Handout Photos and Flying Liars

Happened again … in a rush to get a story up on the new Shelby 1000, a highly-modified, 950 horsepower Ford Mustang, many websites used a couple of handout photos from the manufacturer, Shelby American. The images were impressive, showing the car lifting its front end off the ground because it was delivering so much power to the rear wheels.

A wise photo editor at USA Today, understanding the mechanics and physics involved – and with, I must say, a great deal of common sense – noticed that the photos were faked.

The chain of events, if you click through the stories, gets funny. It starts here:

Scott Black, spokesman for Shelby American, initially said he was aware of manipulation only to fix shadows, that the wheels actually lifted off the ground. But after checking with the company, he called back and elaborated: “That is a fake shot. That shot is not real. I am beyond embarassed.” He said the manipulation was done by the photographer and that he didn’t know the reason.

Of course, it’s the photographer’s fault, the company had no idea.

But then in a later story, that changes:

John Luft, CEO of Carroll Shelby’s Las Vegas-based aftermarket outfit, issued a statement saying the “photos of the Shelby 1000 were edited tongue-in-cheek to inspire those at Shelby American who had worked so hard to develop the car” and that “images were not supposed to be used outside of the company.” The pictures were used on several websites.

The statement says that the photographer was allowed “to have some creative fun during his shoot and they were never intended to represent the car in any other light than what was written.”

Uh-huh.

Photo manipulation happens both outside the camera, inside the camera and at the hands of editors – kudos to USA Today for catching this and bringing it to light. Hopefully it will act as a warning to every photo editor to look carefully at handout photos, who knows how many other instances like this happen every day.

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