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About that Scientology “Photoshopped” Image…

On Sunday, we reported that the Church of Scientology had put on its main website a photograph of last Saturday’s Portland “Ideal Org” grand opening.

The photo was posted along with a church press release which claimed that 2,500 people had attended the event. Our own eyewitnesses on the scene, counting people in images they had taken, estimated the crowd at more like 450 to 750.

Scientology’s image was disorienting — in photos our correspondents had taken, there was a row of potted trees that contained the crowd to an area in front of the Sherlock Building on SW 3rd Avenue. But in Scientology’s photo, the trees cannot be seen, and the audience seems to swell onto SW Oak Street.

Because Scientology has been caught doctoring photos and artificially adding people to images in the past, we repeated the suggestion that Scientology’s image had been photoshopped and audience members added. Scientology denied to the Washington Times that it had doctored the photo.

Smart analysis by our own commenters has convinced us that the stretched effect of the crowd was achieved through strategic placement of a wide-angle lens. And while we are not convinced of the church’s claim that the photo is entirely un-doctored — there do appear to be elements of the photo which may have been added through software — our commenters are persuasive that the church’s image uses only a distorting lens to make the crowd appear bigger than it actually was.


We continue to be interested in expert analysis of the church’s image, and will be wary of making pronouncements about photo effects in the future.

UPDATE: After seeing the comments, we suppose we need to be even more explicit. We do believe that there was some photoshopping of the church’s image. We suspect that things like balloons, confetti, and trees have been shaded or duplicated or otherwise massaged. But the only real issue we care about is whether the church artificially added people to the scene. We believe that the crowd looks misleadingly large because of the use of a wide-angle lens, and not because fake people were added with software. Over at ESMB there was a brilliant analysis by “cakemaker” who showed that you could account for the people in the church’s image by matching them with people in the photos by our correspondents. We’ll put smaller versions of cakemaker’s images here, but we encourage you to go to ESMB to see the larger versions. Again, one more time: we have found no evidence that Photoshop was used to add human beings to the photo, only that other things like balloons may have been added. The people in the church’s image, as distorted as it is, appear to match the people in the unstretched photos. See for yourself…

First, the church’s photo…


Next, two photos from our correspondents, and note the matching people…



Once you correspond the two different views, you can see that the church strategically aimed its wide-angle lens so the row of potted trees was just outside its field of view on the right side.


Posted by Tony Ortega on May 17, 2013 at 14:00

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