Were Life Magazine’s Famous Photos of the D-Day Invasion Blurry Because the Photographer’s Hands Were Shaking?

Here is the latest in a series of examinations into urban legends related to architecture and whether they are true or false. Click here to view an archive of the magazine urban legends featured so far.

MAGAZINE URBAN LEGEND: A series of photos of the Normandy landing during D-Day by famed war photographer Robert Capa for Life Magazine were blurry because Capa’s hands were shaking as he took the shots.

Robert Capa (born Endre Friedmann in Austria-Hungary in 1913) was a famous war photographer, active from 1933 until his death in 1954, while photographing the conflict in Indochina (he tragically stepped on a landmine).

Capa was particularly well-known for how close to the action he got. He had a saying that, effectively, if your photos weren’t good enough it was because you weren’t close enough.

Capa was with the invading troops on Normany, and he took close to four full rolls of film of the invasion.

But what came next was a minor tragedy in and of itself.

When the rolls of film got back to Life Magazine’s office in London, a young staffer made a terrible error – he set the dryer too high and melted the emulsion in the negatives in three complete rolls and over half of the fourth roll. So out of all the film Capa sent back, only ELEVEN photos were saved from being utterly ruined!

Capa took the hit in stride, but he was not prepared for what came next.

You see, the remaining photographs, while salvageable, were not in great shape either. The same effect that ruined all of the other photos resulted in the rescued photos appearing quite blurry.

Here are two of the photos…

When Life ran the photos shortly after D-Day in the magazine, they tried to explain away the blurriness of the photos by saying that they were “slightly out of focus” because Capa’s hands were shaking so much from the adrenaline of the battlefield.

This Capa did not take as calmly, and years later, he would poke fun at Life Magazine by naming his auto-biography “Slightly Out of Focus.”

Since Capa had never had the problem before, and since we know that Life did screw up the photographs, I’m willing to believe Capa’s side of the story and say that this claim is a false one.

The legend is…


Feel free (heck, I implore you!) to write in with your suggestions for future installments! My e-mail address is bcronin@legendsrevealed.com.

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