Photo Sleuthing


Yesterday this tweet caught my eye:


Well, Mr. Gerrond, I think I can.

I thought it was weird that Mike Pence’s daughter’s reflection doesn’t show up in the mirror, too. It sure looks like she should be there, but photos can be deceiving. Since Scooby and the Gang are on summer vacation, Fat Pencil Studio decided to dig a little deeper. In a short amount of time, I was able to build a rough 3d model of the Chili’s booth in SketchUp (using assumptions about the dimensions of the table and booth, etc.). I then did a rough match of the model with the image in the tweet. (We’ve got some skills with photo-matching.) Finally, I posed three figures seated at the booth to closely approximate the three Pences.

Here is the result:

Once the model was matched to the photo (roughly in this case, as I didn't have any info about the camera that took the photo or any actual measurements from the scene), it was a simple matter of rendering the model with the mirrored surface to see if the daughter's reflection should have shown up in the mirror. Drum roll please...

In my model, her reflection does show up a little bit in the mirror, but not as much as you might think it should. Given the roughness of the photomatch, and the fact that her hair isn't a solid mass like it is in the model, it's entirely reasonable that her reflection would be completely blocked by her dad's.

However, once you start looking at the details of this photo, there's weirdness all over the place. Like why is Mike so brightly lit compared to his daughter? Are those the heavens parting for him? Why does that full mug of water look like it's floating? Is Mike Pence a wizard? Why are the mug shadows going in a different direction from all the other shadows on the table? Why are there four mugs for three people? And why didn't Mike finish his nachos? Discussion of these and other oddities raged briefly on the internet (ok, a couple of guys exchanged some messages).

So despite the daughter's reflection issue being a possible red herring, there is some reasonable suspicion of photoshopping. But what I want to know is why would anyone go to the trouble of fabricating such a ho-hum image? Is it really so crucial that the nation believe that Mike Pence eats at Chili's with his family? I guess stranger things have happened.

Ady Leverette was a designer and a principal at Fat Pencil Studio between 2011 and 2018.