White House Doctored Photo of Obama Shooting a Shotgun?

Pigs fly (courtesy thehill.com)

The truth is out there! To no one’s surprise, there’s speculation bubbling through the Intertubes that the photo the White House released showing President Obama actually firing a shotgun has been . . . wait for it . . . digitally enhanced. As in altered. Photoshopped. Faked! And while I’d love to lend a hand at dismantling one of the more obvious PR stunts of the Obama presidency (because being photographed with an F1 car makes you a racecar driver, right?) I just can’t . . .

Not with any certainty that is. The speculation in question centers around the smoke emanating from the barrels. It does make the scene look more dynamic, with the gun firing instead of just a static shot of the President holding a shotgun. But inquiring minds have raised questions as to whether that smoke was added after the fact. One such speculator breaks it down into three main points; that smokeless powder doesn’t look like that, that the ports don’t look right and that BHO’s body doesn’t appear to be absorbing any recoil.

Let’s take it claim by claim:

Further evidence would suggest that the smoke in the photo is somewhat heavy and is more consistent with the kind of smoke coming from a blackpowder gun, not a modern shotgun. Without a doubt, this photo has been doctored for whatever nefarious reason.  It appears as though the shooter was merely holding a gun with the smoke being added in later.

Eh, kinda. I agree that the smoke seems a little heavier than normal, but competition loads tend to be on the smokey side. My much-loved Eley ammunition that I chugged through, case after case, in college during rifle team practice was the smokiest stuff I’ve ever come across. And it seems like that’s true for shotgun target loads, too.

Here’s a picture from the Washington Post’s olympics coverage showing a shotgunner exhibiting roughly the same level of exhaust as did the President at the top of the page. Sure, this picture might show less smoke than the Predient’s, but given the variances in exposure settings and possible differences in loads, I can’t rule out the possibility that the level of exhaust is normal for that gun and load. Smokeless powder may have reduced the visibility of the exhaust, but it can’t be eliminated completely.

img_0989

As for the black powder comparison, I see where they’re coming from. But black powder is too low velocity to get the perfect cylindrical tube of exhaust that you see right at the muzzle in BHO’s picture.

So, while I agree that the exhaust seems to be a little more than you see from the typical shot shell you’d buy at Walmart, its not implausible.

What’s next?

One will immediately notice that there is smoke coming from the right side of the gun in the photo as well as out the front.  The only problem is that there is no smoke coming from the ports on the left side of the gun, clearly seen in the photo suggesting that the smoke was doctored into the photo.  Furthermore, the smoke exiting on the right side of the gun does not match the port pattern on the left.  If this gun was being fired as suggested by the White House, then the smoke would be coming out the ports on the gun clearly seen in the picture and evenly on both sides.

Honestly, this one’s hard to call. There does indeed appear to be a striking lack of exhaust coming from the ports facing the camera. Then again, the photo isn’t of high enough resolution to get a good look. Here’s the best I could muster, using the full resolution version of the White House’s original photo for reference:

BOS1

Everything is all pixelated and blurred. I really wish the guy had cranked his ISO and used a higher shutter speed. Unfortunately, with such low resolution I can’t really determine for certain whether there is anything coming out of the ports facing the camera or not.

Then again, the low shutter speed brings something else to question – motion blur.

See how the bronze choke tube poking out at the end of the barrel is misshapen in a distinctly “up and to the right” fashion? That indicates that the object moved while the camera’s shutter was still open, blurring the photo slightly. However, in that same split second, the camera only saw the exhaust coming from the original position of the barrel, not the position the barrel was in when the shutter closed. Instead what we have is a sharp and clearly defined exhaust trail coming from the original position of the barrel, and nothing once the barrel moved.

Again, this isn’t something that can be pointed to as a smoking gun (so to speak) indicating the picture is a fake. The burn rate of the powder and the rate at which the exhaust leaves the barrel can vary depending on the load, and it’s possible that the camera could only capture the last moment of venting before it tapered off and nothing else. Even the slight issue with the last port apparently not venting anything could be explained if the camera only saw exhaust when the gun was in the lower, leftward position and not the higher, rightward one.

In short, nothing definitive here either. What’s next?

A photo taken at this stage of the firing process would also reveal the forces of recoil upon the shooter. There would be a wave of energy passing through the firearm into the shooter’s body and evidence would exist somewhere in this photo that this phenomenon was happening. This would appear like a slow motion picture of a boxer receiving a knockout blow. The shooter’s body would give some evidence of reacting to the recoil, especially someone not wearing heavy clothing as in the picture.

Honestly, it’s impossible to tell. His posture sucks almost as bad as my sister’s, but that’s not exactly probative.

Target shells are a much lighter load than hunting or competition loads. They have significantly less recoil, and therefore don’t move the body around nearly as much as standard hunting loads. Add into that equation the ported barrel (which helps greatly reduce the felt recoil and muzzle climb) and you don’t get that “knockout blow” that Mr. Tin Foil Hat seems to be expecting. Instead, at most, you’d get a gentle shove when firing an over/under like that. Especially given the low velocity at which the shot leaves the barrel.

I can’t say with any level of certainty that this picture was or wasn’t shopped. Some things do appear strange and contrary to my own experience, but they’re not outside the realm of possibility. Then again, thanks to the frankly rather terrible quality of the photo, I can’t say for sure that it wasn’t doctored.

What I can say, though, is that the photographer in question needs to spend a little more time photographing moving objects rather than staged events and well-lit press conferences. Don’t be afraid to crank the ISO above 100, my friend. Anything to increase that shutter speed.

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About Nick Leghorn

Nick Leghorn is a gun nerd living and working in San Antonio, Texas. In his free time, he's a competition shooter (USPSA, 3-gun and NRA High Power), aspiring pilot, and enjoys mixing statistics and science with firearms. Now on sale: Getting Started with Firearms by yours truly!

61 Responses to White House Doctored Photo of Obama Shooting a Shotgun?

  1. avatarIn Memphis says:

    Okay here’s another thing which I asked in the previous thread on this subject, when shooting skeet doesn’t that involve aiming towards the sky?

    • More likely they just threw some clay pigeons, in which case he could be firing late at a target that is lower than normal.

      • avatarIn Memphis says:

        I guess that would make sense for a one time only PR shot. Seriously though, if the guy wants to try and convince us that he is “one of us” you would think they would make a better effort?

    • avatarDyspeptic Gunsmith says:

      Shooting at a bird coming out of the low house, more or less straight towards you.

    • avatarRalph says:

      doesn’t that involve aiming towards the sky?

      Not if the Republicans are standing on the ground it doesn’t.

    • avatarKelly in GA says:

      Low runner maybe?

    • avatarAlphaGeek says:

      I’ve seen two separate private-land skeet setups, in Ohio and West Virginia, where the station was near the top of a hill and you would shoot anywhere from dead level to slightly downwards to hit. It just depends on the terrain and how the station is set up.

      I’m not an expert on skeet ranges, by any means — I’ve been to maybe 8 different ones in my life. Just sharing what I’ve seen.

      I would also find it completely plausible that President Obama has no fscking idea how to shoot skeet and this photo is of him shooting the spot where the clay was 3 seconds earlier. ;)

      • avatarIn Memphis says:

        “I would also find it completely plausible that President Obama has no fscking idea how to shoot skeet…”

        That’s kind if what I’m getting at but I’m armchair quarterbacking it because I don’t know anything about the sport except the basic idea

    • avatarLarry says:

      Is that a serious question? It can bee thrown at any angle but down. Go to youtube and watch a video. I have skeet come out on the same level as my gun.

  2. avatarRalph says:

    So Barry fired a shotgun once. Big deal. Mike Dukakis once rode in a tank, looking for all the world like a scared-sh!tless bobblehead doll.

    • avatar16V says:

      I remember the Dukakis tank photo and the laughs we had captioning it. That was at least as funny as Carter’s swamp rabbit. But not quite Nixon’s “sock it to me”.

    • avatarAlphaGeek says:

      That’s one of the very first failed-POTUS-candidate images that stuck in my head. Even as a yoot I immediately knew that the election was over for him as of the moment that photo was published.

    • avatarJacob Kerns says:

      At least Dukakis was actually in a real tank and it wasn’t doctored in anyway.

  3. avatarWilliam says:

    I dunno. Why bother with all the photofakery when he could just resort to the customary Lilac Treatment?

    You know, when he LIES LACK HELL?

  4. avatarMatt in FL says:

    Nick, you must have been really, really, really bored.

  5. avatarNate says:

    Does it really matter either way?

    If he lied, wow a politician told yet another lie.

    If he didn’t, doesn’t mean anything for us. Doesn’t change the fact he really doesn’t care for the 2A beyond the sporting/hunting clauses. Doesn’t affect my opinion of his presidency, his policies, or his agendas either way. He will always be the epitome of a politician and not a public servant.

    • avatarIn Memphis says:

      If he lied and if it can be proven it may just turn some fence sitters to our side.

      • avatarAlphaGeek says:

        Um, no. The occupiers of the vast middle ground couldn’t care less about this sort of thing. Seriously.

        • avatarIn Memphis says:

          Well its still nice to think that people would change their minds when people lie.

    • avatarAccur81 says:

      I’m with Nate. I don’t trust BHO either way, and all this speculation regarding the photo is irrelevant. At the most, we’d be catching a politician in an exaggeration. No “smoking gun” there.

      There’s also an incredible difference between firing a pricey over-under shotgun a few times, and having any discernable respect for the 2A. It is my understanding the shotguns are kept at pricey sporting clubs in Great Britain, to be used at leisure by their wealthy members. I could easily see the same thing happening in the US.

    • avatarSammy says:

      Yo Nate,

      I think that’s the new political mantra, courtesy of H. Clinton, “What difference does it make?”

  6. avatarArete13 says:

    I’m sure the Getty photog knows plenty well what he’s doing. A little bit of motion blur at the end of the barrel is nothing. It was probably still shot at 1/1600 or faster.
    I’ve worked side by side with numerous Getty and AP photogs, they are good at their job or else they wouldn’t be there.

    • avatarMatt in FL says:

      According to the EXIF data page for the photo, it was shot at 1/320 at ISO 400.

      • avatarArete13 says:

        Yeah i was wrong about a couple things. The photographer is actually Pete Souza not a Getty photog.
        Regardless, Pete is an amazing photographer. I dont think any of us should be nitpicking his camera settings.

        • avatarDan says:

          Basically, the ttag peanut gallery is accusing pete souza of photoshopping. Awesome.

        • avatarCarlosT says:

          Well I, and I suspect most of the rest of us here, wouldn’t know Pete Souza from John Philip Sousa, so I don’t think that’s what this is really about.

          Also, why would anything assume that the original photographer be the one to Photoshop the picture? There’s no reason to think that at all.

        • avatarRalph says:

          wouldn’t know Pete Souza from John Philip Sousa

          Well, I’m guessing that Pete Souza isn’t the one with the tuba.

      • avatarPublius says:

        I’m more interested (not that we’ll ever know) how many takes were needed to get a single releasable photo.

        And remember that he can get ample coaching from the Secret Service detail.

  7. avatarwaif says:

    Google “Queen Elizabeth shooting.” That’s what a REAL head of state should be shooting.

  8. avatarJason Coyne says:

    If it is a fake, it is a very good one. Here is the Error Level Analysis that would show photoshop manipulation, which I just ran, based on the full resolution version. The fact that they DID release the high resolution photo is itself a mark that the photo was not manipulated, as it would be very difficult to hide it at full resolution.

    But the error level analysis is also instructive. In particular, the “smoke” is at the same level of error as the background, so its very unlikely that that part was manipulated.

    According to the EXIF, the shot was at f4, with a 1/320 exposure. ISO info was not included.

    Of course, none of this is relevant, other than confirming that he did at one time hold and fire a shotgun. It does not address the “all the time” statement, or say anything about his general attitude towards gun, or gun control
    http://fotoforensics.com/analysis.php?id=16310fa82c5aa34118128ee4d9aa1a408d92e2a0.776494

  9. avatarDFF says:

    I’ve seen skeet shooters firing from a hill with the clays flying below their level. I don’t know the terrain King Hussein was shooting from, but either way, he’s POS.

  10. avatarNick says:

    Bad porting is one thing but the straightness of an the light on his right arm is what makes me suspicious or a rendering job. I have spent enough time over a hot photoshop to tell good work from bad, but the damnedest things end up being real (or fake for that matter.)

    Anyway even if it is fake I honestly don’t see what the fuss is about.

  11. avatarCA_Chris says:

    If the White House wants a photo of the President firing a shotgun, I have no doubt that they could arrange it easily. This image has problems, and I would not be surprised if the problems were added intentionally as a jab at the birther crowd. The evidence here is all anecdotal anyway. Its a man who looks like he could be President Obama, firing a shotgun at a location that could be Camp David, but we only know that it is so because we are told it is so.

    As far as I’m concerned, there is nothing to gain in disputing this photo. People will have already taken sides prior to any evidence, and most won’t be swayed either way. They say the President shoots skeet, lets take them on their word on this one and move on to facts that are actually relevant to gun rights in the US.

  12. avatarMOG says:

    The news article I read called it a skeet rifle. One mistake like that throws the whole thing into question. But, don’t think one photo is going to sway opinion one way or another.

  13. avatarSean Browne says:

    No BO fan here but I don’t see anything to make me think this is faked. I used to compete skeet shooting and my Browning Special Sporting Clays O/U has the same porting. I loaded my own 7/8 0z target loads, they were a little dirty and smoky. The ports can clog up, if the gun was canted the gas might go out the right. In skeet the targets leave from a high house and a low house. They go up. They come down. The angle of your shotgun determines when you shoot at one. I mean for someone with a semi demanding job that played over 100 rounds of golf his first term, I think the real scandal would be if he was actually an avid skeet shooter too. :)

  14. avatarGw says:

    “If the photograph had included a target frame with a lead-perforated copy of the Constitution of the United States stapled to it, I’d have no doubt as to its authenticity.”
    Gw

  15. avatarJAS says:

    The photo looks real to me. He is using a gun I am very familiar with because I have the same Browing 425, with over 50,000 rounds through it! He is not shooting skeet though. He is most probably shooting trap. I say that because that would be the correct angle and furthermore, he is only using one extended choke. In skeet he would be using both barrels and two chokes.

    The smoke IS coming out of both ports on the top barrel. You need to look at the blow up crop and see that the smoke is right where it should be, coming out of the ports in the blurry first part of the double image (the top one). Yes, it is a double image, one part of it blurred and both parts mix. But, you can see the ports in the very thin blur on top of the well lit (flashed) part of of the shot. Being a photographer as well I know exactly how that happened. The photographer used flash, which in most professional DSLRs syncs at a slow 1/250th of a second, with the flash setting at “rear curtain sync”. You can see more on that here (go down to step 13):

    http://photo.tutsplus.com/tutorials/lighting/how-to-use-flash-with-a-slow-shutter-to-create-motion-and-ghosts/

    It’s a real photo guys!

    • avatarArete13 says:

      EXIF data says flash did not fire.
      Shutter speed was 1/320 on a 5D Mark III

    • avatarJAS says:

      So, I’m ok with this being a real photo. That said, I can tell you from the President’s form that he does not shoot a lot. If he did the tips of the fingers of his right hand would be burnt badly!

      Also, anyone that shoots the shotgun sports for even a short bit learns to lean into the shot and hold the forend with the index finger pointing at the target, as in the picture of the Olympic shooter also on this post. it makes a great difference in accuracy.

      • avatarDan says:

        Burned? srsly?

        Even after a fast game of skeet/trap/sporting clays/what have you, the barrel on my mossberg 930 and remington 1100 are merely warm.

        or is there something fundamentally broken and misengineered about this particular shotgun that makes it burn your fingers when no other shotgun will?

  16. avatarCrapsworth says:

    In any case, does it matter if it is real, ‘shopped, staged, or any other scenario? The photo was released with the intent of appeasing the complacent. The real issue is what he does in the office, not on the range.

    • avatarGriffin says:

      Bingo.

      The picture only proves he can pull the trigger of a shotgun. He can go bust clays every day for all I care.

      It’s his rhetoric and signature that I care about.

  17. avatarLance says:

    Love it Nick thank you for help showing the truth.

  18. avatarConway Redding says:

    Bottom line: who gives a flying rat’s ass whether BHO has actually ever even held a shotgun, or any other firearm, let alone discharged one? All this furor over whether he did or didn’t puts me in mind of the endless blurbling about the trivial doings of Kim and Khloe Kardashian. Jeez!

  19. avatarChuckN says:

    I curious about why there is only a single choke tube. I don’t
    think the picture was faked but I have a theory as to the
    event leading up to the moment of the picture. My guess
    is the conversation went something this:

    “Here you go Mr. President.”
    “What is it?”
    “It’s called a shotgun, sir.”
    “Oh, and what do I do with it?”
    “Your going to shoot it.”
    “I won’t become.. you know…hooked.”
    “No, sir, your only going to fire it once. See
    I’ve even removes parts and blocked off the
    lower tube.”
    “Will it hurt?”
    “No, sir, you’ll be firing a blank shell.”
    “Okay, I think I’m ready.”
    “Just remember to look presidential, sir.
    This is after all a one time photo-op.”

  20. avatardaveR says:

    Then again, thanks to the frankly rather terrible quality of the photo, I can’t say for sure that it wasn’t doctored.

    Yes you can. There are always artifacts. For example, upload the photo to a website like http://fotoforensics.com/

    And honestly, the photo’s not even THAT bad. The only real “blur” is the gun…which is moving…because it is recoiling. I seriously doubt the photographer thought “hey, I’d better dial in the highest shutter speed so the internet gun nuts don’t think the photo is doctored”

  21. avatarsquashpup says:

    I know for a fact the photo was enhanced in some way. Just look at the EXIF data from the original on Flickr:

    Software / Firmware Version {0×0131} Adobe Photoshop CS6 (Macintosh)
    Last Modified Date/Time {0×0132} 2013:02:01 17:11:38
    Artist {0x013B} Pete Souza

    • avatartwency says:

      Opening a raw file in Photoshop and then saving it (as this photog doubtless did) doesn’t mean it was “enhanced” in any meaningful way. Processing a raw file through Photoshop is like printing a negative in a darkroom.

      You could fiddle with the brightness and color balance a bit to make the print look right and no traditional wet-darkroom photographer would say you “enhanced” the photo, just that you printed it.

  22. avatarRalph says:

    If this photo was doctored, was it covered by Obamacare?

  23. avatarBob says:

    Releasing a photo to demonstrate that Obama occasionally enjoys skeet shooting is ridiculous.

    You want ridiculous? I’ll give you ridiculous. Our President, a graduate of the Harvard School of Law, wants us to believe that the Second Amendment was written to guarantee our right to certain recreational activities. That is ridiculous!

  24. avatarcyrano says:

    Ok here is my 2 cents. I am not a pro skeet shooter, but I shoot with those who are. I use an Auto, a Beretta 391 to be exact when I do any of the clay formats. I own my own mounted thrower for home practice. I prefer Sporting Clays over Trap and Trap over Skeet.

    I don’t remember anyone who refers to another skeet shooter as a “skeeter”. Those who shoot over-unders “all the time” use two chokes because it is a game of two shots per station. If I ever shot a barrel without the screw in choke at a match my gunsmith would disown me. Way to bugger up the threads. If he was shooting a flush choke in that high dollar gun, thats just funny. I am going with the idea he had no choke in the lower barrel. His stance sucks, period. We usually instruct newbies to correct their stance before that do much shooting. His hold is much to be desired too, needs correcting. He is also go his cheek clamped down on the stock too hard, he needs to look up the barrel not down it like a rifle. His shotgun is in the wrong angle to be shooting skeet properly. He could drop to that level on an “away from the low house” in the second to last station but he would have missed with a light load that he is shooting. Definitely bad form again. I he was shooting clays at that angle and hitting them, then it would been most likely Sporting clays that use low and mid throws along with highs and fasts. The clays approach from many angles including bouncing clays called rabbits. Sporting clays are also shot in a safety cage, most of the time, that prevents shooters from swinging outside the safety area. I see no cage. Just my 2 cents. I welcome critiques of my critiques.

  25. avatarHercFamily says:

    I’m confident this was just “oh crap this one was provable” and could not be recalled by way of his default move “…as I have always said – [insert thing he's never said].”

    They either dug around in the folder for the President’s Cup (my 8 year old can get 6/25) or they scooted him out and set the camera on continuous shooting and chose one where he was not wincing or limp-wristing it like the famous highwater-baseball pitch.

    Its not that big of a deal compared to all the other things going on in this gentle coup. DNC just feeling a Kim Jong Un level of freedom to claim anything and media eat it up without question then go to proving the claims of Unicorn Lairs.

  26. avatarJoseph says:

    I have to say that I personally don’t particularly care if smoke was added in order to make the photo more dynamic.

    Additionally the argument’s I’m seeing regarding the president’s body “absorbing recoil” and all the other BS are just specious. It’s a still photo taken at a low shutter speed.

    A lab may be able to demonstrate that the smoke itself was added or altered digitally, the rest of it though is just pure speculation by trolls.

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