Swedish Nature Photographer of the Year Exposed as Fraud

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Nature photographers worldwide are watching a scandal that has come to light in Sweden over the last few days. Terje Helloso, a widely regarded nature photographer, was exposed and subsequently admitted to publishing multiple photographs in which endangered (hard to find) animals were inserted into nature scenes using Photoshop. It was due to some of these photos that Helloso was named Nature Photographer of the Year by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency in 2010.

swedish nature photo scandal

Rare Lynx was photoshopped into award winning nature photo from stock image.

Swedish animal conservationist Gunnar Gloerson was the first to suspect the images were frauds when he noticed one of the photos, reportedly captured around July, showed a rare Lynx with winter fur which shouldn’t be the case during summer months.

Gloerson also noted, “In less than a year, (Helles) became friends with six wild lynx in Mullingar! A total of 150 lynx observations at 9 months!…Most nature photographers are struggling for life for the perfect shot where the light is perfect and the wild animal is in the right place. This photographer seems to take such a picture (every) week!”

As photo editing programs such as Adobe Photoshop become more advanced, it is becoming increasingly difficult to know whether a photo has been digitally altered or not. As more scandals like this come to light, I wonder if award agencies will introduce new measures to determine how photographers are post-processing their images.

In response to this scandal, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency is looking into stripping the photographer of his title. [Via Gizmodo, UPI, and PetaPixel]

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20 Comments

  1. kimberly says:

    Photography has changed so much with the introduction of digital cameras and editing software. No more waiting for the right light and optimal conditions. You can change all of that in editing. The what you see what you get in photos is no more. Photography has evolved and I am having a hard time evolving with it. I don’t like the heavy post processing.

  2. paul ronan says:

    If only S.O.O.C. images where accepted then real talent would be honestly visible. Suggest a seperate class for visually enhanced images. SOOC in this day and age is a forte that is sadly ignored.

    • Robert says:

      I started in photography back when film was the king (my first real camera was a Nikon F2). Post processing has always been part of the game. I understand Karen’s concern but I believe that there’s a certain amount of integrity involved here too. If you have to depend on post processing and fraud to make a great shot then you’re really not a photographer are you?

  3. Karen says:

    I agree! The skill of photography seems to have been replaced by the skill of post processing. I’m so tired of seeing HDR and other “photos” that aren’t photos at all – they really are just a creation based on the desires of the person in post-processing. So much stuff is so overdone its more of a painting than a photo. I miss the days before photoshop when although there was darkroom manipulation, a good photo counted for something.

  4. A.D.Wheeler says:

    Exsqueeze me Karen???? Don’t blanket cover HDR photographers please. People like you give the whole photography community a headache. Close minded crap. I agree there is over done HDR out there, but ten times as much poor crappy out of the camera shots as well. Some of us embrace technology and the truth is, HDR can better recreate a scene than any single exposure EVER could.

    Hey, I have an idea… How about you take your digital camera and try developing your shots in a darkroom. Your CF card should fair well in the solution… Good photos do count for something, and snobs like you pointing out the bad ones because of technique is just the kind of self elitist BS that needs to go away. What are you a PUNK photographer? Give me a break.

    I don’t agree with what this idiot did, but I also don’t agree with you!

    • shankdub says:

      Karen- I have to agree with AD Wheeler in citing that your blanket statement is a horrible way to critique an entire group of people and a creative method. HDR “aren’t photos”!? Bizarre statement. I’m glad the world doesn’t think like you do or everything would still be stuck in the stone ages. I am so thankful for innovation, adaptation, interpretation, and artistic expression. I don’t know if you’ve ever processed a photo from film and exposed it onto paper, but…does not the type of paper effect what came out of the camera???? The moment you expose/process a photo the original image is altered in some capacity. So I suppose Dodging and Burning aren’t true to keeping a photo ‘real’ either? poor ansel adams and the rest, just a bunch of hacks not taking photo’s. Light is matter (photons etc) so adding or subtracting it from a scene is no different than adding or subtracting any other material from a scene in my opinion. That’s if you want to get technical about it…which I do =D

    • Teacher says:

      I have learned through my long photography career, enforced by time teaching, that angry people usually do not make very good photographers.
      It might be time to find a new path for your life.

  5. All the problems can be resolved with the original raw, no?

  6. The entire photographic process – be it digital or analogue – is predicated on the notion that the photographer is capturing and presenting an image that represents a person, a situation or an event. The use of manipulative techniques to improve images is as old as photography itself (Gardener & Rejlander for example), but the issue here has little to do with photographic manipulation; all photographic images are the result of some form of manipulation. The issue in this case is the presenting of the image as “unaltered”. Digital enhancement is only the most recent form of photographic manipulation, it is not the root cause or indeed a sinister, modern development. Photographers have always used the technology that is available to them to enhance and present their work. Making false claims is another matter.

  7. Maggie Young says:

    I know it’s off the main topic of the article here, but in regards to the unending running in circles debate about post-processing in digital photography I would like to bring up the point that really GOOD professional quality editing takes a great deal of skill and talent as well (in my opinion at least). I am a live music photographer and the majority of my shooting is done in challenging/poorly lit environments which requires quite a bit of post since I also do not use a flash the vast majority of the time. An amateur would likely just increase the brightness or fill light or run it through some IPhoto filter and be done with it, when someone who had taken the considerable time and dedication it takes to master extensive post would be able to “fix” so much more detail. The photo coming out of the camera has to have a good subject and composition in the first place though, and that is done by the photographer. Not the camera. Photographing action like heavy rock bands absolutely requires photographic skill and talent. Blind random shooting isn’t going to get the interesting shots to take into post in the first place.

    There are purists and elitists in EVERY field of art and photography seems to include some of the most stubborn of them. It’s incredibly unfortunate when they project their judgements on others, especially other creatives that may have a dream of doing something more with their art. I know without a doubt that sort of intimidating pretentiousness is (partially what kept me from pursuing photography seriously earlier on in life. I still cringe a bit inside even hearing the word ‘artist’

  8. F-C-S-M says:

    I’d also have to agree that you cannot make blanket statements about everyone that uses post-processing to achieve their desired outcome.

    I’d say that the representation of these works is the most important; Terje misrepresented his work as true nature photography, it’s horrible and he has effectively lost all credibility. If a photographer presents their work as a series of HDR photographs, their work should should respected as any other photographer and their work should be viewed as HDR shots.

    To make a blanket statement against HDR and other post-processing techniques is the same as saying novels were much better when their were written by hand.

  9. Terje is from Norway, Not Sweden!

  10. Mark says:

    If the expectation of his customer is that the photo be unaltered, then it should be unaltered. If the customer has no expectation, then he can and probably should do everything he can to make the best photo possible. The article doesn’t say, but I would be interested to know if all parts of photos used were his or taken from other people’s work. As long as he took all the shots and pieced them together the end work is truly his vision.

    HDR can be overdone, but like it or not, the photographer has to use judgement on how many stops to bracket and how many shots to put together and how much editing is necessary to get a result they are pleased with. Yeah some photographers don’t put much thought in to a process, but just like in film, every now and then they get a great result.

    Have you ever stitched photos together to get a big panorama? Did you let the computer figure out where to line up the photos? Did you manually adjust colors and lighting so the photos appeared to blend? How would you have done that without a computer? Would you just have set up a string of photos and spaced them apart to give the illusion of a single panorama?

    As a photographer, you should be trying to produce results that will please the viewer. You should be able to produce that using any and all tools in your bag/darkroom/computer whatever. When someone pulled out a crayon and colored a rose on a B&W photo did everyone scream you didn’t do that in camera!! No people ate it up and look at the crappy copies of that technique is still being done in computer today.

    I’d say this guy’s big mistake is false advertising. If a customer wants organic, tell them you used pesticides. If a customer wants natural setting wildlife photographs, be up front and tell them you did some cutting and pasting. If they can’t live with poor lighting that happens in the real world, they will be back for that perfect shot, but they will know what they are buying.

  11. eifion hughes says:

    I thought that once A Photo Had Been Photo-shopped The Information was Added To The EXIF Info on The Shot by The Photoshop Program.
    So if A Judge at A Competition needed to Check for Post Editing the Information would be Recorded on The Final Digital Image.
    Apologies if I’m wrong.
    Regards. Eifion.
    P,S Most of my latest work has been shot in RAW and JPEG and at 3 different exposures so I could convert them to HDR using CS5 or Photomatix and nearly all my efforts have received nothing but good remarks.

  12. Satish Ranadive. says:

    Why not people who offers the awards.check the raw film ??.I do not think you can alter anything in that

  13. Posterjack says:

    I have to agree with some of the comments above in that the digital age of photography has led to some really overdone processes that are getting old fast, such as oversharpening and oversaturating. I have a close friend on facebook that is trying to start up a professional photography portfolio but his uploads are always WAY too overcooked in photoshop for me to enjoy them.

    Image manipulation is part of the presentation, but sometimes it’s taken too far and almost ruins an otherwise nice shot.

    On the topic at hand, it’s too bad nobody caught on to this guy faster. If he took that many photos of endangered species in such little time, he should be working for BBC or the Discovery Channel to help find, protect, and study these rare animals.

  14. Very sad that this continues to happen in nature photography.

  15. ALYN MCCONNAHA says:

    Here is another log for the fire: Post processing seems to be the rage. I do some simple post processing–so I am guilty. BUT How about in-camera presprocessing. Many cameras today have controls that do “wonderful” things to a subject. i.e., render a portrait as a line drawing. Is this legitimate ? Or how about a fisheye lens affect ?

  16. Mark says:

    He committed fraud plain and simple. However on the SOOC issue, most of the people presenting this position really don’t know how a digital camera works. The only SOOC possibility is a RAW file and that is not an image. It is a collection of ones and zeros that represents what the camera sensor recorded. In order to have a JPG image, either you or the camera must process the RAW data into a JPG image file. So your SOOC JPG has already been processed by the camera’s best guess at what it should look like!!!! This is kind of like sending your film to a drug store developing lab. They might blow out your whites or block up your shadows. Using software to go back to the RAW and start over to get a better image is no different than what top photographers in the film days did in their personal dark rooms. And Photoshop or other digital image programs just simulate what was normal in the days of the dark room. Ansel Adams could have combined two images in the dark room if he wanted to. The only thing that stopped him was a personal sense of integrity. That is what seems to be missing today.

  17. Art says:

    Weighing in here. Post processing has always been around and was commonly done in the darkroom. Ansel Adams perfected it. However, instant cut and paste is relatively new. When we enhance an image to make it the best it can be we are using all our creative photographic skills. When we steal all or parts of an image we short circuit our creativity and integrity. I agree with Mark on this. This is where I draw the line… If you add an object to your image something that was not originally there without disclosing this fact, you no longer have a photograph but a piece of interpretive art. If you use your camera and associated equipment (filters, lighting, lenses, aperture, paper, printing, toners, sharpening, HDR, etc) or technique (panoramas, long exposures, short exposures, panning, alternative development processes, etc) to enhance a photo without adding to it, you can claim it as a photograph because the composition and subject remain consistent. This guy clearly cut and pasted an object that was not there…FAIL.

    On the HDR argument, It is another process that has actually been around a while but has only been popularized by photo editing software. Ansel Adams experimented with light and film reciprocity to create HDR-like negatives. The goal was to create a perfectly exposed negative that he could print in a way that represented what he saw in his mind’s eye. HDR is a technique that attempts to do the same in a different way. It does not violate my on personal rule on photography by adding anything to the image. However, “overcooking” it by pushing your sliders to the limits creates a “muddy” looking image, that may be unique, but is not pleasing to the eye.

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