Is this sky true blue — or photoshopped?

09Mar13

A friend posted on Facebook this tourism photo of Big Ben, singing the praises of London but raising a question: Was that the real color of the sky or had it been tampered with for dramatic effect?

I wanted to believe it was real but wasn’t sure.  Judging by the time showing on the clock, the shadows were consistent with where the sun would have been. Two bright, conspicuous points of sparkle were feasible.  The shadow on one of the clock’s faces had splash of reflected light, which also distinguished it from most Big Ben photos that showed up in my search.

Is that the real sky? It's London, after all.

Is that the real sky? It’s London, after all.

A few skeptical viewers of my friend’s photo voted in favor of Photoshopped.

I suspected it was the unretouched work of a skilled photographer, but I also knew that ad agencies often have no qualms about making an image look as good as possible.

So I did a little detective work, running the picture through Google images and discovering many instances of the same photo being used in media and online worldwide.  I thought I might spot some variation that would point to a tampered shot, but all were uniform.

With a few clicks I determined the image originated with VisitBritain, formerly known as the British Tourist Authority. One of the VisitBritain pages provided background info on the photographer who’d shot it.

I Googled his name and immediately found his website with portfolio, including the picture in question. The photo was the work of one Sheradon Dublin, a British photographer, and the website included an e-mail address for him.  I posed my question in a brief e-mail and fired it into cyberspace.

Less than 20 minutes later I received a reply that set the record straight:

Hello Don,

Yes, it was really that blue. I shot that image sometime in the late 90’s, early 2000’s on Velvia or one of those high-saturation films to make it pop.

Plus it was a bitterly cold day in October, so no clouds. Just clear sky. I can honestly say the sky hasn’t been messed with as the lens flare is still there.

June is a funny time of year, if its hot you’ll get air pollution and great sunsets. Thats why the best blue skies are in Feb/March or Oct/Nov when its freezing

Where did you find that image btw, it looks like it hasn’t been edited at all

Sheradon

That was good enough for me. Indeed, the small lens flare at the right center of the photo is — as they say in the ornithology game — diagnostic. It clinches it, because no one who was going to the trouble to make make a perfectly blue background would let that detail stay in the photo.

I was happy to hear it was the real thing.  But it also raises the point that we’ve become so accustomed to images being tampered with that it’s sometimes hard for us to believe our eyes.  It’s reassuring to know that sometimes nature can produce a blue so deep that it could be Photoshop.  Thanks to Sheradon for his excellent skills — and for setting the record straight.

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