Thursday 21 November 2013

The Problem With Nessie Photographs

You might think the title suggests this is an article about debunking Loch Ness Monster photographs. But it is not, it is rather the problems researchers such as myself have in accessing what is presented as evidence for the creature. Take a look at the four pictures below of the Hugh Gray picture (which just turned eighty years old).

This highlights the first problem with trying to assess Loch Ness Monster pictures - the quality of the reproduced image.

The first picture is the best one and is called the Heron-Allen image but more often than not it is the inferior over-contrasted third image that has made its way into the literature. Ted Holiday used image three for his detailed analysis in "The Great Orm of Loch Ness", but it is my opinion that if he had had access to the Heron-Allen image he would have come to a very different conclusion about what that picture showed - a fish like head gawping at us on the right. 

But to be fair, some newspapers at the time did faithfully reproduce the untouched image. For example, the Daily Record was so impressed by the image that they decided not to put it through their normal retouching process which would have "enhanced" what they though were relevant features. The 1934 Gould book reproduced that native image. In fact, so used were readers to seeing such retouched pictures that the editor saw it fit to put a clear statement in the article that the picture was completely untouched.

Not so lucky were readers of the Aberdeen Press and Journal who were subjected to image number two which is a travesty of photographic reproduction. It is in fact what the picture looks like after going through the retouching processes of the time and gives a wrong impression of what is in the picture. However, the Press and Journal repented of their deeds and showed the untouched picture the next day!

Image four is one for the future. It is also a retouched picture by Tony Harmsworth which he created to try and demonstrate the presence of a labrador dog in the picture. He was not being deceptive and was upfront about his effort. However, Tony, I would say the chances are well odds-on that this picture will eventually end up on some website touting it is as a faithful reproduction (if it hasn't already).


The second problem with Nessie photographs is the zoom-in symptom. Time and again we see pictures which zoom in to get a close up of the beast or so called beast. The Hugh Gray picture above is a zoom in but it is not the only one. The Surgeon's Photograph is typically displayed as below.

When the Daily Mail first printed it in 1934, it was typically a zoom in to increase the "Wow!" factor.

But the actual, uncropped image seemed to disappear from view for years until it was discovered in the 1980s (correct me if I am wrong on that point). Now we have a frame of reference and a better idea of what is going on. When you have an uncropped picture and know something about the camera, you can extract more information about objects in the picture which can be used to support a given opinion of the picture.

It's a problem that pervades many Nessie pictures and can prevent further progress on whether the picture is the genuine article or something else. Photographs which suffer from this lack of frame of reference are the Hugh Gray and F.C.Adams pictures but others get printed blown up and getting the original can be next to impossible.


But it gets worse when we realise that some pictures just seem to have been completely lost to researchers or are locked up somewhere gathering dust. This is especially applicable to motion pictures. For example, where is the G.E. Taylor film of 1938? A still is shown below but that is just not good enough!

What happened to Peter MacNab's second photograph? And where is the first ever purported film of Nessie taken in December 1933 by Malcolm Irvine? This is not to be confused with his 1936 film which can be viewed here (8m19s in). I would also count the various films and photos captured by the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau in this regard. They are not lost, but are beyond public access.

So, never mind apocryphal tales about sensational films by MacRae and Currie locked away in bank vaults. What about the films and pictures we do know about? It's bad enough trying to convince the world with what we have only to be disadvantaged by this as well.

Such is life. Other historical researchers in other fields will no doubt bemoan the lack of access they have to various items. So I do not regard Loch Ness Monster research as especially obstructed in any way.

Note I haven't even got on to the subject of accessing original negatives, but to be fair, I should not expect so much.

Anyway, back to researching the photos we have. I hope to publish an analysis of the latest photograph by Jonathan Bright next week.


  1. GB, you mentioned before elsewhere in this Blog site that Adrian Shine has control of all LNI material including stills and film. My questions are, why won't he release them to researchers such as yourself, why the reluctance? Is there something to hide? Henry Bauer once asked Shine for access to several bits of film of possible Nessies and was refused, why? Could it be that he is a skeptic for his own self-serving reasons? Shouldn’t that material be in the public domain? The MacRae, Taylor and other films are probably lost for good, but we know where the LNI photos and films are. Especially interesting would be the “object” filmed in1963 at long range supposedly of a Nessie on shore. I don’t think it’s ever been shown in public, at least I’ve never seen it. And of those who have seen the film, have they ever said what they think is shown? Do you know? Have you seen it? If so what do you think it shows? A lot of questions.Some rhetorical I admit. Please indulge me, if you can, in what you know.

    1. I don't think Adrian has an agenda, it is more a matter of placing it up the priority list.

      In times past, making the film material available would be rather complicated. Either the researcher turns up at Drumnadrochit and hopefully there is a film projector somewhere.

      Sending off the material to far flung places is out of the question but things are now different in this digital age. The archives should be digitised and made available online for two reasons.

      First because the original film is not going to last forever and secondly people want to see it.

      David James handed over these materials to the Loch Ness Project (I think) on the condition it was made available to researchers. Now is a great time to finally fulfill this. I realise there is a cost factor here and I would like to think the owners who profit from the Loch Ness Centre would put some money back into the Loch Ness Monster story by funding the digitisation process.

      However, I suspect part of the problem is that Adrian thinks the films don't show anything of worth in terms of evidence, so is the cost-benefit outcome worth it?

      I understand that, but certainly the ten year efforts of the LNI should not be allowed to decay away.

    2. Yeah, I understand what you’re saying. As in any endeavor of this magnitude it takes money. If Mr. Shine has no intentions in the immediate future or ever of opening up or digitizing the materials for distribution to researchers, maybe it’s time to turn it all over to someone or organization that has the wherewithal to do just that, better than, as you say, allowing them to decay away. If Mr. Shine feels that there is nothing worth seeing, then to paraphrase Henry Bauer, “let us make up our own minds”, thereby dispelling all doubts. It’s also interesting to note that Mr. Bauer had reservations about Mr. Shine’s stewardship of said materials. I don’t mean to be harsh and make Adrian Shine seem like the bad guy, I’m sure he’s a decent fellow, just misguided on this matter. To label him a skeptic is probably an error and also unfair, for many times he himself has stated that “there’s something strange going on in the loch”.

    3. I don't think there is any doubt that Adrian Shine has and still is doing some sterling work at the Loch and should be commended for his efforts. It is also somewhat frustrating that more information regarding his work has not been made public. It may well be that he doesn't feel that any of this unreleased material is of much significance and will perhaps muddy the waters concerning the LNM even more but I feel that if anything more came from somebody who is respected, as is Adrian, it may just get the treatment it merits. He could be apprehensive about releasing any more of this alleged material simply because of the sceptical reaction it would receive from some quarters.

    4. I think you hit the nail right on the head Pete. You’re analysis of the situation with Adrian is probably not too far from the truth. He may be reluctant to committing himself to the possibility of some unknown animals residing in the loch until incontrovertible proof is finally at hand and then he can say “Well, I always believed there was merit to the existence of a Nessie, just had to see it with my own eyes”. Also, remember that he is an academic and his professing in such a belief would not sit well with other closed-minded, stuffy academics, he has a reputation to uphold. His collaboration in past expeditions (LNI, Rines, Operation Deepscan, etc. and his own independent research) demonstrated his sincerity and good faith in the possibility. I don’t think he wanted to disprove so much as he wanted to proof that something strange was in the loch. Not only that, but also his investigation of Loch Morar, now that’s dedication! I realize that his work mainly focuses on ecosystems and the bioenvironmental aspect of lochs, but if a monster (cryptid) shows up, so much the better. One could possibly add Dick Raynor in the same camp; why else would he still be searching for “something” after all these years! As for muddying the waters further, what with all the hoaxing shenanigans, odd-ball characters disguised as reputable researchers and indefinable evidence of the past 80 years, can it get any murkier? Perhaps he is a closet Nessie believer, just waiting to come out. With conclusive proof one day, I hope I’m right. Heaven forbid we Nessie believers are wrong!

  2. Thanks for your articles GB. One day I'll get up to Loch Ness myself! Would love to see an article on your take on Steve Plambeck's salamander theory, which I think is the most plausible I've read so far.

  3. You left out one version of Hugh's photo that I actually like because you do look at the image in a different way - it has been printed at least once upside down.

  4. bodge from suffolk23 November 2013 at 12:35

    Fantastic picture of the dog with a stick in its mouth x 4 !!! i think number 3 shows it the clearest...

  5. Wow!

    This's a bit of a revelation t'me GB.

    I'm only familiar with the two lowermost versions of the Hugh Gray pic but seein' the original topmost version for the first time I find myself rememberin' watchin' two fisherman at a lake try'no dislodge a trapped net held at the surface by floats an' watchin' the water simultaneously sheer up in in walls of diff'rent height an' direction ev'ry time they tugged it towards 'em until t'the fury of other fishermen present one of 'em waded straight in an' failin' t'liberate it from whatever it was snagged on the pair of 'em flounced off leavin' a remarkable sour atmosphere round the lake for sev'ral hours.

    It might just be a snake eel larval Nessie or somethin' 'long those lines though.

    Ditto the original o' the Surgeon's pic surrounded by that huge expanse of choppy unstable water looks even less impressive an' only convinces me all the more there's no way in hell a toy sub with a monstrous carbuncular model clay erection atop it'd stay upright for so much as a nano-second in open water like that never mind the ones I failed t'get t'float in our bath for me Action Man as a kid in the early Seventies.

    Seriously there's a more realistic chance that's a holidayin' Martian caught with a ragin' bonger on than it's a toy sub.

  6. Thank you for the link to the film, Roland; not only am I a Nessie Fan, but I'm a historical costumer who loves the 30's, so the hairdressing bit was actually very instructive for me. But most of all, I love this film as a lifelong Doctor Who fan (FOURTH DOCTOR RULES OK!), and the first bit shows a REAL Police Box in action, doing its intended function, which I've never seen before. Cheers!

    @alanborky: Dude, I swear, you post comments on EVERY site/blog/page about weirdness that I frequent, always both astute and hilarious, and I have a confession; I think I'm falling in love with you. It's the typing in your accent thing that works me. But then, I've had what you might call a passion for weird Englishmen since Bowie was still Ziggy. Don't ever stop; you tickle me. ;)

    Yours In Nessiana,


    1. Fourth Doctor? I guess so, I grew up watching Tom Baker. Great to see him as the "Curator" recently. I watched the new Zygons DVD recently mentioned on this blog, I had almost forgotten how it panned out.

      Alan is our crypto-Ziggy. :)

    2. Oh, me too! Tom Baker was the Doctor when I lived in London as a kid in the 70's, and part of the reason I love him is because of the bit with the Zygons and Nessie. In fact, you took me back to primary school with that earlier post, because that's the only Who book I've ever read; I found it in the school library because I'd missed the episodes by a few years, but ANYTHING Nessie related drew me in like a crow to shiny things. Still does, really, and that's how I ended up here.

      (I didn't know he was the *fourth* Doctor until there was a *fifth*, and I was FURIOUS that MY Doctor With the Superlong Scarf was gone, only to be told by friends even nerdier than I, "Uh, you DO know that Superlong Scarf Guy was the FOURTH guy to play the Doctor, right?" Seeing him as the Curator made my heart positively SING)

      Back on topic; that last still that you show above, with the dark object in the water is one that I hadn't seen in ages, and if I ever knew that it was a still from a film, I'd long since forgotten. So thank you for that, as well. Now I share your obsession with finding the footage!

      re:Alanziggyborky: I believe you, he writes like a spider from Mars, him. ;)

      Yours In Nessiana,


  7. I'm not an expert on film photography by any means, but I don't think that there is such a thing as an untouched photo. Except perhaps the negative itself. Each stage of the process one uses to transfer information from the negative to the photographic film is subject to the developers skill and timing etc. But I get the point that things can be grossly exaggerated or even cut and pasted. Or even *shock horror* fins drawn on to them......

  8. GB what's the score with that Irvine film from '36? Constance Whyte discounted it. Any chance of a blog?