Friday, January 20, 2012

A photo thief who made me laugh

A couple of days ago a Kenyan photographer contacted me about representation. He sent me a link to his blog which showed recent weddings and fashion shows he had covered. I thought the images were pretty good, but his most recent blog post, titled "Incredible Kenya... My Kenya" was quite different. It portrayed the world famous wildlife of East Africa from cheetahs and lions to elephants and giraffes.

There were some stunning, low light portraits, and some mediocre washed-out 'safari snaps'. This always seems suspicious to me. If a photographer has produced some excellent images, why pull them down with ho-hum everyday shots? The styles, composition and colours were also pretty varied and made me suspect that the images were not all by the same photographer.

The blog post did not directly claim that the images were taken by him, so I thought it possible he was just displaying images he had found across the web to show off his country (of course, he should at the very least have credited the photographers, assuming that the images were Public Domain). I emailed the photographer asking him if all the wildlife images were his own.

His reply?

"Yes there are all my images, taken in Kenya and Tanzania."

Well, to be honest, I didn't believe him, so I decided to investigate the images further. I used Google Search By Image to match some of the images, and very quickly found one on Wikipedia which was taken in South Africa and credited to another photographer. Not a good sign.

Oddly, I kept being pulled back to one image, but I couldn't figure out why.

It showed (above) a family of elephants by a dusty waterhole, the moment beautifully frozen with the largest elephant eyeing the camera. I studied it closer. Next to them was a carcass, picked clean, but oddly intact. There was no sign of the usual debris you get around African waterholes (dung, rocks, tracks) and the wonderful lighting of the elephants didn't really fit with the washed out midday sky. Then I thought "I've got it! They really are frozen!" I used Google Search By Image to try to find the original source of the image, but as most of the results were from 'free photo wallpaper' sites, I just couldn't find anything useful.

Then I though of another wonderful feature of Google Search By Image. So I tried the 'visually similar' option and got this:

The first row of images seemed to be all the same (some reversed) but on the second row (circled in red) in the first image, even though the poses of the elephants were unchanged, the top foreground twigs were different. Bingo!

I clicked on the link and got this:

So it appears the elephants actually 'live' in the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County. Because the elephants were 'frozen' in their poses, the 'visually similar' option on Google Search By Image found them easily, even though the images were taken at slightly different angles.

And that made me laugh.

Here we had a photographer who stole all these images and claimed he had taken them on safari, without realising that one of them was actually a museum exhibit.

Needless to say, we will not be representing this photographer, but we have quite a few other photographers in Kenya who we can recommend.

UPDATE: 24 Jan 2012
After reading this blog post, photographer Tom Brownold sent me a message and link:

"Chris, I followed your link and got a chuckle out of it. Then I went to review the AI-AP show from last year and found this. Made me laugh out loud."

The image is a beautiful shot of the African Mammal Hall at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County by photographer David Zaitz, showing an internally lit tent, and... what's that in the background? Oh yes, it's our family of elephants, supposedly photographed in Kenya/Tanzania!


  1. Nice investigating. Glad to see you take the time to find the truth. Thank you from a fellow photographer.

    1. Just by first glance you can tell this was shot in a museum, I don't know who would think else wise

  2. Interesting story... So is the tent there to allow folks to camp in Kenya as well as take photos there :o)

  3. Excellent detective work, Chris. I am still amazed that photographers will try to pass off images when a quick Search by Image can undo them!


  4. Ah! Too funny! I found your blog years ago when I was fed up and mad at myself for being a sucker and getting involved in microstock. I lost track of it, but I just found it again, and very glad I did.