How To Determine The Authenticity of a Photograph

How To Determine The Authenticity of a Photograph

Here are a few of the most infamous photo manipulations:

  • Composing a photo with U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s head on top of Southern politician John Calhoun’s body.

  • Squeezing two of the Great Pyramids of Giza together to fit National Geographic‘s vertical magazine cover.

  • Placing Olympic ice skating rivals Tanya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan on the cover of New York Newsday, soon after an attack on Kerrigan by an associate of Hardin’s husband.

  • Darkening OJ Simpson’s mug shot for the cover of TIME magazine to make him appear more menacing (the original was used for the Newsweek cover).

  • Removing a cigarette from Paul McCartney in the Beatles’ famous Abbey Road album cover.

  • Doctoring an image of smoke rising from buildings in the Lebanese capital after an Israeli air raid by a Reuters photographer to show more intense smoke and more buildings that in the original.

This list is just a fraction of instances collected by photo forensics technologists, Fourandsix, as part of their overview of photo tampering throughout history. Interestingly enough, Foundandsix Technologies is actually making its business off the proliferation of photo manipulation, developing software that will enable you to determine the authenticity of images.

“We’re not out to demonize photo manipulation,” says Kevin Connor, Founder and President of Fourandsix and a 15-year veteran of the team that builds Photoshop-branded products at Adobe. “In the next few years we plan to introduce more tools to enable more in-depth analysis of images. We want the Fourandsix name to be synonymous with photographic truth.”

Keep in mind that photo manipulation applies to everything from that funny photo of a cat you saw on Facebook to images from a security camera presented in court. “Our mission is to provide the tools that allow our customers to find the truth contained within every image,” says Kevin. And as Kevin also points out, this distrust of photography predates digital cameras (hello, famous Ab Lincoln portrait!).

While determining the authenticity of a photograph is a well known problem, just how much does it matter? That’s the question Kevin will address in his talk at Luminance, PhotoShelter’s conference this fall addressing photography, business, and culture.

“Can photos still be trusted?” asks Kevin. “The fun comes from figuring out how to apply [photo manipulation] research to provide a meaningful solution. As people have become more familiar with how much photographs can be manipulated…that special status that photography once enjoyed has faded away.”


Want to hear more from Foundandsix Technologies and our 20+ other organizations that help consume and define photography? Get all of Luminance’s ticket and pricing information here.


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There are 7 comments for this article
  1. andy manning at 4:19 pm

    A photograph has alway been open to alterations. Manipulation of the image in the darkroom from film processing to print techniques has always, either by accident or design, has happened. If the ‘editorial’ integrity of an image can remain intact let it be so.

  2. Paul Conrad at 12:47 am

    Don’t forget Brian Walski, LA Times photographer who morphed two photos into one. Allen Dietrich of the Toledo Blade who confessed manipulating more than 70 photos which were published.

  3. Rob Stewart at 8:06 am

    One thing that happened to me while in my last job working for the Police always springs to mind when talking about this subject. A detective asked me “can you go back to the scene tonight at eight o’clock and take a photograph to show how dark it was at the time of the incident?”

    My answer – “how dark do you want it to be?”.

  4. Pingback: How To Determine The Authenticity of a Photograph « Miguel Gomez
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