By Steven Mufson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 21, 2010; 8:54 PM
The search for doctored BP photos is on. And it's a bit like finding Waldo in the famous game.
On Wednesday, for the second time this week, a blog has identified an altered photograph about BP's oil spill response on the company's Web site.
The Gawker Web site said it received a tip about a BP photo taken from inside a helicopter, that shows a panorama of vessels working on the sea surface near the damaged well. The view through the windows makes it appear as though the helicopter is in the air.
But the astute tipster noticed a small glimpse of a control tower in a corner of the photograph. A poor Photoshop job left some white space around the shoulder of one of the pilots next to a patch of sea that was a brighter shade of blue than other parts of the gulf. In addition, zooming in on the helicopter's gauges reveals that the helicopter is not in the air at all; the dashboard indicates that the door and ramp are open and the parking brake engaged, Gawker noted. The pilot appears to be holding a pre-flight checklist.
(More photos: The spill's animal victims)
BP spokesman Scott Dean sent The Post the original photograph. The Waldos don't jump out at you. The helicopter was actually on the deck of a vessel at the spill site so the panorama of ships in the distance was there in the original photo. But the photographer, who is working on contract to BP, pasted in blue sea where the edge of the landing pad was showing. He also adjusted colors and contrast so that the interior of the helicopter was brighter, Dean said.
While the changes were minor, the embarrassment was major, coming at a time when the oil giant is trying to convince the American public that it is being open and transparent about the oil spill.
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The helicopter photo is the third doctored BP image outed by bloggers this week. Earlier, Americablog.com noticed that BP had altered an image of its crisis response center in Houston. The company's photographer had clumsily filled in blank spaces on a wall of subsea video feeds with images taken by some of the remotely operated vehicles. It is normal for some of those ROVs to be idle and to have some blank feeds.
Americablog also exposed an altered image from the Houston office, showing a technical team in front of a large projection screen. The image on the projection screen had been enhanced using Photoshop.
BP's Dean also provided the original of that photo to The Post. In the original, the screen appears to be entirely white because of the light contrast with the rest of the room. Dean said that the photographer used "the color saturation tool" to show "a clearer version of the same image on the projection screen."
Dean said that the altered helicopter and headquarters photographs, like the doctored one of the Houston control room, would be promptly taken down from the BP Web site. The original and altered versions would be placed on BP's Flickr site so people can compare them, Dean said.
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