Nikon has taken down the winning entry to an amateur photography competition after a social media storm erupted over the obviously edited image.
Look Up, by Singaporean photographer Chay Yu Wei, appeared to capture a plane just as it flew over a building.
But Nikon and Mr Chay had to apologise after thousands pointed out the plane had very clearly been edited in.
It has also emerged that an identical image was posted on Instagram by another photographer one year ago.
Singaporean photographer Lee Yik Keat, who posted that image, called it “the classic lookup”. He told the BBC he couldn’t tell if it was the same photo, but said he had always freely admitted his was a composite.
How the fake plane row unfolded
11 January – Nikon Singapore announces its monthly amateur photography competition on Facebook asking for people to “enchant us with your monochrome photography”, with a trolley bag for the winner.
The terms of the competition say the photos must be original works, though doesn’t specifically bar editing.
Mr Chay, who Instagrams as @yuuuuuwei, uploaded his entry.
The following week – One user asks Mr Chay on his Instagram how long he waited for the plane to pass overhead. He replies “Not too long, I was lucky” with two smiling emoji.
28 January – Mr Chay is announced as the competition winner. Nikon says he chanced upon some ladders while on a photo walk of Singapore’s Chinatown and thought it was make an interesting shot. “Little did he expect to catch an airplane in mid-air.”
Almost immediately, people began questioning the photo.
Running it through Photoshop and playing just slightly with the colour levels showed very clearly a white box around the plane, indicating it had been cut and pasted onto the shot. The plane itself also appeared pixellated.
Much of the anger fell on Mr Chay, with photographers turning on his Instagram to accuse him of deliberate fakery.
“There’s nothing wrong with the photo, I know tons of IGers who puts a plane on it or photoshop many stars etc, the problem is you shouldn’t have lied about waiting for it, there are many people out there who isn’t stupid,” said one user.
Another user observed: “He took a similar photo last year as well. Must have been really lucky and skilful to have captured such low-flying planes twice.”
But there was also anger at Nikon for what was seen as poor judgement, and bad handling of the row.
“The problem lies with the judges. May be photo-enthusiasts who are overly zealous in the quest for an ‘impossible’ or ‘wow’ factor in the entries. Please keep it real and get real practicing photographers to be the judges. It may help Nikon’s reputation in many ways,” MY Lye posted on the Facebook page.
Nikon posts an apology, saying “we should not compromise standards even for a casual photo contest”.
“We have made an honest mistake and the rousing response from the community today is a reminder to us that the true spirit of photography is very much alive.”
But many replies are not happy.
“It is appalling that a maker of serious photography equipment takes photography integrity so lightly,” says Darren Lim. “If you truly made an “honest mistake”, then rectify it. Don’t try to justify by labelling it as a casual contest.”
Also that night, Mr Yu posts an apology on Instagram.
He says adding the plane had been a “playful edit” and was “not meant to bluff anyone”. He says he had been joking about being lucky to catch the shot.
But he says he “crossed the line by submitting the photo for a competition”, and apologised to Nikon and the photography community.
In response to more criticism of the competition and its response, Nikon issues a second apology, saying it will “do the right thing by our community and by the standards that are expected of Nikon, and as such, we will shortly be removing Look Up from our pages”.
Thanking users for their “candour” and continue support, it apologises that this means their comments will also disappear.
Local media report that a very similar photo to Look Up was posted on Instagramalmost exactly a year ago by Lee Yik Keat.
Mr Lee tells he can’t tell whether the picture was a copy or was inspired by his image, but that this method of making composite images “did not originate from me”.
“I declared to my audience that it was two images into one edit and the tag was #putaplaneonit.”
“I think this kind of editing is fine as long as it is declared, sometimes creative edits can spark other people’s imagination so it can be useful. I think if he declared it was a composite and he wins it it is fine, however (if i am not wrong?) he did not inform Nikon upfront.”
Memes roll in
Despite the anger, it’s fair to say some photographers have had fun with the row as an opportunity to show of their photo editing skills.