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.


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:


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.