Battle of L.A. Photo Manipulation?
icon32.png Posted: 15 Mar 2012 16:51

This is a segmented series of my arm chair investigation into The Battle of L.A. that took place Feb. 25, 1942.

  • Feb. 25, 1942 The Battle of L.A. (Two months after Pearl Harbor)
  • Jan. 17, 1942 L.A. Times Article: Southern California Defense
  • Feb. 23, 1942 Japanese Submarine Shells refinery near Santa Barbara
  • Photo Tampering. Is this evidence of photo tampering?

In or around March 2010, Simon Elliott, from the Department of Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library at UCLA found 6 Battle of L.A. negatives. Among these negatives included the published retouched version of the searchlight photo, this is the famous photo that appeared in the L.A. Times. But included with the negatives was a non-retouched version. These negatives were inspected by Scott Harrison of the L.A. Times:

The non-retouched negative is very flat, the focus is soft and it looks underexposed. While I could not tell if the negative was the original or a copy negative made from a print, it definitely showed the original scene before a print was retouched.

The second negative is a copy negative from a retouched print. Certain details, such as the white spots around the searchlights’ convergence, are exactly the same in both negatives. In the retouched version, many light beams were lightened and widened with white paint, while other beams were eliminated.

In earlier years, it was common for newspapers to use artists to retouch images due to poor reproduction — basically 10 shades of gray if you were lucky. Thus my conclusion: the retouching was needed to reproduce the image. ~ Simon Elliott

Both the retouched and non-retouched photos follow beginning with the touched version:



Since both prints from negatives are now available. I decided to pull the non-retouched version into photoshop. I compared the image using various filters to alter gamma, color, etc… When I decided to decrease the brightness around the the point where the searchlights converge, I found something that looked like modern day digital editing.


The first image is cropped from the original digital print as presented by Scott Harrison and published on the Times website. The second image is increased in size by 100% and the brightness has been reduced by a factor of 200 in Photoshop. (Note that in PS, brightness can be reduced to 150 then applied, then further reduced using the same brightness/contrast tool).

The non-retouched version seems to show signs of the same which leads me to think that the retouched version was copied from an already edited version. The edges are too straight to be painted and my first thought was that it looks a lot like digital editing. However another possibility is that a cutout produced independent of the photo was placed over the convergence area. What follows is the retouched version of the enhancement above:


I have searched the web to see what others had to say about this and to the best of my knowledge, I'm the first to make this discovery. I'm not an expert in photography and looking for someone that can paint some light on this subject. I realize that labeling this as "tampering" may be a bit extreme when there could be a perfectly good explanation. But I'm having a hard time trying to decide why the central object would be covered esp considering the nature of this mystery.

The following images were printed from the negatives found at the UCLA Archives.

Article note: I originally posted this to another site on 26 Dec 2011 and decided to move it here in keeping with my consolidation plan to combine all of my blogs onto one site.