Top 10 News Photo Of The Year Was Faked

(Chengdu Evening News via

[in translation]

"This is a photograph that everybody is familiar with.  When I first saw it, my eyes lit up: the Tibetan antelopes and the train on the Qinghai-Tibet railroad appeared simultaneously in the eye of the camera.  This was such a precise and decisive moment!  Thus, this photograph was selected as one of the top 10 most memorable photographs of 2006 and its author received innumerable honors ... but on the day before yesterday, I suddenly discovered that there was a very obvious line at the bottom of the photograph." On February 12, an essay titled <Liu Weiqiang's award winning photograph of the Tibetan antelopes is suspected of being fake> was posted to the world's largest Chinese-language photography forum <Unlimited sights and colors>.  This post quickly drew more than 10,000 page views.  As of 7pm last evening, there were 120,478 page views and 1,524 comments.  Some netizens even compared Liu with "Tiger Zhou."  Could it be that this photograph was the result of PhotoShop manipulation?

The netizen nicknamed Dajiala was the person who made the post.  He questioned the bronze-award winning photograph titled <Wildlife opening the passage of life at the Qinghai-Tibet railway> from the 2006 CCTV news photos of the year.

According to Dajiala, he had liked that photograph before.  On February 10, he passing by the Beijing Number 5 subway's photograph exhibition and saw this familiar photograph once more.  But this time, he found a suspicious point.  "I suddenly saw a peculiar detail.  At the bottom of the photograph, there was a very obvious line.  I examined it very carefully and it was obviously the stitching of two different parts ... if the train and the antelopes came from two different photographs, then this decisive moment was just a simple PhotoShop trick?" Afterwards, Dajiala took out his camera and recorded the details of the photograph.  When he got home, he made a careful comparison with the photograph that he had saved on his computer.  He concluded that the photograph was faked.

Dajiala's post caused a huge storm and drew many other netizens into an investigation of the veracity of the photograph.  They studied the EXIF information (which are present on digital photographs) and they pored over every detail of the photograph.  They came up with more problems.  "The EXIF information indicated that the time when the photograph was taken was faked!" "The rock in two different photographs taken at different times at the same place was identical!"  "The antelopes were definitely on the move and they cannot but be disrupted by the passing train!"  The netizens used their amateur photography knowledge to cast doubts on this award-winning photograph.  "From how the shutter speed could freeze the Tibetan antelopes, it is reasonable to assume 1/1000 seconds for 20D.  But the date of the photograph was in September, and this is inconsistent with the habits of the Tibetan antelopes." As the doubts rose, netizens said that "Tiger Zhou" has not departed the scene but "Antelope Liu" has arrived.

The reporter took this photograph and consulted a veteran photographer working in journalism in Chengdu.  "A news photograph must emphasize the factual nature of the subject.  If the decisive movement was in fact faked, then the facts do not exist.  It is illogical for this photograph to be entered into a news photography contest." As soon as this photographer took a look at this photograph, he shook his head and said: "According to the habit of the Tibetan antelopes, they will be scared by a passing train and they will scatter everywhere.  They could not maintain a straight-line file so calmly." Then he produced a photograph of a train passing by some Tibetan antelopes, which scattered in fear."  So anyone familiar with Tibetan antelopes would see that this photograph was illogical.  But if ordinary netizens can spot this problem, why did the many judges for CCTV fail to spot it?  Instead, they awarded a bronze award for photojournalism.  This photographer thinks that CCTV should bear the primary responsibility for the mistake.

This photograph is very well-known and has been published in more than 200 media outlets around the world.  The award-winning photographer is Liu Weiqiang, who is presently the assistant director of the photography department at Daqing Evening News.  He is a senior member of the Chinese Photographers Association and a special contracted Xinhua photographer.  Yesterday afternoon, this reporter made contact with Liu by mobile telephone.  At the time, Liu was out of town on assignment.

"The antelopes in the photograph are real.  The overpass bridge is also real.  But it was not easy to capture such a moment."  Liu Weiqiang admitted openly: The photograph was created by PhotoShop.  Liu said that the photograph was taken in 2006 and served as the poster/postcard for the Kekexili nature preservation area.  Later, the Kekexili nature preservation area let the China Environmental News publish it.  This photograph was then discovered by CCTV which selected it as one of the most memorable news photographs of the year 2006.  "I had never published this photograph as a news photograph.  After receiving this award, I did not use it to enter the Holland world competition or the China news photography competition, because this was an artistic photograph that had been modified."  As to why a PhotoShop-ed photograph could win a news photography award, Liu Weiqiang said, "Maybe it is because the award judges were not familiar with the habits of the Tibetan antelopes."

"Actually, I hoped that this incident would blow up because more people will pay attention to the Tibetan antelopes!" said Liu Weiqiang.  As for netizens calling for his award to be rescinded, Liu said that he only has a piece of paper and a cup to show and therefore this does not mean much to him.  "Presently, the focus of my attention is on the Tibetan antelopes!"

(CCTV Awards Presentation Ceremony transcript via Huash BBS)

Li Xiaoming: Liu Weiqiang, let me first congratulate you.  I want to also let everybody know that Liu Weiqiang was the latest winner to learn about the news.  When did you find out?
Liu: On the day before yesterday.

Li: You only found out on the day before yesterday.  When our worker called you, where were you?
Liu: In the uninhabited area of Kekexili.

Li: Therefore your trip here was quite complicated.
Liu: When I first learned the news, I did not intend to come here.  This is the mating season for the antelopes and it is a hard-to-capture moment.    But I thought that this was a chance for me and the Tibetan antelopes, and so I hurried over here.

Li: You believe that your receiving an award is an opportunity for the Tibetan antelopes.
Liu: It should be.

Li: You take a look at your photograph.  It was taken at an uninhabited area at 4,000 or 5,000 meters above sea level.  What is the probability that you, the train and the Tibetan antelopes all appeared at the same time and place?
Liu: In the language of photography, this was an instant.  It was a very brief moment.  The Tibetan antelopes are smart and easily scared.  When humans are even far away, they are already fleeing.  When I took this photograph, I dug a hole half a meter deep and I put camouflage on top.  I hid in the hole covered by camouflage.  That was why the Tibetan antelopes came to pass in front of my camera.  It took only a several seconds for the Tibetan antelopes to pass in front of me.  But I had waited for eight days.

Li: Eight days?
Liu: Yes.

Li: Eight days.  Does that mean eight days and eight nights?  Eight 24-hour days?
Liu: Almost eight 24-hours.

Li: By the time of the seventh day, did you know that the antelopes will come on the eighth day?  If they did not come on the eighth day, or even the tenth day, what would you do?
Liu: I would have continued to wait.  Actually I was aware that I may not capture the fleeting moment if I wait for eight or even eighteen days.  But as a reporter, I ought to stay at my post.  I can wait eight days, eighteen days, twenty-eight days to capture that beautiful moment.  I have been filming Tibetan antelopes from March to now.

Li: The main theme of your series of photographs is the Tibetan antelope.  You chose this location where the train and the railroad track played a prominent part.  What is the purpose of this photograph?
Liu: I want to be able to capture the harmony among the Tibetan antelopes, the train, men and nature on July 1, 2006.  I want to express through this photograph that the earth belongs to everybody.  Everybody wants to see harmony among men and animals.

Li: You went through the trouble of getting here to receive the award.  Afterwards, you will be hurrying back or will you go home?
Liu: I am flying back tomorrow to Golmud (Qinghai) because the mating season for the Tibetan antelopes is very brief.  During this year, I have filmed the life cycle of the Tibetan antelopes over all four seasons.  I am just missing the courting among the Tibetan antelopes at the end.  I want to capture this.  Next year this time, I want to call for the 2,700,000 Daqing people to donate money for the Tibetan antelopes in the name of Daqing Evening News.  But as long as this photograph can help everybody to understand the Tibetan antelope better and care about them, my efforts are not wasted.  Thanks, everybody.