5.8 Why is there no flag shadow in the salute photograph?

IN A NUTSHELL: Because the shadow of the flag fell out of the frame due of the shallow Sun angle, but it can be seen in other photographs. The shadow of the flagpole is visible in high-quality scans of the salute photo.

THE DETAILS: The famous photograph of Buzz Aldrin’s salute to the American flag on the Moon (AS11-40-5874, shown below) is often alleged to be a fake because the shadow of the flag is missing. The missing shadow, it is claimed, proves that the flag was added later.

Photograph AS11-40-5874 (Apollo 11): Buzz Aldrin salutes the Stars and Stripes on the Moon.

Sometimes the claim is boosted by showing another photograph, taken seconds later (AS11-40-5875, below), in which Aldrin hasn’t raised his arm to salute and therefore appears to be simply standing on the lunar surface, staring into nothingness as if the flag were not there.

Photo AS11-40-5875: Buzz Aldrin standing on the Moon next to the US flag.

Actually, the shadow of the flag is missing from these two photographs for a very good reason: it lies outside the viewing field of the camera, beyond the right margin of the picture, because the Sun was low on the horizon and therefore all the shadows were very elongated. Calculations and documents indicate that the elevation of the Sun above the horizon, at the Apollo 11 landing site between July 20 and 21, 1969, ranged from 14° to 15.4°.

The shadow of the flag falls off camera, but what about the shadow of the flagpole? It actually is visible in the picture, as it should be, but only in the high-quality scans (below): it’s the thin dark line behind the astronaut’s legs, roughly at ankle height. The rod was only about 2.5 centimeters (1 inch) thick, so it cast a very thin shadow, especially when viewed sideways as in the photograph in dispute.

Annotated detail of AS11-40-5874 (Apollo 11). The very thin shadow of the flagpole is faintly visible above the shadow of Aldrin’s legs, running horizontally across.

The flagpole shadow is rather hard to locate because it’s not where you expect it to be, i.e., at the same level as the base of the pole: a shallow depression in the ground bends it, so it’s further down. The depression in which the shadow of the flagpole falls is shown below.

Detail of photo AS11-37-5473 (Apollo 11).

The location of the Apollo 11 flag and flagpole shadows is clearly visible in the TV broadcast and in the 16 mm footage, as shown below.

An excerpt from the Apollo 11 live TV broadcast.

Apollo 11 film footage of the flag salute.

This is a frame from the 16 mm footage, which allows to check the perfect match of the locations of shadows, rocks and other terrain details in all of the visual record and shows the shadows of the flag and of the flagpole:

A frame from the automatic 16 mm film record of the Apollo 11 EVA. Aldrin is behind the flag, with his arm raised to salute (as clearly shown by his shadow); Neil Armstrong is in the upper right corner, taking photographs. The white vertical rod at the top margin is the TV camera tripod. The large dark region on the right is the silhouette of the LM, overlapping the shadow of the solar wing experiment (the vertical rectangle on the left in the TV broadcast).

The existence of the 16 mm film footage and of the TV broadcast point out another contradiction of the added-flag theory: since this event, so rich in symbolic and propaganda value, was already available as video and as color film footage, why risk exposure by manufacturing a poorly done fake photo?

Leaving conspiracy theories aside for a moment, all this cross-checking reveals a nice detail: in AS11-40-5875, Aldrin isn’t staring into nothingness, but he’s looking into the camera. This is clearly noticeable in the enlarged detail views shown below: the outlines of Aldrin’s face are clearly identifiable, and so is the white path of the “Snoopy cap”, the soft cap that contained the astronaut’s headset and microphones for radio communications.

Aldrin salutes the flag and then turns to the camera in these details from photos AS11-40-5874 and 5875.

There are very few photographs of the lunar astronauts in which their faces can be seen. Their features were usually hidden by the reflective gold visor, which was raised only occasionally in order to avoid dazzling and overheating. This is an even rarer event, since the visor is lowered but Aldrin’s face is in full sunlight and therefore receives enough light to become visible even through the thin gold coating of the visor.