Extraordinary claims. Ordinary investigations.

Famous Battle of LA photo was retouched version

Feb. 25, 1942: Searchlights converge on unknown object over Los Angeles in the early morning hours. Over 1400 rounds of anti-aircraft rounds were fired, with rounds with many rounds landing on the ground. This is unretouched version.

“Feb. 25, 1942: Searchlights converge on an unknown object in the skies over Los Angeles. During the early morning air-raid alert, more than 1,400 anti-aircraft shells are fired.

The incident, now referred to as the Battle of L.A., occurred less than three months after the Pearl Harbor attack and two days after a Japanese submarine shelled an oil facility near Santa Barbara.

The next day, on Feb. 26, The  Times published a photo page with a retouched version of the above searchlight photo and seven other images of damage from falling anti-aircraft shells.”

Do you hear that sound? It’s one “classic” UFO case falling apart in the most basic form. In an article by Scott Harrison published by the same LA Times, we are informed that an original, unretouched negative of the famous image was recently found at the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive at UCLA, and that:

“In the retouched version, many light beams were lightened and widened with white paint, while other beams were eliminated.

In earlier years, it was common for newspapers to use artists to retouch images due to poor reproduction — basically 10 shades of gray if you were lucky.

Thus my conclusion:  the retouching was needed to reproduce the image. But man, I wish the retouching had been more faithful to the original. With our current standards, this image would not be published.”

Feb. 25, 1942. Retouched version of searchlight photo after work by Los Angeles Times artists. The bottom part of the image was painted black. The searchlights were lightened with white paint.  This version is from a copy negative made at unknown date from retouched print.  The neg is now in the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive at UCLA.

Previously, Tim Printy had already delved into the whole Battle of LA case in his SUNlite Vol..3 No.1, where he had already speculated the famous image could have been retouched. He also noted that another photo of the Battle of LA published on LIFE magazine shortly afterwards didn’t show anything at all:


As it turns out, just like the original unretouched LA Times image.

Printy’s article also goes into the very small detail that most promoting an UFO link seem to ignore, that the Battle of LA happened a couple of days after an actual Japanese attack on the west coast.

Interestingly, and quite amazingly, all the panic that night may have started with a  weather balloon. One of the major cases before the word UFO was even coined involved a weather balloon.

Believe it or not – and if you do read more about the historical context, it actually is quite believable – fact is that the only physical evidence for an alleged alien spacecraft that night has just vanished.

As it was never actually there.

UPDATE 03/13/2011: A looping animation between the original and retouched versions:

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Posted in UFO photos | 16 comments

16 Comments so far

  1. terry the censor March 14th, 2011 5:23 am

    The first dozen times I saw the image, I thought it was a painting for a poster. When I read it was a photograph, I was surprised.

  2. Brian March 14th, 2011 8:58 am

    Am I missing something obvious here? The apparent object in the center of the light beams looks the same in both photos. I even blew them up in my Paint program…the basic outline is exactly the same. Now with the retouched one, it is slightly more apparent…but the retouching apparently didn’t alter anything that was not already readily apparent in the photo. If anything there is far more work done on the searchlight beams themselves. Actually I’d say the original is far more impressive…with the retouched version the lights are so bright, and obviously converging on a central point…it tends to make one think there is a possibility that the shape is simply the lights converging on one another. The unretouched one though makes that explanation much harder to accept. I would happily accept a good debunking of this photo, as I’ve always thought the event caused by a balloon (I leaned more towards a balloon released by Japanese forces rather than a normal weather balloon…something they were known to do…They even had Fu-Go bomb balloons which were released in Japan, yet made it all the way to the US, even causing half a dozen deaths or so…they were big into using such weapons, and distractions…for what purpose this one may have been for I do not know) This debunking actually seems to backfire however.

  3. Jean March 14th, 2011 1:45 pm

    “He also noted that another photo of the Battle of LA published on LIFE magazine shortly afterwards didn’t show anything at all: As it turns out, just like the original unretouched LA Times image.”

    Err.. Like Brian I think you have it backwards here and the pictures and evidence support the anomalous nature of the event. Printy’s picture shows no luminous object, just the search beams. The retouched “battle” pic shows a seemingly luminous object in the middle. This object does not disappear in the unretouched version, it is still there and strong.

    Your conclusion that the “original unretouched LA Times” photo shows nothing at all is illogical and incoherent.

  4. terry the censor March 14th, 2011 3:44 pm

    > Am I missing something obvious here?

    If you go to the larger, clearer image on the Times site, there is no evident shape within the convergence of light.


  5. Cray March 14th, 2011 4:23 pm

    I agree wholeheartedly with Brian. The unretouched photo would seem to reaffirm the strangeness of this image. The main difference is that the searchlight beams closest to the observer are the brightest (as expected). There is indeed a ovoid shape at the convergence of the nine beams.

  6. Sardondi March 15th, 2011 1:34 am

    1.I am not at all surprised to hear the pic was touched up, as I as well as terry the censor, above, thought it looked much like a drawing.

    2. The unretouched photo IMO would have been good enough, in fact even clearer than what was used.

    3. In no way does this information undermine the value of the pic or the reality of the anomaly. In examining the original unretouched pic there is plainly an extremely bright, oval, solid object in the cone of searchlights. It’s just there and can’t be wished away.

    4. I am very puzzled how Mori can in any way say the unretouched photo undermines the sighting, much less that it disposes of the entire question. Such an attitude of certainty appears to me to be completely baseless. This is terribly unfortunate, since this post will now be greedily grasped at in the worst of bad faith by those eager to “prove” the “falling apart” of what is actually still an inviolate sighting.

    Of course, Mori will always be linked with this “debunking”…which could tell us why it was done. But no ulterior motive is necessary, because for every person who sees what he wants to, there is one who doesn’t see what he doesn’t want to.

  7. anaceofkidneys March 15th, 2011 1:59 am

    It looks to me like the “saucer” in the retouched version has had its edges sharpened, and the artist interpreted one of those background lights (I assume those are reflections of the searchlights?) as a little fin on top of the craft. In the unretouched photo, there’s only an amorphous blob of brightness where the beams converge.

    However, I do agree that this is a confusing entry.

  8. [email protected] March 15th, 2011 6:02 am

    Anyone familiar with the way WW2-era electric-arc searchlights (which were used for advertising in the dimmer-lit cities of the 1940s & 50s) lit up atmospheric haze suspected that photo showed an artifact of the newspaper reproduction process, working on a confluence of beams at one point. Still, there seems to have been “something” causing the incident. Gordon Lore, of NICAP, I think it was, remembered being hurried into a basement or interior room for safety–but turning to get a look at searchlight-lit objects like high-flying aircraft. There were no U.S. planes up at the time. Problem: though reports to various officials (including President Roosevelt) have surfaced, we don’t have official first-person accounts (if any survived).

  9. Otto March 15th, 2011 1:25 pm

    Touching on the WW2-era searchlights, I was delighted to see that a reenactment is performed using authentic period equipment.

    I’m now convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that the original photos are shoddy and worthless. That “famous” picture bears no resemblance whatsoever to actual searchlight beams.

    Now compare the original picture with the one from Life Magazine. How come stars are visible in the Life magazine photo but not the other? The Life photographer had to take a long exposure and barely managed to image the searchlights and a single flak burst, while the original has many bursts and sharply defined searchlight beams. This seems to indicate an even longer exposure time on the original, yet somehow this was unable to pick up the starlight? The original photo is nothing but bad photography.

  10. lol March 16th, 2011 8:15 pm

    sorry for my question, but: what is the point?

  11. sgreco March 17th, 2011 1:33 pm

    Im sorry, but Ive looked into this story for some time and I have never seen this photo. The only one’s ive ever seen were like the ones from LIFE magazine which showed searchlights in an ammo-filled sky lighting up nothing. All reports always called it the Raid over LA. Suddenly, during the release of “Battle :LA” these stories are renamed Battle over LA and we have a very handcrafted looking image somehow spotting up a ufo?

    IMO this is a publicity stunt for the movie.

  12. Alex March 24th, 2011 3:42 am

    Interesting to note in the original, un-retouched photo are the three rays of light directly to the left of the object apparently originating at the object. The intensity of those rays are at their maximum at the object and then dissipate as they move away from the object. Those rays tend to indicate a reflection of a search light off of an object. Notice that not one of the three lines are “in-line” with the search lights. You can’t “bend” light without an object.

    In comparison, if you look at the Life photograph, at the convergence, all of the search lights beams continue on “in-line” through the convergence. Also note that the intensity of the light decreases at the distance increases from the source.

    I would conclude that the three rays are a reflection off of an object at the convergence of the search lights. Is it an alien ship or a barrage balloon? Both are capable of reflecting light, so it does not eliminate either. Guess we will really never know.

  13. Brian April 5th, 2011 5:36 pm

    “If you go to the larger, clearer image on the Times site, there is no evident shape within the convergence of light.
    Cray March 14th, 2011 4:23 pm”
    ……….Sorry, I still see it plain as day. Only the brightness of it is brought up in the retouched version, the outline of the “object” is still quite obviously evident, and unmistakable. Also sorry for not replying sooner….I haven’t checked this discussion in a long time.

  14. Cray April 17th, 2011 2:33 pm

    Once again, I agree with Brian: the original photo clearly shows something in the converged beams of the spotlight.

    With all due respect, can we please have a response from the author?

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