Saturday 20 June 2020

Is this a new photo of the Loch Ness Monster?

A week ago on the Facebook group, Anomalous Universe, a photograph purporting to be of a strange object in Loch Ness was posted by a person from the south of England. The group was founded by fellow cryptid believer, Steve Patrick Carrington and the thread that started this can be found here. The person added the comment "Took this in Loch Ness last September but I don't know what kind of fish it is" to this intriguing image. A zoom in on the object raises an eyebrow.

What we see is a large hump like object making its way up the loch past Urquhart Castle. Naturally, people started to ask questions and making comments. The CGI comments came in to which the person said "No it's just a fish but not sure what sort. Love the idea of cgi but I'm not that good at it... Lol". I chipped in and asked him if had taken any other photos in a sequence to which he said yes and I requested to see them. I got those by email four days later as he said he was away from home in Devon looking after his mum. There were two taken before the image with the object and one after as shown below. These extra images also led to another thread.

The photographer added he was on the wall at the castle and the object was only there momentarily and it was a fluke shot. There were "loads of other tourists" there as well as his brother, but he says his brother saw nothing or the tourists. He says the picture was taken on either the 15th or 16th September 2019 and estimated it was 30 feet away and about 8 feet long and could even be a catfish. All in all, the potential for a great photo, but as we have learned in the past, a probation period had to be initiated. So I first found out more about our photographer and discovered on his LinkedIn page that he was a 3D graphical artist and he had a portfolio of images of various constructions such as the one below. To be clear, he earns a living creating CGI - computer generated images.

Naturally, this raised a big red flag and I put it to him that this monster picture would not look out of place in his CGI portfolio, to which he said "I didn't say I didn't do cgi I just said that I'm not that good. The photo is genuine and it was taken at Loch ness last September. Will happily show you the rest of the images when I get home next week". Well, if he makes a living from this, he must have some skill in the matter. So let's get on with some analysis.

I asked him to email me the original images from the SD card and was sent some jpeg images of about 1Mb in size each. That was curious as I expect any half decent camera to deliver images a lot bigger than that for size. I ran a jpeg quality check which came out at 80% which is too low. It should be near 100% for a virgin image. In general, when a jpeg image is opened and saved in an application, this leads to a degradation in quality each time.

Nevertheless, I extracted the EXIF data which is metadata describing parameters such as camera type, aperture, resolution, exposure time, etc. It was taken with a Sigma SD1 Merrill, which is a decent camera which came out about nine years ago. It can take images up to 45Mb in size or as low as 1Mb, but I doubt that was the default setting. However, the EXIF also said the image had been through Adobe Photoshop version 21.1 for the Macintosh. Moreover, the date of the photo was created was January 1st 2011, not September 2019, though this could be explained as the factory reset date if the date was never manually set.

However, there was also a modify date of the 16th June, which was suspicious. So, I raised this matter with him suggesting this image was not the original file. He replied that the image file had been opened by Photoshop and then saved as a jpeg file, the original files were too big to send by email. That being said, a day or so later he sent links to download some larger files in TIFF format which he said were from the original card and were bigger at about 15Mb each.

This presented a problem to me as the specification for the Sigma SD1 Merrill camera does not list TIFF as a native format. It produces images in only one of two formats, raw format or the smaller jpeg format. As an explanation, raw format is a kind of digital equivalent of an undeveloped frame on a silver nitrate film. All the information is there, but it is "raw" and is not processed for human viewing. The jpeg format is there to provide a human viewable image in the camera display, such as one might use for reviewing images for deletion or retention.

In fact, Sigma uses the raw "x3f" format to store its images. I replied to the photographer on the 18th June pointing out this problem and will consider any reply I get on this matter. Meantime, I extracted the EXIF metadata from the TIFF image and compared it against the JPEG metadata. The TIFF data said it had also gone through Photoshop as well, not what is to be expected of an original SD card image. Indeed, the "History Parameter" field of the EXIFs revealed more. The JPEG list was:

History Parameters from image/jpeg to application/vnd.adobe.photoshop, converted from image/jpeg to application/vnd.adobe.photoshop, from application/vnd.adobe.photoshop to image/jpeg, converted from application/vnd.adobe.photoshop to image/jpeg

While the TIFF parameter was:

History Parameters from image/jpeg to application/vnd.adobe.photoshop, converted from image/jpeg to application/vnd.adobe.photoshop, from application/vnd.adobe.photoshop to image/jpeg, converted from application/vnd.adobe.photoshop to image/jpeg, from image/jpeg to image/tiff, converted from image/jpeg to image/tiff

In other words, the TIFF file had the same history but had an extra stage at the end - converted from jpeg to tiff. Other parameters such as "History Software Agent" and "History When" also demonstrated this TIFF image was likely just an upscaled image derived from the JPEG via Photoshop. By upscaling, I mean an image that is converted to a larger file size, but without any additional information being added. Indeed, when the 1Mb JPEG and 15Mb TIFF files are zoomed in, there is no visual difference in the images, suggesting a zero-information upscale as shown below (jpeg first):

I could have performed further analysis, but at this stage, there are discrepancies which need to be answered first and which currently render this photograph unusable as evidence for a large creature in Loch Ness. However, I am in still in communication with the photographer about the issues raised.

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