The problems with Christian Stangl’s K2 summit photo

It has already been discussed on this site that there were 2 problems with the summit photo that he has produced as evidence of making the summit. The reason that this has been written is to go more in depth on the reasoning behind these problems especially the line down the left hand side and what that may mean.

Problem 1: EXIF missing

The first thing about the photo that was noticed was that there was no EXIF information. Two programs were used to find out this information: Photoshop CS5 and JPEGsnoop. JPEGsnoop is a free program that anyone can download and test this out on the summit picture.

Every digital camera will leave EXIF information about the photo. This includes: date taken, model of camera, aperture, etc.

When using Photoshop the EXIF information is lost when a file is saved for the web. Otherwise it retains the EXIF information if saves normally. Thus the photo may have been saved for the web.

Not having EXIF information in the photo meant it was impossible tell if it were authentic because the date taken, camera, shutter speed, maybe GPS were absent. It did not mean though that it was a fake, it just raised some suspicion.

What was in the EXIF of the file, though, was that it had been saved in Photoshop 7.0. It was saved on the 13th of August, the day that Stangl made it back to K2 base camp and then headed out to Skardu.

This lack of EXIF information in the photo led to an investigation as to whether the photo had been altered in Photoshop to see if there was any reason it might be missing.

Problem 2: The line down the left hand side of the photo and the lighter pixels on the other side of it

What was trying to be found was something to indicate that Photoshop tools had been used to change the photo. Was there anything obvious in the photo? Anything that looked like Photoshop may have been used was examined. The photo was enlarged to the pixel level to see if there were any cloning, extra layers, or other hints that Photoshop was used where it should not have been.

The problem was found down the left hand side of the photo. A darker line went up from the bottom left hand corner to near the top of the left hand side of the photo. Also there were some lighter pixels to the other side of the line on the edge of the photo.

Line down Christian Stangl's summit photo

The following screenshots show the darker line and a lighter one right on the edge of the left hand of the photo. The photo has been magnified a lot to show this.

Line at the level of the mountains near the bottom of the picture

The following photo will show what was found near the bottom of the summit photo. This is where the mountains are including Chogolisa.

Screenshot showing a line running down Stangl's summit photo

As can been seen there is a darker blue color line running from the bottom of the picture. Also next to it are lighter colored pixels. This also runs up much of the left hand side of the photo. There is quite a contrast in brightness between the pixels on the side of the photo and those on the other side of the line.

Line at the level of the clouds

Further up in the clouds there is still the darker line and the lighter pixels on the side of the photo.

Line at the level of the clouds Further up in the clouds there is still the darker line and the lighter pixels on the side of the photo.

Line at the level of the blue sky

Next the sky has the same properties. But the lighter pixels have become darker than they were at the bottom of the photo.

Lines running down photo next to the sky

Higher up in the sky, the properties are still there but the pixels on the side of the photo have become darker. There is less contrast between them than at the bottom of the photo.

Line next to sky running up the photo of Christian Stangl's summit of K2

No lines hear top of the photo

Eventually the line ends before the top of the photo. There is no discernible difference between the pixels on the side of the photo here and those elsewhere nearby.

No lines at top of photo

There was vignetting at the top of the photo, but even with that effect removed the line was not present in this area.

Possible explanations

There maybe a few possible explanations for the line and contrast that is seen up the left hand side of the photo. These maybe as follows:

  • There was a hardware problem with the camera. The extreme height and lack of air pressure resulted in some sort of hardware failure. It could have been the electronic shutter mechanism or a problem with the lens. Against it being the electronic shutter, the kind of problems seen on a side of a photo would be seen with a dslr camera with a mechanical shutter not properly working. Also it would have been uniform up the side of the photo.
  • Camera had a problem converting the photo to a jpeg. A compact camera once a picture has been taken converts it into a jpeg. It may have incorrectly done that. Against that is that none of the pictures on Stangl’s website display this problem with any of the cameras used.
  • The photo has been edited with Photoshop to make it look like he stood on the summit of K2. The reason that there is no EXIF information is that it would have revealed the truth about the photo. Layers or cloning has been used in Photoshop to produce a photo that looks like that he was on the summit of K2.

Likely explanation: Photoshop used

The most likely explanation for the line down the side of the photo, in this sites opinion, is that Photoshop was used to edit the picture and make it look like Christian Stangl was on the summit of K2.

A flaw was found on this photo with no reasonable explanation as to why it is there. People, who use Photoshop and change their photos significantly, can leave a trace that they have made changes. In this photo the line down the left hand side could definitely be the result of manipulation of the photo.

A layer could have been created from another photo and that could have been placed on top of the background.

Or the clone tool could have been used. The mountains in the background could have been simply cloned onto the picture and whatever was there initially has been hidden by this cloning.

The reason that the line is still there is that it is such a small area and unless one really zooms in then it can’t be seen. The person who edited the photo just did not look hard enough on the left hand side of the photo.

What the lighter pixels down the side of the photo might be

Because there are so few lighter pixels next to the darker line, it is hard to say what it is or what it might be with any certainty.

If cloning of the mountains etc on the left hand side of the photo occurred then what are the pixels that are of a lighter color next to the darker line?

A possible explanation is that these pixels are the original background of the photo. There are not enough pixels to say that for sure, but there is chance that they are the original background to the picture. It is purely speculation but the Info panel in Photoshop does offer the ability to see the color and brightness of those pixels and make a guess.

In Photoshop the Info panel will tell the red, green and blue value for each pixel which is part of the photo. The higher the value for each then the brighter and more dominant it is. The highest value is 255, and the lowest 0. If all have the value of 0 then the pixel is black. If all have the value of 255 then the color will be the brightest white.

What is suggested by these readings is that because they have a higher value at the bottom of the photo, this could have been originally a snow background. The reason the values would have been high is that the sun was showing on them. Comparing the values of red, green and blue on other parts of the photo where there is snow including the glasses, the values here at the bottom are higher, but there is a similar higher value for blue. It may indicate brighter snow.

Higher up the photo, the brightness does decrease for the pixels, but there is there is still a higher value for the blue color. This indicates a bluish background. It would not be unreasonable to claim that those pixels could be the color of the sky, but lighter than that in the main part of the photo.

Now all of this is speculation about those lighter pixels as there is little detail. It’s just that by using different tools one can discover more about a photo. These thoughts were just put in to further speculation about that area.

It would be more likely that the photo has been edited by Photoshop than the speculation on what a few pixels up the left hand side of the photo are.

Other explanations may be valid for what the lines are. However, what remains is an unsolved line and area to the left of the photo.

Original photo on Christian Stangl’s website


8 Responses to “The problems with Christian Stangl’s K2 summit photo”

  1. Steve Says:

    My opinion is a very amateur one, but considering that Chogolisa is to the South of K2, and therefore Stangl is facing North, why is the reflection in Stangl’s goggles showing the Sun as it is…wouldn’t it be behind him over his right shoulder by 10am?

    • k2bottleneck Says:

      Thanks for your comment.
      A good place to check where the sun was on that day, is the day and night world map. They show the position of the sun on any particular day of the year.
      You are right he is facing north. The sun would be to the right of him, which would be south east. It should not be seen in the photo, as its not , except in the sunglasses.
      It is a pity though there was no picture showing the shadow of Stangl on the summit.

      Source: Day and night world map

  2. Steve Says:

    From the Day and Night world map there, I wouldn’t have expected to be able to see the sun in his goggles at all – I had a play around using google earth and the projected direction of the sun that time and date to confirm this. This can’t be accounted for by the curvature of the lense because his arm appears in a similar position off the centre of the goggles, meaning that the sun is forward of him.

    Of course Stangl could clear all this up very easily himself by producing the second photo that he took, and unedited versions of both of them!

    • k2bottleneck Says:

      It would be nice to see the other picture as it might reveal more features.
      I have wrestled with the sun in the sunglasses quite a bit. I just haven’t formed an opinion if it is exactly right or whether what you are saying is correct. I do see what you mean though. And Ive also used Google earth too with the sun and the expected shadows.
      In general there could be more analysis of the photo including what you have mentioned. There could be more analysis of the mountains in the background too. Since it appears to be a clear day in his sunglasses, the mountains around Chogolisa have far lower luminance than the ones reflected in the sunglasses.

  3. Marcel Says:

    Stangl admitted today (07.09.2010) that he was not on the summit of the K2 and that the ‘summit picture’ was taken approx. 1.000 meters below the summit. I had that impression before, as the glacier running in front of Chogolisa is comletely covered by the flank of another mountain. Yet, most summit pics of K2 (and see as well the summit video of Karl Unterkircher on youtube) made towards Chogolisa show ar least one band of the glacier in an uninterrupted way.

  4. Marcel Says:

    Sorry – meant the video of Libor Uher on youtube, not the one of Karl Unterkicher – I mixed them up.

    • k2bottleneck Says:

      Thanks for that information. It’s breaking news to me so thanks.
      Yes I’ve seen that video too and you were right to have doubts about where the Stangl picture was taken.
      I am glad that he has come out and admitted it. Because his name would have been tainted had he not have done so.
      My thoughts were that the death of Fredrik Ericsson and the pressure of trying to be the first one to climb all first and second highest mountains on each continent got to him in the end. K2 is well known for playing on climbers minds as they wait in base camp. Because of the bad weather and resulting inactivity they have plenty of time to think about what could go wrong.
      He is good enough to come back and make the summit. He got fairly near in 2009.
      I was thinking of how he could back down and just tell the truth. I think he has an explanation that tries to at least save his reputation.

  5. TIROL BLOG » Schickt uns eure K2 Beweisfotos! Says:

    […] dem K2 war. Besonders umfassende Analysen zu Stangl’s gefälschtem Beweisfoto vom K2 liefert das K2 Blog. Wir wollen wissen, wie viele der TirolBlog-Leser schon via Photoshop am K2 waren. Schickt uns eure […]

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