Phony photos everywhere!

US missile test: There is nothing wrong with this picture.
US missile test: There is nothing wrong with this picture.Courtesy US Dept. of Defense (not Mark Ryan)
Click here and look at the photograph accompanying the story. Agence France-Presse claims the image was obtained from a website of the media arm of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard. The photo makes it look like the Iranians are flexing their military muscle during a recent missile test launch, but in reality they seem to be merely flexing their Clone Stamp Tool in their (probably illegal) copy of Adobe Photoshop.

Now look at the stock photo on the right. This is a minuteman test done by the US military over the Pacific Ocean. I swear to God I have not manipulated this image in any way whatsoever. Not at all. Not one single pixel has been changed in this original photograph. Really.

Well, okay, actually I may have enhanced it just a bit, but only to make a point.

Photo tampering has been around since the earliest days of photography. It was (and still is) a practice used often in advertising, propaganda, magazine covers, and even news (where it is gravely frowned upon). So this kind of thing is nothing new. But advances in digital photography and computer software that allows for pixel-level image manipulation has really created an atmosphere ripe for extreme skepticism of any kind of photograph you see out there nowadays. And the Internet is full of such “real photographs”; stuff like the guy who keeps his dead wife encased in a coffee-table, paratroopers coming in over a lake full of hungry alligators, or president Bush having a good time in hurricane-ravaged New Orleans. All lies!!

When I published a composite photo in a magazine some years ago, the publisher credited it as a “photo illustration” rather than photograph. And I had no problem with that. I’ve also sold (as photographs) images that were extensively manipulated by the addition and removal of elements to enhance the composition. Since I wasn’t trying to make any kind of editorial statement, I have no problem doing that. I look at it more as painting with pixels than tampering with photography. But it does raise the issue of photo ethics. Evidently, it’s okay when used in some ways (such as advertising where everybody expects everything to be a lie), but not okay in other ways (such as news photos).

If done correctly, and with a good deal of thought and meticulous attention to detail, a remarkable “photograph” can be created that even the experts will have difficulty determining whether it’s been doctored or not. Such as my fine illustrative example above. If I hadn’t told you otherwise, I’m sure you would have thought it was an actual photograph of multiple launches. People can be so gullible.

So, perhaps you want to join the Photo Tampering Bandwagon and learn the finer points of image manipulation, but you just don’t have the time to invest in reading the manual that came with your copy of Photoshop. Who can blame you? The thing is massive! I don’t even like reading it. But now, fortunately, there’s a wonderful series on YouTube called “You Suck at Photoshop”, which makes learning the ins and outs of what truly is a complicated program both fun and educational (especially if your current relationship is on shaky ground).

And, lastly, for those of you insisting on some sort of “science” angle to these posts, go here for that.

More on the ethics of photo manipulation
Snopes Fauxtography site

Your Comments, Thoughts, Questions, Ideas

Thor's picture
Thor says:

That photo looks a lot like what happens when Dick Cheney goes duck hunting, I think.

posted on Thu, 07/10/2008 - 4:20pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

According to these photos, the Iranian missile defense system is a lot more sophisticated than we think!

posted on Sat, 07/12/2008 - 4:03pm
mdr's picture
mdr says:

The one with Wile E. Coyote is awesome.

posted on Sat, 07/12/2008 - 5:55pm
mumzy's picture
mumzy says:

It could be real but sinse I have a thing with photoshopping "the magic touch" I also have a fealing it's fake!

posted on Fri, 07/25/2008 - 2:58pm
Gene's picture
Gene says:

It appears the Iranian Photoshop Wizard is at it again.

posted on Wed, 06/17/2009 - 8:47am
Gene's picture
Gene says:

And again!

posted on Fri, 11/20/2009 - 5:49pm
JGordon's picture
JGordon says:

Dude, the hurricane is the least remarkable thing there, and I'm relatively certain that the publishers don't actually think that Central and South America have been separated by the Caribbean Sea joining the Pacific Ocean or that Greenland currently has an inland sea.

Hyperbolic, sure, but I'm not sure this qualifies as Photoshop shenanigans. You know? I mean Oh no! More photoshop!

posted on Fri, 11/20/2009 - 6:22pm

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