Photoshop and news pictures…



There was a time when people looked to shape images for political benefit. (I mean political in most ALL senses of the word whether it’s domestic or international or issue oriented politics etc.) By this I mean, “Framing the picture” the right way, in front of a banner, cropping tight on a speaker so you don’t see wacky signs and the best “message” can be put forward. It can mean having a “photo op” in front of an impressive symbol or it can simply be the way an image of a landscape is framed that can tell an amazing story. Yes, I know this still goes on, but I have to wonder if the “organic” ways of “controlling the message” conveyed by a picture have become a thing of the past. This weekend, late Saturday night to be exact, I saw the beginnings of a blog-storm over a Reuters photograph of the aftermath of some of the activity in Lebanon.


The picture at first glance was bleak. The city skyline, dark clouds of smoke billowing from a likely recent bomb site. But, the writer that was naming the picture pointed out a photography forum was questioning the photo. I looked again, a bit closer this time. The dark black smoke had rounded “stamped” patterns as though it had been manually “cloned” in fact, that’s exactly what was being discussed on the photography board.

I went through the BBS thread and saw many comments, somewhere I saw another person take an (almost) identical shot and add their OWN smoke with Photoshop and indeed the effect was very close. They spent a bit longer on it and offered up a revision which “cleaned up” a lot of the more obvious visual artifacts to the point that I question if it would have been noticed and maybe got a free pass.

The moral of this story is that if you photoshop a news pic badly you’ll get caught and embarrased. In this case, Reuters has removed all photos from this freelancer and will no longer take his work. However, what if he had done a GOOD photoshop of the image. The fact that this poor alteration failed to be caught at the editorial desk makes me REALLY wonder what kind of problems we might be in for with regards to trusting what we see.

How many people can be fooled by a convincing image? I remember not too long ago I played around with The Gimp (an open source image manipulation suite – it has many tools that Photoshop does.) There was an old photo of my grandparents (black and white) and I took an old picture of me with my son in a backpack carrier peeking over my shoulder…. I essentially had us in the background looking at them as they strolled down a street somewhere. When I showed it to my parents I had to point us out, because at first glance, it wasn’t OBVIOUS that we were in the picture. I had done some blurring to match the focus/sharpness of the original picture and adjusted from color to grayscale for the old black and white photo.

Now, this isn’t the first doctored photograph that’s made news, but I can guarantee it won’t be the LAST. In fact, what concerns me is that the doctoring techniques and skills are fairly good and MAY OUTPACE peoples ability to easily spot fakes. The photographer in this recent incident claims he was trying to remove dust marks…. (right…) and that the poor lighting conditions he was working under led to the alterations…. ok.(?!)

It seems that one of the issues we have in the computer security area is people’s gullibility to beleve things that they see in writing. “My email said it was from capital one and that my account would be terminated if I didn’t confirm my information online.” How much more are people willing to believe a well done photo fake? I’m afraid this kind of manipulation can have some serious consequences.

It pays to be skeptical.

Oh, if you want to have a look yourself…. Sunbelt blog has some details (and the original and altered pictures.)

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