Bin Laden raid: ‘Situation Room’ photo airbrushed by White House

This now-famous photo of the US president Barack Obama and his team in the White House ‘Situation Room’ has been seen around the world. While there’s no denying the scene took place, a closer look at the image reveals it was carefully airbrushed to get a specific message across.
This photo was taken by US photographer Pete Souza on May 1 in the ultra-secure conference room from which US special military operations are planned and monitored. In it are Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Vice-President Joe Biden, Defence Secretary Robert Gates and other high-ranking U.S. government and military officials. The group is watching live footage of the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan, and the atmosphere is visibly tense.
The photo was analysed with software called Tungstene, produced by French company eXo maKina. The software uses various filters to detect the different stages of alterations a photo may have undergone. In this case, the parts of the photo that have been digitally altered are highlighted in red.
A few zones clearly stand out – and a closer look at which ones they are give us a pretty good idea of the message the White House may have wanted to convey when it released this image.

- The light on and around Hillary Clinton was enhanced, while other parts of the photo were slightly darkened. This may be because Clinton’s stricken expression is what confers the most intensity to the photo.
 - On the laptop computer in front of Clinton lies a document, probably a military map, which has been noticeably blurred. This tends to indicate its highly confidential character, which the White House wanted to protect. What the analysis of the photo reveals, however, is that the documents around and under the blurred map, including what appears to be a satellite photo, were in fact highlighted. In this case, the alterations seem intended to draw attention to the documents, rather than away from them. The resulting message stresses the top-secret nature of the operation, and may have been intended to convey the idea that Hillary Clinton was well on top of the military strategy.
- The left side of Obama’s strained face was also highlighted, apparently to further stress the tension of the scene.
- Finally, the numerous medals on Brigadier General Marshall B. Webb’s uniform (seated, centre) were brightened, possibly to highlight his authority as a military commander. In fact, the most high-ranking military officer in the room is Admiral Mike Mullen, the man in the beige shirt and tie standing right behind him (admittedly, however, he is not as visually impressive in this shot). 
Inexplicably, the bottom part of the tie of the unidentified man standing behind Robert Gates seems to have been added onto the photo altogether. One guess could be that the tie was added to hide the man’s White House badge, which would have been close enough to read, therefore revealing his identity.
None of the elements in the photo (apart from the tie) are actually fake, but the alterations the image underwent all aim for the same effect: to enhance the impression of tension, but at the same time of efficiency and power, that the White House spin doctors hope to convey.


the photo also clearly had

the photo also clearly had people taken out of the left hand corner. Note how others are crowded from the center to the left, when a vast empty space otherwise remains in the far corner. I believe Michael Leiter, former counterterrorism director, was in the actual initial image, originally published on the NY times website, and during the same weekend his bride's photo appeared in the Weddings section announcing their wedding. Presumably some bell went off and it was all wiped for security concerns.

They lightened up the browns.

Otherwise, half of Obama's face would be shaded. It's a thing you've got to do sometimes, with pictures of nonwhite people.

Or did I miss the explanation for also enhancing the laptop wires in the center of the table? Wonder what secret message that sends, being able to see that green network cord...

Ribbons, not medals

"...the numerous medals on Brigadier General Marshall B. Webb’s uniform..." Those are ribbons, not medals, on the uniform. A medal is a piece of metal with an inscription or image. On United States military uniforms, a strip of colored cloth, matching the cloth by which a particular medal is hung when presented, is worn to indicate the wearer has earned that medal. This strip of cloth is known as a ribbon.

Come-on ...

This article could be a strong competitor in the annual Fox News Contrived Controversy Competition, right up there with Czar-gate and (gasp!) the President's "study hard" speech given to the nation's public school students.

What professional photographer doesn't clean up shadows and other issues before publication, especially with an image that is likely to have historical significance?

The "unidentified man

The "unidentified man standing behind Robert Gates" is James R. Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, and pretty well-known, so I hardly see a need to keep his identity secret here.

See here:

An alternative explanation

It looks to me like the computer program is just picking out the most complex pixel combinations.

If Hilary Clinton was deliberately highlighted, why is it that only her clothes are highlighted, and not her face and hands?

Why are there specks of highlighting between the two computers? There's nothing there except connecting cords.

The medals on the General's chest and the supposedly added necktie have very complex pixel patterns.

The facts suggest that the program does nothing but pick out unusually complex pixel patterns.

Ed Lake

Silly story

The white house photographer just hit auto enhance In photo software

Doctored Photo

Hillary Clinton was asked about her expression in this photo. She said she suffers from allergies and she was about to sneeze. Keep in mind of the 40 minutes they were on the ground, these people saw nothing for 32 minutes! They were not watching anything in "real time".

airburshing for propaganda

It looks to me that Obama has been scaled down ever so slightly. Or his stature as a presence in this room just couldn't be enhanced enough by a bit of extra light. Doesn't he look small to you?

Just the way he is sitting

He is sitting in a smaller chair compared to the man to his left. Also he is leaning forward on his arm and elbows supported by his legs. That's why he looks smaller.