Great Shots That Never Hap­pened

The Washington Post Sunday - - Business -

I t’s get­ting hard to be­lieve pho­tos th­ese days — the dis­tinc­tion be­tween real pho­tos and fakes is get­ting pretty blurry.

The con­ve­nience and power of photo-man­age­ment soft­ware means that just about any­body with a com­puter can gen­er­ate re­al­is­tic-look­ing re­pro­duc­tions with a few mouse clicks. Not only can some new dig­i­tal cam­eras from Hewlett-Packard get rid of the “red-eye” ef­fect, they can also au­to­mat­i­cally take off fa­cial blem­ishes and slim you down a few pounds.

Dig­i­tally en­hanced pho­tos are start­ing to bump up against the real world. A few news pho­tog­ra­phers have lost their jobs for dig­i­tally tin­ker­ing with their shots, but there’s weirder stuff afoot as well. A model re­cently told a celebrity news Web site that she posed for Play­boy last year be­cause she wanted to show her fans that some other naked pic­tures of her on the In­ter­net were frauds. (The mag­a­zine didn’t call me back this week to pro­vide the images in ques­tion.)

“There’s this mis­con­cep­tion out there that the cam­era doesn’t lie — well, it lies all the time,” said Mindy Stricke, pro­pri­etor of a Web site called Sin­gleShots. “It lies as soon as you pick it up.”

Sin­gleShots helps on­line daters gain an edge by fix­ing up their head shots. At rates rang­ing from $25 to $65 per pic­ture, Sin­gleShots can re­move a dou­ble chin, lose the blem­ishes, smooth over those wrin­kles and take a few pounds off. For Stricke, Sin­gleShots is a side ven­ture un­re­lated to her nor­mal pho­tog­ra­phy work — but, she says, her busi­ness-ex­ec­u­tive cus­tomers are start­ing to ask for the same work.

Stricke likes to think what she does

for on­line daters em­pha­sizes good looks that were al­ready there in the first place. But some­times, she says, work­ing with clients can be­come a del­i­cate ne­go­ti­a­tion be­cause some peo­ple want more dig­i­tal help than she’s com­fort­able dol­ing out.

“At the end of the day, they’re go­ing to have to meet some­body in per­son — and ex­plain why they don’t have any hair,” she said.

Pho­to­shop is the ubiq­ui­tous soft­ware tool of choice for folks want­ing to muck around with pho­tos. With a new ver­sion slated for re­lease by the end of this month, the pro­gram’s aim is to make im­age ma­nip­u­la­tion even eas­ier.

Take the prob­lem of get­ting a good group shot, for ex­am­ple. In the com­ing ver­sion of Pho­to­shop, users will be able to stack up a se­ries of group shots against each other and quickly splice to­gether the pho­tos that con­tain each sub­ject’s most flat­ter­ing fa­cial ex­pres­sion.

If, say, Joe has his eyes closed in one shot, you can just swipe the cur­sor over his face and see if he looks bet­ter in the next shot down in the pile. The soft­ware will swap heads for you, and chances are good that none will be the wiser when you send that spring break photo around.

De­tect­ing im­age trick­ery is a bud­ding in­dus­try, says Hani Farid, a com­puter science pro­fes­sor at Dart­mouth Col­lege who also works as a con­sul­tant in le­gal cases in which there’s a sus­pi­cion of im­age tam­per­ing.

Farid also serves as a con­sul­tant to news agen­cies try­ing to fig­ure out whether a photo is real. A re­cent photo used to pro­mote the Fox television show “Amer­i­can Idol” seemed a lit­tle sus­pi­cious to As­so­ci­ated Press photo edi­tors, so they sent it to Farid to see if he could de­tect tam­per­ing.

Sure enough, Farid found that it was a com­pos­ite: The proof was in the eyes. Zoom in on the photo close enough, and you can tell by the light re­flected in the eyes of Si­mon Cow­ell and the other judges. Two of the peo­ple in the shot have two lights re­flected in their eyes; the oth­ers have only one, in­di­cat­ing that the group shot was ac­tu­ally spliced to­gether from two photo shoots.

Farid’s stu­dents de­vel­oped some tools Adobe has con­sid­ered in­cor­po­rat­ing into fu­ture ver­sions of Pho­to­shop. One tool, the “Clone De­tec­tor,” checks for re­peated pat­terns in a dig­i­tal pic­ture that the naked eye might not no­tice but that could be ev­i­dence that some­one has cut and pasted el­e­ments within the im­age. An­other, “Truth Dots,” counts the num­ber of pix­els in a shot and looks for anom­alies that could in­di­cate trick­ery.

Still, Farid ad­mits, there are ways a mo­ti­vated faker can work around all the tools de­vel­oped so far. He just hopes to take profit-mo­ti­vated pic­ture fak­ery — the type that tends to show up in court cases — out of the hands of ama­teurs.

Fight­ing dig­i­tal photo fraud will prob­a­bly turn out to be one of those never-end­ing bat­tles, said Farid, like the fight against spam or com­puter viruses.

“It’s more easy to cre­ate than de­tect” photo trick­ery, he said. “It’s a cat-and-mouse game — I’m the mouse.”

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