Cheeky Squirrel Photo Crasher

Squirrel CrasherMelissa Brandts and her husband were hiking in Banff National Park in Alberta, Canada and decided to take a portrait of themselves with spectacular Lake Minnewanka in the background. Melissa set up the camera and went back to pose, and her husband held the remote shutter  release.

Meanwhile, attracted by the sounds of the autofocus, an inquisitive Columbian ground squirrel, common in the park, popped up to investigate. Click!  “Self-Portrait With Ground Squirrel” was born.

Knowing she had struck photo gold, Melissa sent the pic to National Geographic magazine’s Your Shot, and photo editor Susan Welchman chose it for her Daily Dozen gallery last week. You can find it in all its furry glory by clicking here.

In the past few days, this photo has appeared on the popular blogs Nothing to Do With Arbroath, Neatorama, and that bastion of adorableness, Cute Overload. Today the photo surfaced on the Daily Mail

Some commenters claim the photo was manipulated in some way, but one Daily Mail reader pointed out:
 ”You can tell this photo is legitimate because the squirrel’s ears are pinned back like it was trying to figure out the camera sounds.”

A Neatorama reader added: “The camera is autofocusing on the critter and not the couple. The perspective and lighting are absolutely consistent, and those whiskers are just too perfect to have been dropped in. Most of all, you can easily imagine the little guy being curious about the camera’s delayed shutter countdown beep.”

Some of the comments over on Cute Overload are pretty hilarious. 

All of the Daily Dozen photos get made into online jigsaw puzzles, and if you’d like to do the squirrel puzzle, it’s on page three of the Jigsaw Puzzle Generator today (tomorrow it will probably move to page four).

If you want to see this photo published in a future issue of National Geographic magazine, go to the Voting Machine and choose “August Week 1″  and you can vote for it there (it’s image #9 in the gallery).

Comments

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    I don’t believe it. It’s a fake – a staged hoax using a stuffed squirrel. If it was intended to be a picture of people and the lake, etc., they would have been in focus and the squirrel would have been out of focus. Instead, it’s the other way around. The squirrel is crystal clear and everything else is blurry. Autofocus has nothing to do with it – it’s a fake.

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    Furthermore the smiles on those people are just too good to be fake..

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    When the button is pressed the camera will lock in the focus. It should have focused on the background. Once the finger is lifted and the squirrel jumps in, the squirrel should be out of focus but it is not. So the “squirrel” (more likely a stuffed squirrel) was planted before the button was pressed.
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    A lot of people mention that it is weird that they are down low and to the side. First, as many have responded it is a shot of the scenery… not just a flat out shot of the couple.
    Secondly, at this location there is a rock outcropping which goes into the water a bit. The lake kind of goes around a right angle in this spot, and the rocks stick out in the middle… a perfect place for the shot. The way they are piled up, if you mounted a camera anywhere and stepped back for the shot, you would be “downhill” from the camera. A perfectly consistent shot for anyone who is familiar with this area.

  74. Lenny
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    Anyone who thinks this is some kind of conspiracy is ridiculous. It is not a fake photo, I know, I do photo composites and there is no way they ever look that perfect. If it were viral and fake, NG wouldn’t put the photo in 1280×1024 wallpaper. As far as the photo composition is concerned, I think they probably wanted the scenery in the photo along with them. Some people need to take their tinfoil hats off and get out of the basement.
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    September 11, 2009, 11:28 am

    Are all ground squirrels camera hogs?
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  85. Cara
    September 5, 2009, 2:23 pm

    This photo is real. The couple did an interview on the Today Show. They showed other photos before and after this shot. Many cameras will automatically focus on the element in the center of the screen. Also, they are further back in order to capture the wonderful vista of nature behind them.

  86. Anna Mandala
    September 5, 2009, 10:40 am

    This was definately real. This type of thing always happens with the new OES cameras. In autofocus, it will grab whatever target is jumping around closest to the lens. It happens to me whenever I take pictures at my son’s elementary school — there are always kids jumping around in front of my camera, throwing off my intended target. Besides, you can tell that these folks composed the picture into thirds, placing themselves in the lower right section in order to capture the panoramic beauty of the lake. Leave it to the “camera-hog” critter to throw of the photographic ballance.

  87. lovelifeandlivelong
    September 4, 2009, 11:00 pm

    oh mannnn who cares if it is real or not…though i believe it’s real … it is such a cute photo guys…stop arguing and lets all just love each other and the fact that it is a decent photo :)

  88. Vern Southard
    September 4, 2009, 4:05 pm

    It’s a great photo, not a fake. The squirrel was curious, and the auto focus and exposure control worked perfectly. Modern high tech cameras are great creative tools, and the remote shutter release allowed this shot to happen. Good work.

  89. Carlos Rodrigues
    September 4, 2009, 2:13 pm

    Great photo, well caught, its not fake, check the focus, it is perfect.

  90. Jason D.
    September 4, 2009, 7:27 am

    The non-believers obviously don’t know much about digital photography. I’ve rarely heard such peculiar reasons for the photo to be fake.
    Read Clint’s post, dated Aug. 17, 4:05pm. He nailed it.
    For the record, the autofocus focuses on an area near the center of the frame, whether near or far.
    Besides, when it comes to evaluating photos, National Geography wasn’t exactly born yesterday.

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    September 4, 2009, 12:14 am

    it’d be joy of travel. The close encounter between nature and Traveler…..

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    September 4, 2009, 12:04 am

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  95. Robert
    September 3, 2009, 4:17 pm

    As others have said before, National Geographic would surely have checked the original image before publishing it here.
    I think it’s a great snapshot.

  96. Michael
    September 3, 2009, 2:40 pm

    Obviously squirrelized – but they did a great job putting in the whiskers!
    Guess Nat Geo AND MSNBC got taken!

  97. dbltapp
    September 3, 2009, 2:24 pm

    Wonder why no one is commenting on all the copyright infringement going on…

  98. Troy
    September 3, 2009, 1:56 pm

    natale said:
    so, did this picture come before or after this site:
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    A fun site, but definitely After the picture.

  99. anne
    September 3, 2009, 12:41 pm

    Anyone who thinks this is some kind of conspiracy is ridiculous. It is not a fake photo, I know, I do photo composites and there is no way they ever look that perfect. If it were viral and fake, NG wouldn’t put the photo in 1280×1024 wallpaper. As far as the photo composition is concerned, I think they probably wanted the scenery in the photo along with them. Some people need to take their tinfoil hats off and get out of the basement.

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    September 3, 2009, 11:30 am

    This is a fabulous photo. That anyone should think it fake is ridiculous. Just look at the joy on the couple’s face as they watch this critter! I think their expression says it all!

  101. M.Stewart
    September 3, 2009, 9:18 am

    I don’t think Morvin is right based on the fact that the story does not say it is a delayed shot, it says;
    “Melissa set up the camera and went back to pose, and her husband held the remote shutter release.”
    Therefore the husband sat down,waited for his wife to sit down and compose herself then he pressed the remote, at that point my camera focus’s and shoots, as maybe his did. The little guy may have popped up at that point of focusing and stole the show..just a thought.

  102. M.Stewart
    September 3, 2009, 9:10 am

    A comment about it being fake because the critter is in perfect focus and the couple are not…I have 2 35 mm cameras both capable of delayed shooting and they BOTH autofocus in the last few seconds or when I press the remote. They also focus on either the center of the frame or the closest object to the center unless I set it on custom setting for a preset focal point. Autofocus has EVERYTHING to do with it. The other comment re where they are sitting, I would say may have something to do with the fact that they have set up the camera on the closest suitable position and it happens to be higher than them, so they have to sit back and lower to get their main point of interest, the lake, in the picture. Man it seems like some folks would pick the negative side in any discussion with little or no fore thought about what they are saying. If you ain’t got nothing good to say stop flapping the gums.
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  103. robb
    September 2, 2009, 1:01 pm

    oh hello there the infamous curious squirrel.

  104. natale
    August 26, 2009, 9:30 pm

    so, did this picture come before or after this site:
    http://www.lutralutra.co.uk/squirrelizer/
    and.. why are they so similar? sure the light’s different, but just adjusting brightness would do that on its own. i dunno. just curious.

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    August 26, 2009, 3:39 pm

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  106. artisticallyderanged
    August 26, 2009, 2:55 pm

    A lot of people mention that it is weird that they are down low and to the side. First, as many have responded it is a shot of the scenery… not just a flat out shot of the couple.
    Secondly, at this location there is a rock outcropping which goes into the water a bit. The lake kind of goes around a right angle in this spot, and the rocks stick out in the middle… a perfect place for the shot. The way they are piled up, if you mounted a camera anywhere and stepped back for the shot, you would be “downhill” from the camera. A perfectly consistent shot for anyone who is familiar with this area.

  107. Daniel
    August 25, 2009, 7:44 pm

    It’s a real photo.
    Focus – the guy held a remote shutter release NOT a timer – it says it in the story – this means when he pressed the remote it would auto focus at that time, and did so on the closest object – the squirrel.
    Lighting – is consistently from the right on the squirrel, people, background and rocks.
    Composition – this is a holiday snap, not a professional photo. Without a tripod, you put the camera somewhere level. Why are they off to the side and low? Because they wanted the view mostly unobstructed. Would have been a nice photo without the squirrel but with it it’s priceless.

  108. Tony
    August 25, 2009, 4:40 pm

    The light is coming from the right and slightly behind the couple, the squirrel, and the rocks in the foreground. Look at the right side (as we’re looking at it) of the squirrel, the rock just to the right of the squirrel’s hip and the the light on the guy’s pants, left arm, and hand. The lighting on all of these is the same.
    The distant scenery, including the beach on the left, is not in direct sunlight, but that may be because there are clouds in the sky. So, I don’t see anything at all that would make me think it’s a fake. It’s entirely plausible that a squirrel might be attracted to the noises of a camera.

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    August 24, 2009, 1:49 pm

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    August 21, 2009, 7:26 pm

    Love it!!
    The squirrel looks like it is striking a pose for the camera :)

  111. Artisticallyderanged
    August 21, 2009, 11:34 am

    Definitely real, and a fantastic shot.
    I go to this lake quite often (about 45 mins from where I live, and have many photos in this same location.
    You can see lots of these little guys running around, as well as bighorn sheep which also come right up to people quite often here.
    I think it is great that the couple had the presence of mind to post this photo online, I think it will bounce around forums (ie: fark) for many years to come with all kinds of cute captions.

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  113. Clint
    August 17, 2009, 4:05 pm

    A comment from one of the unbelievers questioned the composition. To my eye, and I have a lot of photography experience, it is exactly what I would have chosen. The purpose is to record the beauty of the scene first of all, and at the same time include yourself in the photo. If you placed yourself in the center, attention is drawn away from the scene. Much better to place yourself in the lower third of the frame. The autofocus will refocus every time the remote shutter is pressed, and the squirrel is in the very center, the focal point. I would have been suspicious if the people were not out of focus.
    The matter could have been settled very easily by National Geo. They would have only accepted the original unedited file and that is easily verified by looking at the metadata. If it had been edited, the exif file would have included the editing software. It may seem surprising that this information was not included, but National Geo probably presumed that knowledgeable people would already know that an edited photo would not be posted.

  114. Kim
    August 17, 2009, 12:00 pm

    Kudoos to Judith! The automatic focus will “focus” on the closest object in the field of veiw. Yes there will be some distortion in the background subjects,unless you focus on ALL of the picture, you will then get the picture you’ll need, this picture from an untrained eye, is one in a million shot that I think we’d all love to happen!

  115. Marilyn
    August 17, 2009, 9:41 am

    Melissa and Jackson Brandts appeared on the Today show and explained how this photo came about, dispelling any doubts about its authenticity:
    http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/26184891/vp/32445266#32445266

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    August 16, 2009, 10:47 pm

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  118. Rob Adams
    August 16, 2009, 6:15 am

    She talks on the interview, of a timer, then she talks of a remote shutter release, she seems a little confused as to the difference.
    If they kept on clicking the shutter then where are the other almost good shots? If I see those I might be convinced.
    If you look closely at the shore line on the left you can clearly see the light is the opposite direction to the light on the figures, I really don’t see how this could happen without comping.

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    August 16, 2009, 12:01 am

    Once the facts are known you will not be as impressed.
    They used a remote release, which allows you to say when you want the photo to be taken. You can take shot after shot exactly when you want the shot to be taken (say, when the squirrel pops up?)
    Hardly a random shot.

  120. Steve
    August 15, 2009, 11:53 pm

    The Crasher Squirrel has been captured on video:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/banfflakelouise2

  121. Niko
    August 15, 2009, 11:24 pm

    Forgot to mention: the squirrel was attracted not by the timer (there was none), but by the auto-focus mechanism of the remote-controlled lens.

  122. Niko
    August 15, 2009, 11:20 pm

    The debate about the focus is pointless. Listen to
    Melissa Brandts’ story on CTV News: it’s not a timer release but a remote controlled shutter release. Apparelently, they shot many pictures in quick succession in the hope to get the perfect shot.
    Here is the link to
    http://www.videowired.com/video/?id=3698452952
    I hope this rests the case…

  123. Zac
    August 15, 2009, 11:13 pm

    This is real as can be. Jackson and Melissa, the couple in the photo are my cousins and this couldn’t be any more real.

  124. Patty Johnson
    August 15, 2009, 3:27 pm

    I know the person who took this photo personally and it is not a fake at all. For the people who are confused about the focusing they had a remote for the camera and just kept hitting it which is why the squirrel is in focus and not them.

  125. Olii05
    August 15, 2009, 7:30 am

    amazing Squirrel :o)

  126. Rob Adams
    August 15, 2009, 6:09 am

    So why is the sun coming from the left in the scenery and from the right in the squirrel and flat from above on the rocks? It’s an obvious 4 part comp and not even a good one.

  127. Colleen
    August 14, 2009, 10:41 pm

    Those who think the photo was staged, quit being jealous of this couple’s neat picture. What do you think, they brought along a stuffed squirrel, schleped it through the mountains, placed it just so on a rock, then spent time scheming to make it look authentic? Who sits around planning a picture like that? Sad people can’t just enjoy this cute picture – always looking for something negative.

  128. EddyQ
    August 14, 2009, 10:21 pm

    This is an obvious fake. Notice that the squirrel is in perfect focus but the couple and background are not in focus. When the button is pressed the camera will lock in the focus. It should have focused on the background. Once the finger is lifted and the squirrel jumps in, the squirrel should be out of focus but it is not. So the “squirrel” (more likely a stuffed squirrel) was planted before the button was pressed.
    I just noticed something else … notice that the couple is sitting to one side … obviously so there would be room for the stuffed squirrel to be in the center.

  129. Peter O
    August 14, 2009, 7:53 pm

    I am wrong, it was another site that cropped the photo.

  130. Peter O
    August 14, 2009, 7:40 pm

    The original frame is wide angle. The image above, is cropped. Why were the people so far away from the camera? Why were they over to the right? How far away was the squirrel from the camera? What was the timer set for? If the squirrel had been close to the camera, it would have taken up most of the frame.
    It is true that the camera would have focused on the closest thing.
    The camera was on the ground, right? The people would have had to be down hill from the camera.

  131. Peter O
    August 14, 2009, 7:39 pm

    The original frame is wide angle. The image above, is cropped. Why were the people so far away from the camera? Why were they over to the right? How far away was the squirrel from the camera? What was the timer set for? If the squirrel had been close to the camera, it would have taken up most of the frame.
    It is true that the camera would have focused on the closest thing.
    The camera was on the ground, right? The people would have had to be down hill from the camera.

  132. nyt
    August 14, 2009, 5:35 pm

    Actually, I think Morvin could be more then right. Once, you click the camera, that sets the focus, if something pop’s up closer to the lens after the fact, it would not be in focus.
    That said, yes Bilety is right, that the rocks would be in focus because they didn’t set the camera’s position properly, it would have been a blurry shot of them anyway.

  133. Michael
    August 14, 2009, 4:33 pm

    Fair enough, I’m probably wrong. It’s still a good picture anyway.

  134. Maynard
    August 14, 2009, 2:30 pm

    Michael, concerning your objection about relative locations, I doubt they were carrying a tripod, and so would have to place the camera wherever they could to get a level picture. I’ve done the same, and sacrificed a bit on composition.

  135. Joss
    August 14, 2009, 1:52 pm

    This is too cute :)

  136. Michael
    August 14, 2009, 11:24 am

    If they were taking a picture of themselves, why would they sit so far from the camera, behind some rocks. It all seems a bit too perfect. I’m still reckon it’s a viral ad.

  137. Bilety lotnicze
    August 14, 2009, 8:26 am

    morvin you are wrong. I think the autofocus would have picked up on the closest objects like the squirrel and the rocks themselves. Even without the squirrel – depending on the camera – the picture could come out of focus due to the rocks.
    Furthermore the smiles on those people are just too good to be fake..

  138. Shane
    August 14, 2009, 1:41 am

    This kind of pictures makes your adventure travel unforgettable. Precious moment like this is worth remembering.

  139. Kaya
    August 13, 2009, 10:40 pm

    That’s hilarious!!

  140. peter
    August 13, 2009, 8:00 pm

    Some of these justifications are funny (“Daily Mail reader…”).
    I don’t think anyone can distinguish real from stuffed?. Whichever, it’s funny.

  141. judith
    August 13, 2009, 7:01 pm

    morvin you’re so wrong. the autofocus will pick up the object nearest the lens, and the direction of the light is consistent with the rest of the shot. check out the man’s hands, face and leg.

  142. judith
    August 13, 2009, 6:51 pm

    this is just so perfect. it trumps all the ad agencies with their photoshopped multimillion dollar ads. it’s for real. it’s great

  143. Morvin
    August 13, 2009, 6:47 pm

    I don’t believe it. It’s a fake – a staged hoax using a stuffed squirrel. If it was intended to be a picture of people and the lake, etc., they would have been in focus and the squirrel would have been out of focus. Instead, it’s the other way around. The squirrel is crystal clear and everything else is blurry. Autofocus has nothing to do with it – it’s a fake.

  144. @Travelwriticus
    August 13, 2009, 6:06 pm

    Great pic! The squirrel seems to know how to pose :)

  145. JoAnna
    August 13, 2009, 5:41 pm

    How fun and fantastic to have something like this happen to you! Truly a priceless photo!

  146. Michael
    August 13, 2009, 5:24 pm

    Sorry to be negative, but I think this is gonna turn out to be some kind of viral advertising campaign. Good picture though.

  147. simon
    August 13, 2009, 3:42 pm

    had me laughing all day amazing piture

  148. Meredith
    August 13, 2009, 2:34 pm

    Genius!

  149. Kelly
    August 13, 2009, 7:21 am
  150. jashraj
    August 13, 2009, 1:08 am

    one of the best I have seen so far

  151. Lola
    August 12, 2009, 6:27 pm

    You can’t help but laugh! Love this timeless shot.