Peter Lik's ‘Moonlit Dreams’ Confirmed a Composite

Over the past 10 days the internet has blown up over famed photographer Peter Lik's latest image "Moonlit Dreams," and whether or not it is a fake. Fstoppers has published a couple articles debating this very topic, but until now there has only been speculation, albeit very convincing speculation.

Popular vlogger Jared Polin released today via YouTube what looks to be proof of the image being a composite rather than a single image. Now, many of us argue that compositing images is in fact not out of the norm these days, however Lik repeatedly denies his images are composites, always saying he captured his prints in one frame. No one will argue Lik's ability to market and sell his images, however misleading customers into believing something, and completely lying is where many take offense to this tactic.

Polin presents this email as the icing on the cake to prove "Moonlit Dreams" is in fact a composite image. However, what strikes me as odd is the response Polin receives says they have never said this was taken in one frame, and that this being a composite image has been made public since its release. After an exhaustive search, I've found no such statements anywhere. On the contrary, the "Moonlit Dreams" link on Lik's website now takes customers to a 404 not found page. In fact, as you can see below, searching for the piece of work on Lik's website yields no results.

If you're just catching up on this feel free to check out our YouTube discussion on the merits of the image, and our very own Steve Cullen uses science to make the argument this image could not have been made with just one frame. Regardless, Lik does in fact have some great images, and for better or worse has made his mark on photography.

Log in or register to post comments

39 Comments

Leigh Miller's picture

Ray Charles could have seen this for exactly what it is....so much goings'-on about the image. Where is all this vitriol coming from...are we jealous of the photographer?

Actually, no one ever said it was a real captured moment or denied that it was a composite. It seems everyone assumed. But reality is, a lot of landscape photography is altered from what was actually captured. There's tons of videos in youtube on the subject.

I personally dont like the image or would pay 5k for it. If there are people that are willing, the fact if its real or not, it's really not going to stop them from buying it. Art is art in the end, and people will pay for want they perceive as valuable even thou others think its not worth it.

Paolo Veglio's picture

I think the point of the discussion here is the fact that Peter Lik has always declared that his photos are not composites (from what I read). I agree that being a composite is irrelevant in general, but when you market yourself in a way and then act the opposite there's a problem. It's the same that happened a while ago with Steve McCurry, I'm not pro or against photoshopping photos, but I'd appreciate a bit of honesty, or at least transparency.

yes, they made a big assumption based on his previous claims on obviously photoshopped images basically saying "we know he'll claim it's real." IMO, they should've gotten a statement from Lik before posting the original vid where they dissected it.

I had no real issue with the discussion, just the leap that he'll claim it's real. Of course, after all the press about the image, they admit that it's not.

I don't think there was any assumption. Lik said, "This shot has eluded me my entire photographic career. I searched for days to line up this classic tree with the moon. The golden sphere slowly rose in front of me. I pressed the shutter, a feeling I'll never forget. The moon, tree, and earth." To me, he's saying this was one "magical", science breaking shot.

Composite photos are fine if that's what you want to do and you don't claim they are a single shot.

Michael B. Stuart's picture

Jay nailed it. He gave the fake story about is rising in front of him so he was, in fact, claiming it was not a composite.

Simon Patterson's picture

Do you have a link to the primary source where he said that, Jay? I've seen it quoted a lot, but have not seen the primary source. Ta!

Simon Patterson's picture

Ah, with a bit more searching, I see it's been reported as being from an email to Lik subscribers on 11/15/11, saying that the then-upcoming "Bella Luna" is a "double exposure". That is the same email that also contained the words you quoted.

The reported email claims he used an 800mm lens with exposures of f/11 @ 1/250 second and f/2.8 @ 20 seconds at 6:50pm at Kodachrome Basin State Park, Utah.

I'd be fascinated to see his 800mm f/2.8 lens, and what kind of crane he used to lift it with! :-)

http://www.canonrumors.com/forum/index.php?topic=3084.15

Matthew Saville's picture

"...it's really not going to stop them from buying it. Art is art in the end, and people will pay for want they perceive as valuable..."

I strongly believe that a measurable %% decline would be seen in Lik's profits, if 100% disclosure was captioned beneath every single piece in his galleries.

Certainly, MANY fans of his art would still buy. But you'd be foolish to completely dismiss the intrinsic element of belief which adds definite value to a picture. In other words, some will indeed think to themselves, "aww, that would have been really cool if this was 'real'! But now that I know it is completely composited, I'm less impressed."

I dont have a problem with them not saying if its a composite or not. I do have a problem with them saying it isnt a composite when it is.

Stas F's picture

Fake news

Doug Reynolds's picture

It's Art, your jealous he's making millions....

Ryan Mense's picture

The art of lying?

Do anything you want with your images, tell people what you did, don't tell people what you did, but you don't think it's disingenuous for an artist to make his millions telling buyers it's not a composite when the facts are that it is?

I think there's the issue. He never claimed it was captured as is in the first place. That's the only thing that has me scratching my head. He even admitted it was a composite way before Mr. Fro received that email. So what am I missing?

Chase Nuuhiwa's picture

He's actually known for "never" using composite images which is why this is s big deal. He also sells these works for an absurd amount of money because his work is supposedly real. Instead it's of a guy who has the photoshop skills of an intern.

Matthew Saville's picture

1.) You're, not your.

2.) There are in fact other large format landscape photographers with Vegas galleries who also make millions. Them, I am jealous of. This guy? ...Nope. Because yes, artistic integrity DOES matter. And if you don't have to LIE in order to make as much money as you want, then why lie?

I think it was obvious from the get-go that this was a composite. What we have to accept is that this is a piece of art, not photo journalism. Does the fact that it's a composite detract from its artistry? In my opinion, no. Each element is beautifully photographed and the finished assemblage is equally beautiful. Has Lik been less than honest in his presentation of this piece (and presumably others)? Yes. And for that he should be chastised.

ALEXANDER TARDIF's picture

Whatever people... I, for one, am ready to pony up some serious dough for this masterpiece. With my composite dollars, of course.

Matthew Saville's picture

Can interest you in any Compositecoin? I just mined them in Cryptoshop.

Bill Peppas's picture

Highly overrated and with a tendency towards cheating, self prince inflation tactics and lying to people, sorry Peter Lik, you disgust me.

Too bad he took it down, I thought it was a cool image.

Martin Peterdamm's picture

why even bother?
this is so tacky o as we say "kitsch"
has no relevance outside the world of people who also think Thomas Kinkade is art

I love how this guy is so serious about the topic like it's important news.

William Howell's picture

I bet most of his stuff is composites.
There’s nothing wrong with composite, it’s just when you say its all done in camera, then you are really fast and loose with the truth.

I have read articles about Helmut Newton and most of them say he never used lights. That’s not true he used up to sixteen lights, but they were photo flood lights, not flash light. So Lik is really not some wizard, he is a hard working business man selling composites as real with the use of semantics.

Matthew Saville's picture

I've actually been in his Las Vegas gallery, and I'd say that at least half of his images are "real" scenes. Many were captured on large format film, actually.

But indeed a rather significant (and growing) portion of his most "eye-popping" works are completely fabricated. Furthermore, these often contain captions and stories that strongly but tactfully encourage viewers to believe the final result is very accurately depicting what the artist actually saw in the field.

Doug Birling's picture

was there any doubt this was a composite... science people.

Matthew Saville's picture

1.) Any time someone uses "DREAMS" in the title of their image, there is a 99.9% chance that it's an /imaginary/ image. ;-)

2.) I wish the email had come directly from Lik himself, because that would have been a HUGE milestone in this whole controversy surrounding disclosure.

Unfortunately, I don't know if Lik himself would ever begin to publicly call himself a "digital artist", and more openly disclaim composite work in the future, let alone his past works. (Bella Luna) Because as a businessman he knows it could potentially have a huge effect on future print sales, as well as serious repercussions from past buyers who regretted their purchase and would like to ask for a refund on the grounds of being lied to about the nature of the item they purchased.

Admittedly, that latter scenario might sound like a bit of a stretch. Honestly though I do feel that the right legal team could easily make a strong case for "false advertising", which in the US does have certain consequences. All they would need is actual proof that Lik or his salespeople specifically denied "fakery" in a particular image, plus digital forensic proof that the image was in fact a composite. Many folks wouldn't care at all, but at least a few might use it as an excuse to get a refund, and that would put a noticeable dent in his 2018 profit margin.

Either way, it would be great if we could see more prominent "digital artists" being less secretive and/or defensive about their artwork, and more honest about, and proud of, the nature of their imagery. Because it would result in more and more "digital artists" ending their desperate struggle to continue being classified as "photographers" even as they depart further and further from traditional photography.

As I've said in the previous article comments, we are entering a new era. Inevitably, digital photography is giving birth to a whole new form of art. And just like how photography itself struggled to be considered art at first, compared to painting and other artistic mediums, (nearly 200 years ago!) ...today digital composite imagery is simply struggling to gain respect and find its place in the world of art. But as everybody likes to point out, it's all ART, so it all deserves its own form of respect and viewership.

But, some people still get frustrated when they hear others say "this isn't a photograph, it's digital art!" If you see that as an insult or personal attack, (because you believe "digital art" is a less impressive or valuable than "real photography") ...that's your own problem, not your viewers' problem.

Your only two choices in the matter, eventually, will be these:

If you see yourself as an artist first and foremost, and the camera and computer are merely your palette and paintbrushes, ...then stop wasting your energy being frustrated about taxonomy, and just pursue your artistic craft proudly and honestly! Not every viewer will appreciate your art. Other viewers may appreciate your art more than "boring" photography. Either way, there is a saying- "if you try and please everyone, you're likely to wind up pleasing nobody, including yourself."

The bottom line is that no viewer wants to be lied to. And call it naive if you like, but photography has always been unique in that its intrinsic premise enticed viewers to believe that pictures are real. So if you abuse that propensity towards trust in order to make a sale, you will find that both viewers and fellow artists come after you from time to time.

With that in mind, if on the other hand you see yourself as a photographer first and foremost, then you must seriously reconsider your post-production philosophy of "anything goes". That's not a dismissal or a sleight if your current body of work, it's just an honest discussion about the birth of a whole new realm of artistic imagery.

William Howell's picture

Excellent comment and I, for one, agree with your assessment. Just say it, if it is digital art, then it is digital art and will be appreciated as such. If it is captured in camera, with post processing, (all RAW files must be processed), then make that known and it will be appreciated as such.
But to say, “it’s captured in camera” and then we find out, yeah the big moon was captured in camera then super imposed on another image that was also captured in camera, that is semantics and not technically a lie. Yet there is the untruth of omission, by not telling the client that it is a composite.

Sergio Miranda's picture

who the f cares man

Matthew Saville's picture

...someone who pays $6.5M for a photo, (or even just a few thousand bucks) ...only to find out that the artist lied to you, and the most exciting elements in the image didn't actually happen, they were all photoshopped in.

More comments