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Wednesday, 20 January 2010


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Model or not, the precise contribution of the photographer in making this image has troubled me for a while. If it really is a live wolf, with (as I understand it) the shutter triggered by a beam being broken, what was the value of the photographer's contribution? Did he merely set up the equipment, maybe in weatherproof housing, and retire for the night - or several nights - safe in the knowledge that his multi-GB card would not constrain his field experiment as might a 36 exposure film? Where is 'le moment décisif'? Forgive me if I am doing him a great disservice. Just askin'.

A number of people in the blogosphere will now be enjoying the expensive pleasure of "I told you so".

Maybe Rodriguez was friends with Marlin Perkins.

It is still a really great photo.

That's too bad. I don't have an opinion one way or another on the details of the case; if he broke the rules, it's only fair that he not get the prize, and I have no way of commenting on the process by which they determined whether he did or not; but it was a heck of a picture regardless and it's too bad that now it will forever be associated with dishonesty, fairly or not.

Somehow I suspect they will not be refunding the entry fees.

I heard about this on BBC Radio 4 just before I read it here. The picture is said to have been taken five years ago, and the wolf has since put on weight and now has a torn ear.

It is still a good picture, and it was a bit naughty of the Independent to crop it.

a fitting conclusion.....and 500 pounds sterling is better than a jab in the ass with a sharp stick.... which may have been what I would have done and also why I am not a judge.....

Jose says he trained the wolf by baiting but not with wild bait. Whether a trained or wild wolf it still a fantastic picture and he has a lot more on his Flickr site.

Maybe he bent the competition rules but he didn't clone a stuffed wolf into his landscape
Maybe cut him some slack?

El Inglés,

For whatever its worth, the photo was made on medium format film with a Hass. 503, so I assume he only had 12 exposures to get the shot.

Also, decisive moments do not always make great images. Or, rather, they are not necessary for a great image to be made. Pre-visualizing the resulting image is just as important a skill. Not all work in photography is, or even should be, in the HC-B tradition.

This is an interesting story. I wonder how the image would have fared in the competition as a declared captive animal. It is still a great image.

At least it wasn't a wolf in sheep's clothing. Would likely have put the judges to sleep.

Regarding a comment on "the decisive moment", Jose Luis knows pretty well what this "moment" is, which is why he sets up his equipment the way he does. If you check out his gallery you'll find many photos that are strobed at exactly the right moment, with subjects ranging from mice to owls...and even a wolf that's not jumping :-)

I believe a photograph is beautiful regardless of how it was taken or how easy/difficult it was. I liked the jumping wolf photo, and am sad they took the prize away, but if the wolf was in captivity, then the contest rules were broken and that's that.

Although the best photographs are often those that break the rules...

@El Inglés: "Just askin"

'twas a Hasselblad 503CW, 80mm lens and a custom-built infrared trap, on Fujichrome film. So that sounds like a beam being broken to release the shutter, but we haven't seen the shots that have nothing of the wolf but the tail, or have some other failing.

The wolf took its own picture (and let's just not even think about the copyright issues that, er, entails) but when it was at a position of the photographer's choosing, taking into account how the wolf would go over the gate and the delay between the beam being broken and the flashes firing.

If you were to take a photo of a sportsman leaping into the air you might choose to show him at the peak of the leap, so, knowing your camera, would press the release just before he got there, because of the delay before the shutter opened.

In neither case are you in control of the exact appearance of the subject, but in both cases you have chosen your exposure time.

Good question, El Inglés. I had to think about the value of the photographer's contribution before I could answer you.

As an aside Ossian was the name given by some fraudsters in the 19th century to the ancient Scottish "Poet" who they claimed had written a great tranche of epic poems describing Scotlands history. If I remember the story correctly that Ossian fooled a lot of people too

Would I be thought cynical for pointing out that this has brought the organisers a huge amount of publicity and saved them ten grand at the same time?

A more or less "identical" photograph, of a wolf jumping over an old fashioned wooden gate during night time or early morning hours, lighted by flash, was entered by the same photographer in another competition, and is currently posted here http://www.wild-wonders.com/photo_competition_winners.asp?month=2&year=2009&cat=EWW&age=18+&show=3

This photo happens to be listed as having been made with a Nikon D2x,and it was made at the same location,as evidenced by the gate and the stone fence. Hmmm...some with a Hassy, some with a D2x. Looks like more than one leap over this gate was photographed by the same photographer.

Automatically triggered photography with actual wild animals is very tricky and requires some art in setting up the lighting and the camera, a naturalist's knowledge of the animal's habits and travel patterns, and considerable luck that the animal will not only be in a position to set off the trigger, but will be oriented in a photogenic way with respect to the camera and the lights. People who photograph flying insects might use two or three lights on brackets with the camera, the lens set at a preset focal distance, and a focus trigger to fire the camera. With any kind of nature photography, there is a very low ratio of keepers to discards, whether the photographer is pushing the button at the decisive moment or not, and chance is always a factor even when you think you've got the shot, so any great photograph of a truly wild subject requires a lot of effort on the part of the photographer, and automatic triggers are just tools in the bag.

If the subject is not truly wild or has been baited, then maybe the photographer may have put effort in it and exercised artistic judgment, but it's no longer a document of a natural subject engaged in its natural behavior.

The article cited says that the judging panel thought it was "...LIKELY that the wolf featured in the image was an animal model.."



So....if I enter a contest that stipulates that a entry cannot be fake then if my entry looks like it could be fake then despite my statement of it's veracity I am branded an liar.

To quote Artie Johnson, 'very interesting, but stupid'!

Dear John,

You are focusing upon a tree and ignoring the forest.

It's been established beyond question that the photo was not made in the wild but in a wildlife park. That alone disqualifies it.

Furthermore, the photograph shown on TOP and the one on wild-wonders.com are unquestionably of the same wolf, leaping the same fence... but they are different photographs made at different times (it isn't germane that one was made with a 'Blad and the other with a Nikon DSLR, since they're two separate photos).

Yes, if I were utterly convinced that the photos were honest, wild captures, I could imagine a photographer having set up a double-camera/double-trip/double-flash setup, where both rigs tripped successfully and caught well-composed and posed (albeit slightly differently posed) photos of the wolf.

Yeah, I could imagine it. Do I believe it? Not bloody likely.

At this point, the question of whether they've identified the precise wolf beyond all doubt doesn't begin to matter. It may only be "likely" it is Ossian, but the guy's been plausibly discredited without that datum.

"Statements of veracity" are worthless. Here's the thing about liars... they LIE.

pax / Ctein

He has some terrific photos more obviously taken in the wild. Like a couple of those deer photos. Or the one of a stag beetle holding another in the air. Or the bird feeding a little cuckoo. Or the owl ruffling its feathers above the chick. More interesting than a wolf jumping a fence.

IIRC, there was another beam-triggered photo in the competition recently: a tiger bathing in a pool among some rocks. Or maybe I'm mixing it with another online gallery...

Dear Derrel,

It's the fact that the photos aren't quite identical (although the wolf is, beyond a doubt, the same one) that's the damning bit. The position of the front paws shows those two photos weren't made at exactly the same moment.

I could imagine multiple cameras set up to capture a single flash... but multiple cameras each with their own flash and with shutters so precisely timed that each camera would catch one and only one flash? Hah!

pax / Ctein

Concernng the more-or-less identical photograph: it looks to me like it is the same leap but at a very slightly different time, and from a slightly different viewpoint. So I would guess he had more than one camera set up, which would certainly seem like a good idea to me: it's what I'd do!

So I don't think that is evidence of cheating particularly.

As for D2X photo:
He might have had both cameras, the hasselblad and the nikon, assembled next to each other, both triggered by the same mechanism. It looks to me that both photographs could be pictures of the same situation taken at the exactly the same time from slightly different angles.
I have to admit that this makes this picture even more fascinating for me.

From reading the report on the BBC site, it seems that there will not be a winner now. What's wrong with promoting the runner up to winner status?

So....if I enter a contest that stipulates that a entry cannot be fake then if my entry looks like it could be fake then despite my statement of it's veracity I am branded an liar.

It also says that the judges' decision is final. Especially their final decision!

Many thanks to everyone who commented on my previous comment in the thread.

My comment about the multi-GB card was made because, like Derrel, I had read that the image was taken with a D2x. If it was taken with an analogue MF, then the timing is indeed astounding, whether the shutter was tripped by the breaking of a beam or not.

The comments from Ian, Roger and David add particular food for thought. Regardless of the difficulty in the taking of an image - and I appreciate that pre-visualisation, set-up and timing have been critical in the photo of the wolf - the deception for me is that the shutter was not released by the finger of the photographer.

Part of the challenge (and thrill) of street photography, for example, is also pre-visulisation and timing. However, I could set up my camera and 35mm lens on a tripod in the street, load it with a 32GB card, and use an intervalometer to trip the shutter every few seconds. For a few hours, I go and take a Belgian beer or several before collecting my equipment (astonishingly not stolen) and downloading the files into Lightroom. I repeat this exercise every day for a year (my liver won't tolerate more alcohol after that).

As with the infinite number of monkeys eventually writing the works of Shakespeare, I think I would be quite unlucky not to have several top-class images in my collection, perhaps even a small masterpiece. But what was really my contribution as a photographer to their taking?

This is really what I meant when I used the term 'decisive moment'. The moment of decision on the part of the photographer in taking the photograph is missing.

I fear this may become a real issue, perhaps in competitions, when the convergence of stills and video photography allows a single top-quality 'photograph' to be extracted from minutes (or hours) of otherwise dross video recording.

Going back to the HCB definition of 'decisive moment' as cited by Ian, I very much agree there is a lot of poor 'decisive moment' photography around. But I think that's often because it does not really reflect a decisive moment. For me, the acid test is whether taking the photograph a fraction earlier or later would have resulted in a lesser image. If not, the image does not reflect a decisive moment. At a guess, I'd say 90% of street photography on the web fails the test.

To Derrel,

Compare the two images and you will easily see that the point of view is slightly left of the contest winner, at least as shown in Mike's image post and in the links you provided. So it is clearly made from two different POV's and thus plausibly from two different cameras.

I thought I recognized that wolf from last season's edition of America's Next Animal Model.

In looking again at the composite I noticed that there is a dark shadow across the wolf's right rear flank in the Nikon shot that is not present in the film shot. So at the least there are two sets of flash triggered here. Also notice that the angle of attack in the jump is different. How could it be that he managed to get this wolf coming over the gate twice without baiting him? More likely, at least to me, the shots were made in close sequence and not simultaneously.

Unfortunately nature photography is not free from attempts to use altered images to win competitions or to make it to the front-page of a renowned magazine. Few years ago a picture published in the front page of the National Geographic (Hungarian version) was attacked by the Hungarian Nature Photographers' Society claiming that the photo was actually shot in a studio. More details and convincing proofs you can find here:

The photographer denied the accusations and NG protected the photographer.

Few years later another photo was proved to be staged and the magazine could not deny it:


These examples may represent only the tip of the iceberg.


El Inglés, I agree about the intervalometer. But not about beam-triggered wildlife photography. If it wasn't for such, some photos wouldn't exist. Like the abovementioned closeup of a tiger bathing in the wild, not in a caged pool. Or some leopard photos. Or possibly photos of beavers under water. Or some other stuff. It may look the same as the intervalometer, but it's not.

They may not be masterpieces, they may not be decisive moment photography, but the documentary value of such photos can be quite high.

The photographer may have not been present to press the shutter, but he set the rig up, knowing what to expect. It's not that much different from waiting for the subject with behaviour you know in the street.

It appears to me that the photos were taken at different times -- it's hard to tell precisely with that small inset photo, but the trajectories of the wolf's body seem different in the two shots.

When my children were small, we went to a park in Miami (Greynolds Park?) for a kids' nature hike led by a volunteer naturalist, kind of a thin nerdy guy with a pith helmet who could have played a thin nerdy naturalist on a TV show. Anyway, he was good with the kids, and we were walking along where there were a large number of gorgeous pink birds which may have been called Roseate Spoonbills, nesting in some mangrove trees. Suddenly, the nerdy guy went absolutely berserk (somewhat scaring the children) and charged two photographers taking photos of the birds, because he recognized one of them as a guy who thrown rocks at the nesting birds to get them to fly off their nests and thus provide better photos. The nerdy guy literally drove them out of the park. Nature photos are not always what they seem...

I have in my mind, by the way, the most amazing set-up for a northern snow-country wildlife shoot, that I stumbled on by accident, and that I'll never tell anybody about until I'm too old to possibly shoot it myself. 8-)


I'm with Ctein on this one: To my eye the photo was clearly taken at the Zoological park, given the unique trees in the background, and that lie in itself should be sufficient for disqualification. Note that in making their decision the judges "...also considered the responses to specific questions put to the photographer José Luis Rodriguez." They haven't disclosed what these questions were (which is quite appropriate), but surely the first one must have been "Where was your photo taken?" The judges could then compare the photograph, the claimed location and the zoological park location. I have no doubt that's exactly what happened.

The intervalometer street camera, which I suppose is what many surveillance cameras are, seems like a different situation to me than the beam triggered nature photo, which is set and is waiting for what might be called "the decisive spatial arrangement," and even then, will yield many rejects, because the animal isn't looking the right way or the eyes are closed, or isn't quite in focus, etc.

Another issue is that humans all move at about the same speed, and we're probably better at intuiting their movements than we are at intuiting the movements of other species. If I've got a really good shot of a small bird in my viewfinder, I might shoot an entire roll of that same bird (usually in single frame mode), because I know that even if I think that 33/36 of those shots looked perfect in the finder, in reality, the bird can turn its head and close its eyes faster than I can press the shutter button.

Mike, I found the rules for WLPotY 2007, while Shell was the sponsor. The relevant rule is rule 9 there. So yes, the rules have apparently wriggled around a bit. Not to mention the indtroduction of baiting into rules. :)

"9. Subjects Domestic animals (cats, dogs, farm animals, etc) and cultivated plants (species or hybrids grown in a cultivated setting) do not count as wildlife and are not eligible subjects. You must declare if a picture has been taken in captivity or conditions that are unnatural (eg if the animal has been restrained or previously kept captive). Details of the subject and location must be provided in the file info (please mark images with a large C). In some cases, the photographer may be asked to sign a statement detailing how and where a picture was taken. If cruel or unethical practices are suspected by the Owners or any of the judges, the entry will be disqualified."

I question whether the existence or the timing of two separate photos from two cameras proves anything either way.

Even wild animals repeat behaviors, return to favorite hunting paths, refresh territorial markings. Perhaps a semi-wild wolf could be "trained" to return to a particular spot and perform a behavior, but is it also implausible that this is a convenient bottleneck along a favored path?

I happen to think these are two different leaps based on the wolf's apparent height and trajectory. I'm not quite on board with the one-and-only-one flash per camera assumption. In the Hasselblad frame I see better lighting, but in addition to the lighting present in the Nikon frame. Can we really discount even the hypothetical of two setups firing in quick succession, with the first lights having lower power and longer dwell (not even necessarily strobes)?

Whether man trained wolf or wolf trained man, the photographer surely made multiple attempts over multiple nights, refining his setup and settings. Either way, he would also need luck.

Don't get me wrong, I agree with the disqualification, I'm just questioning some of the technical assumptions and forensic reasoning I'm reading here.

robert e,
"Forensic reasoning" is a great phrase. And we all know how long that can go on, if we remember Errol Morris's piece about the Roger Fenton cannonballs.


Dear Ed,

You gave me a chuckle (at my own expense). Thank you!

Y'see, last night I went searching the web and found two relatively high quality JPEG's of the photographs you posted, good enough that I could import them into Photoshop, apply some deconvolution software, and look at fine detail. I did that to convince myself that it was the same wolf in both photos (it is). Then I started to look for definitive proof that the photographs had to be separated in time (whether by milliseconds or minutes, who knows). What I finally homed in on was the precise configuring of the right front paw; the amount of flexure and extension in the two photos is quite different in a way that mere differences in camera position couldn't create (the gross position of body parts relative to other parts might shift depending on your vantage point). It was definitive.

I never noticed that honking big shadow across the flank in one of the photos! Talk about not seeing the forest for the trees!


Dear JC,

Your post reminded me of Darkroom magazine's last involvement with the late, unlamented Fred Picker. Picker was a serious annoyance to us (meaning the editorial staff); for reasons I shan't go into, the publisher forced us into running some articles by him. In the last piece he submitted before the magazine folded, Picker went on about driving down a country road, seeing a pond that would make a perfect photograph for him, and discovering there was a sapling in the way that interfered with his composition. So, I kid you not, he took a saw out of his car and cut down the sapling to make the photo! Not merely pruning back a leaf or small branch, we're talking wholesale vegicide. So much for preservation or reverence for nature. It wasn't even on his own land.

After careful, but extremely brief, consideration, we decided to run his piece unexpurgated and unedited. You can guess the tone of the letters to the editor we got. Happily we got to run them before the magazine closed down. Even more happily, the magazine closed down before Picker could write a rebuttal (not that I know how he could have defended his actions, but that never stopped the man).

After that, our private name for him was Chainsaw Fred.

~ pax \ Ctein
[ Please excuse any word-salad. MacSpeech in training! ]
-- Ctein's Online Gallery http://ctein.com 
-- Digital Restorations http://photo-repair.com 

"Flamethrower Fred" was appropriate too, albeit not with the same relevance.

As I recall, he advocated making the cuts at an angle, so the bright exposed wood of the fresh cut would face away from the camera and not be noticeable.


Imagine what Fred, god rest his soul, might have been able to accomplish with Photoshop....

Actually, I have done the same thing but with permission and to deadwood only. I did learn that trick reading the article to which you refer. Don't we all do a little housecleaning of debris and sticks before making the shot?

Latest issue(FEB) of Nat Geo arrived yesterday. On page12, there's an obviously faked photo(reader send-in) of a dog with a house behind, and some military jets flying in the distant backround. The jets are in sharper focus than the house. Tilt/shift lens? I don't think so.

"The position of the front paws shows those two photos weren't made at exactly the same moment."

Sorry, but I think what that shows is that there were two different cameras,and one camera is located about five feet to the right of the other. The shadow inside the wolf's ear, the blades of grass at the fence support and on the bottom rail, and the pattern of the shadows show the cameras were separated by several feet, but the SHADOW patterns and locations show that the flash was located in one position. The differing camera forms and respective lens choices make the photos look subtly different, but it;s not too hard to mentally walk your point of view to the left about five feet and see how, from the close-to-the-fence camera angle, the paws would appear to be "touching", but if the same leap were photographed from five to six feet to the right, the paws would appear to be "apart". I think you need to look at the identical SHADOWs as evidence that these shots were triggered and made on the same leap over the fence. What about the animal's gaze (in the dark,no less!)---same in both frames.

I must say that a lot of the objections raised in public discourse on this topic sound to me like they come from ignorance, and to some extent jealousy. (Not so much here; people here seem to know something about photography, it turns out!)

The official statements give no real information, and then the rumor mill says other things. For example, the official statements say there's a suspicion the animal is a model, but they give no source and no information on how it was checked. I'm not comfortable with the idea of a "suspicion" being sufficient; suspicion is easily created. Meanwhile, the rumor mill says that the location is not what was originally claimed; that sounds more definite, and very serious if true. But that's not mentioned in any of the official statements I've seen.

Bah, humbug. It's a striking photo. The question of whether it's natural behavior of a wild wolf is important.

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