DMA Central

THE OFFICIAL COMMUNITY FOR DIGITAL MEDIA ACADEMY

How Can You Tell if a Picture Has Been Photoshopped?

Photos are everywhere. And there’s a very good chance the photo you’re looking at has had a touch-up or two. Do you know how to tell the difference between a real or phony photo?


This famous photo – which was faked – sparked a huge debate as to its authenticity when it was first passed around the Internet a few years back.

Working in the Shop
You know you have a good product when the brand name turns into a verb. Google and Photoshop probably know this better than any brand (just Google “Photoshopping” to get an idea of what I mean). Photoshop is an amazingly powerful tool that finds itself in the hands of more and more people everyday. Some for better and some for worse. Example A: photo manipulation.

We’re here to help you spot the fakes, but doing so requires a little detective work. And like a good detective, there are subtle clues that are a dead giveaway to help you spot what’s real and what’s not.

The Human Face
When you’re dealing with a photo that is a portrait of a person, or a photo where the main subject is a person, the human face can reveal so much about a photo’s authenticity. Why? You’re most familiar with the human face. You spend every morning (let’s hope) staring at your own while you scrub those pearly whites, so the oddities will stand out. This is especially true when it comes to the eyes, nose and mouth. What better tool to use to sniff these irregularities out than your very own two eyeballs. Using your own eyes and starting with the face, here are some things to look for in spotting a fraud:


Before (on the left) and after (on the right), Photoshop. 

The Eyes
Eyes provide two great clues for use when we are on the hunt for a fraud. Contrary to what you see on the front page of magazines and spread across billboards, eyeballs DO have veins and the sclera, which is the white part of your eye, is often a little discolored and cloudy. Also, depending on the light and the subject’s face structure, the shadows around the subject’s eyes may vary, but in almost all cases there should be some shadows. If the eyes in the photo look too good to be true, chances are, THEY ARE!

Facial Features
For photoshoppers that enjoy providing the digital nose job, they know it’s no simple procedure. Replacing noses is tricky because you have to perfectly match color, texture, and lighting three facets of the face that literally stick out at you on the nose. Detecting a bad blend job on any one of these items can help you easily sniff out the fraud.

Enhancing the size, color, and shape of lips is a common request in the land of Photoshop. Just like the eyes and nose though, if the light and texture look suspicious, chances are you’re on to something. Luscious lips are usually liars. Also, notice skin tone, in the photos above of George Clooney and Beyonce. Both of their complexions are unnaturally even and clean.


You may have been too distracted by the squirrels with lightsabers to notice the repeating pattern and bad image stitching in the background?

The Environment
Spotting a fish out of water has become increasingly difficult these days all thanks to Photoshop. Sure, it’s all fun and games when you photoshop your friend on the moon, but what about photoshopping a suspect into or out of a crime scene? Photoshop has used the blur tool quite a bit when it comes the world around us and whether we know if what we’re seeing is really in it or not. Here are some tips to knowing the world around you:

1. If an image seems suspiciously out of place, the best place to continue your hunt is on the edges. Poor blending and sloppy edge work will be your indication that someone tried to pull the ol’ drag and drop on you.

2. Just as in detecting a fraud on a portrait of the face, light plays a big role in the environment as well. I mean, after all, photography is about capturing light. When searching, look for strange shadows or missing shadows from objects that you think may be photoshopped in. Replicating shadows accurately can be a time-consuming and challenging process and thus can often be overlooked or just skipped on a hack job.


This five-headed snake is the stuff of nightmares, don’t worry – it’s fake. Notice how all the heads have the exact same angle and how the heads connect to the body of the snake.

Use Technology
If you can’t find evidence a photograph has been altered, using technology can help you. Perhaps it’s time to dawn some robot eyes. There are a couple of ways to get this done.


Notice the scales of the snake don’t have a consistent pattern; any naturally born two-headed snake does.

Using Photoshop, you can choose to switch between different color layers on your suspicious image. Switching between these layers will allow you to see differences in light that weren’t recognizable before. You can do this by going into Channels and manually selecting Red, Green, or Blue. Areas that have strange highlights or shadows may be indications that you have a fraud on your hands.

Using Image Error Level Analysis can be a great way to determine if a photo has been altered. The tool will provide you a heat map-like image of a JPEG you upload. It will analyze your uploaded image and detect for you areas that it thinks have been photoshopped.

A Career in Photoshop 
Did you know that there are whole careers around not only photoshopping pictures, but being able to detect when a picture has been photoshopped? That’s right; digital forensics is the study and breakdown of digital media and how it can be used to detect fraud. Learning Photoshop color correction, touch-ups & quick image optimization can help get you started. As technology and high-end production tools become more and more available, our ability to recognize the real deal and fake phonies is becoming increasingly difficult.

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posted by Seamus Harte in Digital Photography,News Blog and have No Comments

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