in Photography

How to Detect a Forged Photo

This is not merely a How To article for Customs and Immigration officials. Although we assume that forged photos are commonly found in the passports of international spies. There are more common uses for the forgery and fakery of photographs that are used every day to influence society around the world.

source: Wikipedia

The infamous Tourist Guy image. Original image was taken in 1997 and was manipulated to appear as if taken during the 9/11 attacks.

Shopped or Not?

Is Photoshop a creative tool or a facet of forgery? Faked photos have been used in advertising for a generation already and the best fake photos adorn billboards, the pages of magazines and television. The really good fake photos are difficult to detect, but if you look carefully, you will be able to learn how to spot a shopped photo in an instant.

Spot The Difference

When you are trying to spot a fake photograph look for clues in the positioning of objects in the photo. The biggest clue to a photo forgery is in the lack of shadows and reflections. Especially with outdoor photographs when you have the position of the sun as a guide. You can also check for different features on photographs of people where parts of the body may have been enlarged or reduced in size.

The modification of images occurs on a digital level, and involves the manipulation of individual pixels in a photograph. If you are in any doubt as to the veracity of a photograph, you can apply digital programmes, which will analyze the photograph and tell you if any of the pixels have been moved, transformed or changed in any way. This is known as forensic digital technology and while it might not be affordable for the average user, it can be very useful in crime cases that involve forgery.

Normally it is celebrity photographs that have been altered to make sure that they make the news. You can spot the forgeries in celebrity candid shots as well as adverts by looking for small details that are a dead giveaway. Whiter than white teeth, eyes that seem to sparkle and blemish free skin tones are the most common indicator that your favorite billboard has been shopped to make it more appealing to the public. It’s not just photographs of human beings that are forged. Learning how to spot a fake photograph of nature scenes or buildings can be slightly more challenging, but your best bet is to try to spot difference in light between objects and how they are blended. Programmes like Photoshop take layers of each photo and blend them together to make a new image.

Even news corporations are guilty of using digital image manipulation to highlight news photos in order to emphasize certain aspects and downplay others. When the original image is not exciting enough, clever designers can add extra elements to make it seem bigger, better and more newsworthy. National Geographic casually moved two pyramids closer together to make a better photo for one of their cover stories. The Daily Mirror fired an editor after it was found that they digitally faked photographs of British soldiers torturing Iraqi prisoners. In a digital age, images are the most powerful source of information we have. If we’re not being fed the original images, how are we going to find out the truth? When it comes to forged photographs, the most famous culprits are the media that we love and trust.

If you know what you’re looking for you can make certain that seeing is believing.


Bogdan is the founder of Top Design Magazine. You can find him in Bucharest-Romania so next time you want to drink a beer there and talk about web and stuff, give him a message.