How To Tell If A Photo Has Been Doctored

How To Tell If A Photo Has Been Doctored
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Nearly every photo online has been edited in some way, whether through cropping, filtering, compressing, colour-correcting or other generally innocuous touch-ups. But a lot of people attempt to pass off doctored images as true ones, leading to hoaxes, crackpot theories, and more than one trip to Snopes for some fact-checking. You can do the world a service by helping those around you identify real photos from fake ones. Here’s how.

Image credit: Oli Scarff/Getty

Look for Poor Editing First

Glaring mistakes should be the first way you identify a doctored photo. If you think something’s been modified, a helpful tip is to look around the area you believe is edited. Warping around a subject is a pretty clear indication of photo manipulation.

Image via Reddit

Image via Reddit

Check out hands, feet and faces, common areas where you may find the lingering presence of poorly erased objects such as jewellery, blemishes or debris. Low-resolution images might make mistakes harder to discover, so consider blurry camera photos and video footage with a grain of salt.

Lighting is Key

If two people standing next to each other are lit in a different manner, one of them might have been inserted after the fact. The same goes for objects added to photos. If the light falling on the object doesn’t correlate with the rest of the highlights in the photo, it’s probably been edited.

Image via Reddit

Image via Reddit

Check Out Repeating Pixels

You might have a photo of a bright blue sky, but every blue pixel is a tiny bit different, and can’t just be replaced by a blue paintbrush. Some tools, such as the brush or clone tool in Photoshop, depend on using identical pixels to reproduce whatever you’re cloning or colouring.

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In life, nothing is ever coloured perfectly, and spots of suspiciously similar pixels in a photo might be evidence of a doctored photo, according to former Adobe executive Kevin Connor. Poor cloning also leaves behind duplicate artefacts, such as clouds, or even fingers in the worst offenders. Obvious giveaways, to be sure.

EXIF Data is Your Friend

After you pore over a photo for edits, you still might not be convinced. That’s when you should take a look at the photograph’s EXIF data, metadata embedded in a photograph when it’s taken.

Cameras store metadata in photos associated with the make and model of camera and settings used to make the photo (including ISO, focus and shutter speed), among other pieces of information. Photo editing tools and photo copying may remove bits of metadata, or add metadata indicating the photo has been modified. A lack of metadata often means it was removed, making it harder to identify the source of the image and verify its validity. If someone is trying to pass off a disingenuous photograph as true and it’s lacking metadata, be wary of its source.

Sites such as Exifdata and Metapicz are web-based options for checking the EXIF data of your photos. Suspect metadata you should look for often includes the date the image was created, which could be the day the modified photo was created rather than the day it was taken.