Monday, 26 February 2018

The Peter O' Connor Photograph (Part IV)


Having taken a rest from the previous three articles on this intriguing photograph, I now consider some other objections to its authenticity. The first is taken from Maurice Burton's 1961 sceptical work, "The Elusive Monster" and makes the claim that the light configuration in the picture suggests a camera elevation of twelve feet (about 4 metres) rather than O'Connor's two feet. He also claimed that the object was no more than 15 feet away (New Scientist, January 1969). He added the further thoughts that the photograph showed the object was in water less than a foot deep with the object itself no more than three foot across.

Now Burton states these numbers but makes no attempt to demonstrate how he came to them. No maths, no diagrams, no nothing. It seems we just have to take him on trust in this matter. As it turns out, Burton had been relying on someone else to do the maths and that person was a Neave Parker, former RAF photographic analyst turned wildlife artist. In fact, Parker was an accomplished monster artist as the drawing below shows. Going by this, perhaps Parker had a mutual interest in goings on at Loch Ness?

So, as things stand, what Burton says here should not be accepted unless the maths and the assumptions made in the calculations are brought to light and can be verified by independent parties. Enquiries made to Loch Ness researchers who had made contact with Burton in the past managed to reveal the name of Neave Parker, but nothing else as regards calculations.

But taking these numbers at face value raises one or two issues. A calculated camera elevation of twelve feet is hard to envisage from a visit to the site where the photograph was taken. Assuming the foot to eye distance was about five feet, that leaves seven feet of height unaccounted for. There were some raised areas along the beach such as the one mentioned before where I found the circularly arranged stones, but I would not give that much more than three feet above the usual beach level.

The only two options I could think of was either to fall back to the wooded area as the hillside begins to rise to the road or climb up one of the occasional trees that grow out of the shingle. The problem with the first scenario is that being so far from the shoreline would undoubtedly bring the beach into the foreground of the picture. But why would a hoaxer even step back that far?

Concerning the second scenario, a typical picture of the trees along that beach is shown above. One could conceivably climb seven feet up a tree to take the picture, but that makes no sense either.  Apart from introducing an unstable photographic environment as the tree groans under ones weight, it also risks injury as such trees are rather thin trunked. To that one could add the foliage interrupting the field of view as it sways between you and the loch. But again what advantage is gained from taking such a picture seven feet up in a tree as opposed to the safe terrain of the beach?

As a consequence, I suggest the numbers stated by Burton make no sense from a practical point of view and so we move on to another objection.


The following objection to the photo was posted as a comment at the end of one of the other O'Connor articles I published.

The distortion of the circular ripples emanating from the left of the image can be calculated by extending these into an ellipse on a graphics package and dividing the short axis by the long to give the cosine of the angle at which they were viewed. This turns out to be somewhere between 62 and 65 degrees (the reproduction of the photograph is distorted such that it no longer conforms to the original aspect ratio of the negative, although this is only by a few percent.) 

Should the object be at the claimed distance of 75 feet, then the camera would have to be 35feet above the water level to account for the geometry of the ripples.

In summary, the equipment used could not have produced a flash exposure of a subject (whatever that subject indeed was) at the distance claimed, but instead the picture should have shown the subject and it's surroundings lit mainly by ambient (sun) light.

Also, the distortion of the ripples in the picture suggest that it could not have been taken under the claimed conditions, that is, at the distances claimed.

I would point out that the statement "the claimed distance of 75 feet" is not quite accurate as O'Connor told Tim Dinsdale he was "within 25 yards of the creature". Needless to say, "within" is not the same as "at" and estimating the distance of an object without a frame of reference in low light can lead to errors. As we focus on the commenter's ripple calculations, I have four problems with this interpretation of the photograph.

First, the calculation does not make sense. If the stated angle of viewing was indeed 62-65 degrees, then the height of the observer to an object 75 feet away would have to be 160 feet and not the stated 35 feet. However, to give him the benefit of the doubt, he may be referring to the angle between the hypotenuse and the height of the observer, in which case the viewing angle is 25-28 degrees which agrees with the commenter's alleged 35 feet height. But if the commenter really did suggest 62-65 degrees, there is a contradiction in his analysis.

Secondly, there is the assumption that the ripples in the picture will be circular. That is an essential requirement to calculate the angle of incidence. However, these waves are coming into the shore and that means they will suffer from the effects of refraction. That is, the part of the wave nearest the shore will slow down in relation to the rest of the wave and this is going to result in the overall arc distorting and becoming non-circular. This has not been taken into account.

Thirdly, there is a lot of perspective leading to foreshortening in this picture considering how close the subject matter is. That will again distort the apparent elliptical shape of the wave. This also has not been taken into account.

Fourthly, an angle of incidence of 62-65 degrees is calculated. But just where exactly does this point of incidence occur in the photograph? The arc used to calculate the angle takes up half the height of the photo (or more depending which arc is chosen). Since the angle of incidence from the camera decreases as an object recedes from the camera position, then the angle of incidence of the object in question will be less than the angle of incidence of an imaginary object visible at the very bottom of the photo. The wave arc used is too big to give a precise answer. This also has not been taken into account.

The great thing about using mathematical equations such as these is that it gives ones analysis an air of authority and accuracy. However, equations are useless without numbers to plug into the input side of the equation. They are even more useless if the numbers plugged in are speculative assumptions rather accurate numbers.

On a final trigonometrical note, assuming our commenter meant 25-28 degrees, I note that when I apply Burton's 12 feet height and maximum 15 feet distance, I got a viewing angle of 38 degrees. When I attempted my own calculation of these ripples, I got 33 degrees (see picture below with an ellipse ratio = 106mm / 2x146mm = 0.363 gives 32.7 degrees). That is a 13 degree difference in calculations.

Did Neave Parker use the same ellipse calculation? If so, this looks just as much art as science. But one may say these calculations are way above what one would expect from O'Connor's account. If he was waist height in the water and was up to 75 feet away from the creature, that gives an angle of incidence of no less than 2.3 degree based on a water to camera height of three feet. Quite a difference, but my aforementioned objections to the objection makes it all look rather imprecise.


Now from this and my previous articles on this subject, you may have guessed that sceptics have been all over this photograph like a rash looking for anything that can give them a reason to dismiss it. Even the most obscure and tiny blobs of light or darkness are transformed into die cast objective facts that settle the case for those with a solution looking for a problem.

There was, however, one feature on the photo that seems to have evaded all their fine tooth combing and interpretations. I am referring to what looks like a bow wave emanating from the presumed neck of the creature. If you inspect the zoom in below, you will see two lines either side of the neck moving out from right to left of the picture. There is also a light area on the water under the head which I take to be the reflection of the head-neck from the flashlight and forms no part of what I interpret as a wake.

If that is the case, then it poses a problem for sceptical theories which all presume the object to be static. If the object is indeed moving, then some kind of bow wave should be visible either side of the neck and what we see here is perfectly consistent with that idea.

That thinness of the neck compared to a typical boat hull would suggest a less pronounced bow wave which is tighter to the creature's profile. Also, if O'Connor was also as low down in the water as he said, there would be a foreshortening effect visually drawing the two bow waves closer together. Which of these two factors  is most influential in the picture is not readily apparent. Indeed trying to analyse this theory by comparing similar animal wakes proved to be challenging. 

What I was trying to find was a creature in motion with the body followed by a gap and then the head-neck. Long necked water birds looked an obvious choice, but every image I found had no water gap between body and neck. Turtles fared no better while snakes gave you a water gap behind the "neck" but little in the way of body. Finally, the otter came to my rescue with this photo below.

So compare and contrast as best as one can between two creatures of very different genres. What I did notice was the lack of bow wave immediately to the side of the main body in either the otter or O'Connor picture. This appears to become more visible further to the back in the otter photo, but we do not have an image of the water to the left of the O'Connor creature's rear and so cannot confirm the main body bow wave is there.

Mind you, there are some creatures which swim with little in the way of bow waves as this slow moving crocodile demonstrates. It is to be noted O'Connor's creature was not described as moving at a fast clip when he describes it as moving "at a fast walking pace". The case for the object moving in the photo is stronger and has a thin lined wake pronounced the funeral for various sceptical theories?

There is another reason why I do not think the O'Connor object is stationary and that is shown in the montage below. If an object is stationary (like the island in the drawing) then incoming waves will diffract around it to create a mesh of constructively and destructively interfering waves.

The problem with the O'Connor photograph in this regard is that we only see waves coming in from the left. If, as is reasonably assumed, the loch waves were roughly heading towards O'Connor, then we ought to see diffraction occurring around the alleged stationary object and waves also bending in from the right to create some kind of discernible diffraction pattern.

I don't know about you, but I only see waves coming in from the left, which to me suggests again that this object is not stationary.


Quite why the various sceptical researchers have failed to comment on these features may seem a mystery, but it is not to me. One leading Nessie sceptic devotes a whole research paper to this picture and makes no mention of this bow wave or lack of diffraction pattern. Perhaps their negative bias towards the photograph blinded them to these and that is why you should always read the arguments on both sides if you are serious about coming to a conclusion.

Don't be fooled by researchers who are always putting down research by those who advocate the existence of such creatures. Indeed, such people may now tell us how they always knew of these features but quietly dismissed them as unimportant. In some cases, that may well have known about them, but I await comments from those who will try to say that not only is it not a bow wave, but it is not even a defensible position to take. Not only should there not be a diffraction pattern, but it would be idiotic to expect one.

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  1. Despite formal training in photography and film at Masters level I'm not going to pretend I can fully follow or refute/confirm your distance/height analysis GB. I am, given your clear expertise, prepared to agree with your findings unless I read an equally intelligent rebuttal that addresses you point by point. What I can agree with, given familiarity with composition and camera elevation from sight (which is my artistic bread and butter) is that the photo is obviously not from an excessively elevated angle. And following this line in a more practical way - what remote benefit would this gain O'Connor? Or why not admit "I was in a tree because I'm a crazy ex-soldier and climbing trees is my thing"? I'd have believed him given his modus operandi.

    The other three positive elements I find are:
    1) As you say there's a clear bow wave under the head/neck. I don't know enough about water flow (can this effect occur naturally even if the water is flowing in the "wrong" direction?) so I cannot be definitive on this but it is an issue that needs addressed.
    2) The texture of the creature's skin is consistent between the body and the head/neck. So if the head is a stick or log it seems O'Connor went to the length of making sure the whole creature had a consistent look.
    3) The head/neck looks thick. It doesn't look like a stick - it would have to be a log and a pretty sizeable one at that. Burton said he found a stick. That doesn't work for me. In addition it looks perfectly smooth and rounded. Yes this occurs in nature but that smoothness is unnatural for a tree. Again, if it's a hoax O'Connor has carefully sculpted this.

    Okay so here's my main objection: what is it? It's not a plesiosaur as we know them, the proportions are incorrect barring mutation. But it does look like an unknown creature (Which almost all eye witness reports confirm) so it does fit in with my own hypothesis which is that it's an unknown deep water creature that very occasionally comes to the surface.

    That's if it's real. If a gun was to my head I'd call it a hoax because O'Connor never came back to the Loch and personally if I took that photo I'd never leave (O'Connor was more motivated than I initially so the fact he thought "that'll do" and disappeared forever is suspicious). Yet if it is a hoax it's a much better one than initially thought and has not, to my satisfaction, been ruled out completely.

    1. Just to clarify, Peter O'Connor did return to he loch two months later as described by him in Dinsdale's first book.

  2. Thank you. I tried to research that myself today but could find nothing. The only Dinsdale book I ever read was about 25 years ago!

    1. I believe it is on p.164 1st edition of Dinsdale's "Loch Ness Monster".

  3. I can understand the scepticism surrounding this photo...the 'body' section has a slightly 'deflated' appearance..not smooth like a seal or dolphin. I wonder, GB, if we are looking at the actual gas emitting device that has been much speculated on...that which aids the creatures rapid rise and fall movements.

  4. I have always felt the image is too light to be nessie.

    1. Bleaching effect of flash light.

    2. Maybe, so im suprised you didnt think that originally in the Rines underwater shot.

  5. I always trust my eyes with this one. It simply doesn’t look real or animate to me. Everything about it looks phoney in my opinion.

    And as has been said, if you’d had that kind of sighting and therefore knew this animal existed, would you not move heaven and earth to spend the rest of your life proving its existence? O’Connor seemed to drop off the radar almost straight away. Odd behavior from someone who’d seen a genuine animal at such close quarters.

    1. I think he was a regular to the loch, but it seems the abuse he took over this photo may have been a demotivating factor.

  6. There are (too) many problems with this photograph. For example, we see an extremely rigid head and neck, right? So if we follow the line of the stiff, rigid, neck straight down under the water until where it would connect with the body, we end up with a very odd positioning of the neck on the body. Add in the total lack of movement - sorry GB, but just look at how much water the tiny body of that otter displaces - and I cannot accept this photo as being of an unknown animal...

    1. Agreed on the issues with the body connecting to the neck. It's actually similar to the Mansi photo of Champ where if you follow the line of the neck in detail it lines up with the body in an unnatural way.

      In addition the only part of the entire thing that looks wet is at the very back where the body meets the water for a few inches. Why doesn't the whole thing glisten like this?

      And yes, the lack of movement in the body or water displacement is a major issue. O'Connor even talks about rippling muscles and a separate head, neither of which I see.

      Where I very much agree with GB is on the incorrect assessment of the sceptics. There is no major camera elevation and the neck is not a 'stick' as proposed by Burton. If I had to guess I'd say it was a pretty decent hoax and at the very least intriguing enough to warrant this discussion. As GB states in his first blog post about the photo: it's either a hoax or the real deal.

    2. Kyle, how do you discern lack of "movement in the body" from a still photo?

      I think I have made my case for water displacement. A relatively thin neck is different to a thick boat hull. Even an otter can displace more per body area due to its broader aspect.

  7. I'm with Hopkarma on this photo. The relationship of the 'neck' to the 'hump' in terms of both size/length and configuration just doesn't work to my eyes.

    1. I feel a part V coming on. Anyway, I hope I have made the case that the object is not stationary.

  8. So, any objections to the actual reasoning behind the article?

    1. Sorry GB tried to answer a few of your questions earlier but my phone is being weird. Basically:
      1) I can't see muscle movement - doesn't mean it's not there. I just can't see it based on my understanding of anatomy. I concur that there's enough water displacement that it's at least a possibility the object is moving. It's certainly not clearly static, case closed - it could be an extremely elegant swimmer on this occasion.
      2) I think you should do a part V if you think there's more you wish to say. Part of why I admire this blog so much is the detail and thoroughness taken on all the aspects. Always interesting.
      3) As I said initially I have no objections to your impressive reasoning though it would be interesting to read a rebuttal. I can't refute your technical break down and my own training would concur with your height assessment though that's more an artist's interpretation and ultimately subjective.

  9. I think its a hoax but it does not bother me that men like Peter try to dupe the public, its always going to happen.I find it more worrying that believers in the know like Gary Campbell try to dupe people saying that the webcam video from october by Megan Clarkson IS an animate object.There is no proof of this and its probably a canoe but he should not say it is an animal.There are more ways than one to duping people and Gary should no better in my opinion.

    1. I’d class Gary C as a Nessie promoter rather than a Loch Ness researcher.

      He applies no critical thinking and offers no analysis. Some of the ‘sightings’ he’s giving credence to in recent years have been nonsense. I’m not sure he does the subject any favours.

  10. I've been very interested in this series of articles about a case I was fairly ignorant of..thank you Roland.

  11. The object is in fact stationary. It is the action of sourounding water (induced by elements or artificially, or both) that makes it seem the object might be moving to some extent.
    In my upcoming paper I shall demonstrate how the O'Connor photograph may have been staged.

  12. So ... the bow wave and the lack of diffraction are in fact deceptions created by conditions you are not at liberty to explain? That is not very helpful, Aleksandar!

    While we are here, can you point me to your rebuttal of my critique of your Spicer article which I published six months ago?

  13. Hi Roland,

    There is no mystery behind the conditions!

    The possible causes of displacement are either wind, or a person(s) agitating the water. I shall demonstrate this fully in my paper based on experimental data I gathered.

    I didn't have time to write a thorough rebutal of your critique of my hypothesis re Spicers' report. As soon as I do, I shall refer you to it for the sake of educated exchange.

    I did publish a piece on the Mountain expeditions photographs in the meantime. I am not sure if you had the opportunity to read it?

    1. Ah, but it is a mystery for you have presented another of those sceptical unfalsifiable theories! You have stated something, but none of us (including you) have any idea whether what you say was true in reality back in 1960. However, bow waves and diffraction patterns are the same in 2018 as they were in 1960.

      But let me say we know about the wind, its the wind funelling up the great glen from the south west that creates the waves that lap into the O'Connor object. Surely, the same wind can't cancel out its own diffraction pattern?

      So in putting the simplicity of Occam aside, perhaps you are referring to another special wind required here which comes and goes on demand? And why does this special wind create a series of arcing waves to the left at one angle but two pseudo bow waves at another angle? Another layer of complexity required?

      An invisible person agitating the waters will not do either for my proposed bow wake is two nicely defined wave lines. For some reason, the invisible person's agitation of the waters failed to produce a multiple series of lines not just two. He even managed to agitate the waters so that the "fake" bow waves are diverging from each other and not moving in equidistance!

      In finishing, let me ask you what I said at the end of the article - is my position "a defensible position to take"? Is it not reasonable to conclude the two lines are consistent with a bow wave and is it not reasonable to conclude that a diffraction pattern should normally be visible?

      If you point me to your piece on Mountain, I will have a look. Thanks.

  14. Now you are being sarcastic.

    I could write a lengthy rebutal of all of your assumptions, not just the ones you mention here, but also the ones you write about elswhere (e.g. hills casting shadow onto the loch, blocking the sun mightely, etc), but I wont. There's no need for me to do so since much has been said about that by others.

    Displacement of water as it appears in the photo as well as how can it be achieved in controled experiment will be just one of the observations in my upcoming paper.

    Judging from the reactions even from the believers on this very blog, I'd say O'Connor's photograph is widely percieved as a fake.

    You can read my article on the Mountain (actually, Campbell's) photographs in The Skeptic, Vol 26, No.3 (28 May 2017).

    1. No, these were serious, but admittedly off-the-top-of-my-head objections. There is a vacuum of information in your reply which I presume you will remedy in your forthcoming article. Until then, I will refrain.

  15. Thanks GB for the best quality print I've seen and the excellent enlargements.
    Still not sure about this one, its the most detailed Nessie picture, I'm not bothered about the height the camera [ I know it is important for calculations etc. ] more that the background is black and thus the location highly debateable.

    Is O'Connor still with us and is the picture in the public domain ?

    1. Yes, it's strange that people say it doesn't look like a Nessie but then say we need detailed photos to see what a Nessie looks like! Does anyone see the circular reasoning there?

      Peter O'Connor is not alive now, I presume he would be at least 80 if he had been alive today.

      I assume his next of kin owns the image now.