We don’t usually post to other news sites, but PetaPixel recently published an interesting article about a photographer that augmented the Milky Way by cloning large sections of the galaxy into the photo. This photo was recently featured at National Geographic as part of an article on ancient trees. With the big audience there, it was only a matter of time until someone recognized the fakery.

The article featured the work of Beth Moon, a fine art photographer who has photographed trees from around the world for over twenty years. Over the last few years, she concentrated on photographing the world’s oldest trees under the world’s darkest skies. National Geographic noticed her photos and featured several in an article on her work.

More than the Milky Way

It’s all good so-far – until someone noticed that a large section of the Milky Way was cloned repeatedly in one of the photos. Nowhere in the NatGeo article does it mention that any of the images are composites. One section of the Milky Way appears to have cloned into three other places.

PetaPixel.com article on Milky Way fakery.

National Geographic has a reputation for being a reliable, science-based publication. But in 1982, an image of the Pyramids of Giza was altered to get them to fit on the cover of the magazine. As Nat Geo later described, a “deserved firestorm ensued.” As a result of this, Nat Geo stated they made it part of their mission to ensure their photos are real. They say the ask photographers for the RAW files. When they are not available, they say they ask detailed questions about the images.

But somehow, the photos in this article slipped through.

Milky Way Mike Analysis

“Milky Way” Mike Ver Sprill has released a video with a good analysis of the image.

Milky Way Mike’s analysis.

Nat Geo Removed the Article

UPDATE: National Geographic has updated the page that had Beth Moon’s photos. It now states the following:

PUBLISHED April 26, 2019

Editor’s Note: On April 26, National Geographic published photos by Beth Moon on nationalgeographic.com, depicting the world’s oldest trees against the night sky. Significant concerns about the veracity of the images have been raised on photo industry blogs and social media. National Geographic has a strict policy against photo manipulation, and we have initiated an investigation to confirm whether the images comply with our policies. We have removed the images and related story pending the outcome of our investigation. This step does not mean we have determined that the images do not meet our standards, as we are unable to make a determination at this time. The images will not be re-posted unless they meet National Geographic’s standards.


Moon’s Response

On May 9, 2019, Beth Moon replied to PetaPixel. She stated that she had used an intern to process the image, and that the intern had to hand stitch the image. The intern claimed that the clone tool was not used in the image processing. Moon did take full responsibility for the work and that she was not trying to hide anything.

Tell Us Your Opinion

So what’s your view on this? Is it fakery? Should we call out work like this? Does the artist need to disclose when an image is a composite? Or is it a case of anything goes in the name of art?

We’re curious to know what you think about this subject in the comments below.


  1. I think that it is always better to disclose. In the case of a NatGeo photo it should be factual. Yes, it is about the trees but I don’t feel that faking the sky is ethical.

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