When a man on Twitter claimed to be National Geographic's chief photographer, several photo editors at the magazine assembled to discuss. "Have you ever heard of this guy?" None had.
The man, who goes by the alias Bob Burton, claimed (falsely) to have taken National Geographic's photo of the year (an award we don't have) of a shark leaping out of the water (which is clearly fake). But none of those erroneous details seemed to matter as the image made the rounds of social media to enthusiastic reviews.
"Whoa!" several people commented. Others called it "amazing" and "unbelievable."
All seemed like fitting descriptions in a year so indelibly marked by fake news, so much of which has, in fact, been amazingly unbelievable. Some of 2016's whoppers were misleading, such as the fictional reports about the U.S. presidential election. Other stories were dangerous, like the untrue rumors about a Washington, D.C., restaurant, which was then visited by a man with an assault rifle (he fired the weapon but no one was hurt).
A Photoshopped shark seems like small potatoes next to a man with a gun. And it is. But fake anything circulating as real is a threat to those of us in the business of telling the truth. Untrue stories also erode the trust of anyone who consumes the truth, and who looks to professionals for authenticity, not practical jokes, hoaxes, and counterfeiting.
So we wanted to take the opportunity to resurface some of our real photographs of sharks—photos taken by our seasoned photographers and selected by our experienced picture editors. One part of this episode that particularly stung was knowing how difficult it is to actually photograph wild animals, and how dangerous it often is to get a great shot.
Advanced photography skills can't be faked, nor can the costly and technical equipment necessary. That's true for photographing all animals, and it's especially true for sharks.