun climate story illustration.

    I have even experienced this (once, though logged) with the BBC, when only a persistence that Job would have doffed his hat to ended up at a level where they admitted things had been ‘nuked’ but it was just that they were having a bad day, no real harm. got it about right, etc.

    I called BS. Still do. Always will.

  11. 11 Katabasis 26/11/2011 at 11:43 am

    @Junkk Male

    Now although I would still find it offensive, I wouldn’t feel the same level of rage were it not for the fact that both the BBC and Guardian self-promote an image of journalistic integrity and as defenders of freedom of expression and civil liberties. They also appear to have no idea how deleterious their censorship is, as it further enforces and ensures that they and their readers fall victim to their own propaganda and are often beyond reason without even realising it….


    “Is the Guardian being sly and disingenuous in the use of the photograph? You decide.”

    – Sly and disingenuous, surely! Not just in the choice of picture but the fact that it was cropped that way so no one would immediately suspect there was a shadow falling across the vapour….

  12. 12 mfosdb 26/11/2011 at 12:06 pm

    Article in the Guardian 4 Sept 2011:

    “Our rule about the use of Photoshop and other picture-manipulating software is that cropping and toning – basically anything that might have been done in a darkroom – is OK, but the moving of pixels or “cutting and pasting” is forbidden. We have to trust our photographers and the agencies we deal with not to indulge in anything that might go against our guidelines, but usually it’s difficult to spot. ”

    Black steam from a cooling tower? Difficult to spot?


  13. 13 Sam Duncan 26/11/2011 at 12:22 pm

    A couple of points.

    That’s not the same photo. The wider-angle has been taken from a different place (look at the white silo on the left and the tree on the right). To be fair, that’s not necessarily a deliberate deception – it may be that the published image isn’t, in fact, cropped, and Macleod had to use another image taken nearby to illustrate the shadow effect from the other plume – but it’s worth mentioning.

    Because either way the original image was clearly intended to deceive. The Guardian either cropped a wider-angle image of steam in shadow to make it look dirty, or – and given my first point, this looks more likely – Macleod took his photo that way to give the same impression, which the paper accepted, and subsequently used repeatedly, without question.

    I’m reminded of the Guardian’s old TV advert in which a man who appears to be attacking someone is later shown, from a different angle, to be saving his “victim” from a falling brick. The paper can’t pretend it doesn’t know about this kind of thing.

  14. 14 Sam Duncan 26/11/2011 at 12:25 pm

    Sorry, not reading carefully. You already noted that it’s a different photo.

  15. 15 Uncle Badger 26/11/2011 at 12:41 pm

    The Guardian? Sanctimonious humbug? Surely not!

  16. 16 Junkk Male 26/11/2011 at 12:44 pm

    26/11/2011 at 11:43 am

    ‘,, the BBC and Guardian self-promote an image of journalistic integrity and as defenders of freedom of expression and civil liberties.’

    That does grate, but as you say ultimately self-destructive as the ever-more evident discrepancies between their perceived ideals and reality are (made) clearly obvious to all.

    The Graun can do what it likes, and reap the consequences as it is a commercial media organisation that trades, in theory, on its integrity.

    Beyond groupies, and odd sources of funding that seem outside public support market forces, they will suffer and wither as a consequence of such deluded, bubble-mentality, bunker mode navel gazing. It’s already a Downfall satire in waiting.

    However, the BBC is a separate matter. And off topic, so I apologise for straying. Still not irrelevant, mind. Especially as the Graun often cites what’s on the BBC as independent ‘proof’ of an opinion, and vice versa. Not sure many are convinced by that any more.

  17. 17 scud 26/11/2011 at 1:39 pm

    Shadow cast across the steam my arse…here’s a regular, real photo of Drax.. http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2011/1/12/1294867540221/Drax-power-station-007.jpg

    Sorry to say AM but this type of thing has been going on for ages, some of it is clearly done to make a political point whilst others are produced out of shear laziness, for example, take a look at this piece of crud accompanying a Toby Young piece.. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tobyyoung/100107427/exam-boards-proposal-to-penalise-private-school-pupils-is-a-pointless-politically-correct-gimmick/
    …expand it a bit and you’ll see that it’s just a silly digital montage; harmless though, you might think, until you realise that its now evidently easier to produce something on ones computer than it is to send out a photographer to capture even a simple, repeatable scene such as this.

    Ever considered what else may have used this technique to deceive? Have a look at this picture posted up by Tom Chivers… http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/damianthompson/100102988/ten-years-after-911-the-conspiracy-theorist-nutjobs-are-still-telling-lies/
    ..and compare it to another pic to the closest / same proximity I could find.. http://static.panoramio.com/photos/original/8795263.jpg
    It’s a fun game of ‘spot the difference’ (discounting the ludicrous fireball) and should lead anyone with a half critical eye to conclude that one of the two images must be fake…I really have no idea which one.

    Hate to appear to bring your fine blog into the realms of David Icke bonkersness but If this small example should tickle your curiosity then I highly recommend this.. http://www.septemberclues.info/ which goes into incredible detail concerning the use of MSM image fakery deployed on what could only be described at an industrial scale.

    Oh, BTW if you feel put off because of that undeniable feeling of it all being a little ‘bad taste’ to be delving into such things because of all those lost, perhaps you may want to have a look at this snippet first from abc news… http://www.wxyz.com/dpp/news/why-are-the-nearly-3,000-victims-of-9_11-missing-from-an-official-federal-registry-of-death%3F

  18. 18 Donald Arey III 26/11/2011 at 2:47 pm

    A “shadow”? From where? The sky is crystal clear.

  19. 19 Vince Werber 26/11/2011 at 3:26 pm

    I remember the old days… when carbon was belched from many smoke stack and…

    I never saw a white building near such a situation that managed to remain ‘white’. Doesn’t happen in the real world but this photo seems to make a liar out on my 6 plus decades of experience. Hmmmm… Look at that bright shiny white building near this… awww well… what is the point…

    So very bogus…

    have a great day folks…

  20. 20 Anna Keppa 26/11/2011 at 5:11 pm

    Donald Arey III 26/11/2011 at 2:47 pm

    A “shadow”? From where? The sky is crystal clear.


    Wot? Don’t you know the sun itself casts a shadow? ;)

  21. 21 NEIL (2) 26/11/2011 at 6:22 pm

    I live in Leeds and for the last 40+ years have regularly driven past this power station. The ‘photos are rubbish. I have never seen anything but steam emitted from the cooling towers.

  22. 22 Delphius 26/11/2011 at 9:28 pm

    Maybe both photographs aren’t the same and he’s provided the wider shot (albeit from a different angle) to show that he’s used the fortuitous situation whereby the vapour from the taller boiler stack casts a shadow over the steam from the cooling towers making the steam look darker.

    I’d say its six of one, half a dozen of the other. He’s used a naturally occurring situation to make the steam look dark and then used a tighter shot to show only the dark steam, which looks like smoke to provide a picture which shows a false narrative: that power stations and their cooling towers belch huge volumes of dark smoke.

    Of course the Photoshopping is harder to explain, unless the picture contrast has been adjusted to make the steam look even darker.

  23. 23 scud 26/11/2011 at 11:58 pm

    …oops! Not Tom Chivers but Damian Thompson. No matter though, the Dames pic is ‘fauxtography’…excellent phrase that AM!

  24. 24 dan 27/11/2011 at 12:27 am

    well and truly rumbled.

  25. 25 Stuck-Record 27/11/2011 at 10:10 am

    How odd that out of all the thousands of photos of white steam coming from the cooling towers, the one the Guardian uses, and continues to use, again and again and again, is the one that gives the impression that black filth is belting out instead of steam.

    What an amazing coincidence.

    Obviously the Guardian wouldn’t come out and SAY exactly why they use that particular photo. That is the point of propaganda.

    And the photographer doesn’t mind because he’s another ‘useful idiot’ getting paid to lie to the world.

    Well done. Trebles all round!

  26. 26 James P 27/11/2011 at 7:35 pm

    “the vapour from the taller boiler stack casts a shadow over the steam from the cooling towers”

    Even if that were true, it could hardly cast a shadow that large. The sun is over the photographer’s left shoulder, so the steam on the right would not be affected. In any case, steam in shadow is nothing like that dark and the photos are so obviously photoshopped (I do it myself, for other purposes) the Grauniad can hardly pretend otherwise. Mind you, they also think they can spell…

  27. 27 fenbeagleblog 28/11/2011 at 3:05 pm

    Photoshopped :-)

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  1. 1 Global Warming: Cheating with Photoshop; Scientists in revolt | simonthongwh Trackback on 29/11/2011 at 3:24 pm
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