Sunday, June 8, 2008

Autopsy of fake photos

The art of producing fake photos used to be practiced primarily, and more or less expertly, by tyrants such as Joseph Stalin [1879-1953], wishing to remove undesirable individuals from group snapshots.

These days, countless computer users have tried their hand at innocent "Photoshopping", often in a crude fashion, as demonstrated in my fake photo of Marseille's ferry boat scampering around out in the sea as if it were an offshore racer:

On last year's April Fool's Day, my article entitled Stray animal at Gamone [display] wasn't intended to convince anybody that my donkey Moshé really rolled around in the dust at Gamone with a visiting red kangaroo:

Things get a little bit murkier when professional people use Photoshop retouching in a deliberate attempt to pull the wool over our eyes. My article of 23 August 2007 entitled Photoshop surgery [display] indicated a ridiculous case of such an operation:

A much talked-about recent case of falsification was this Chinese image of Tibetan antelopes racing away from a high-speed train:

Observers were amazed that a photographer, Liu Weiqing, could be present at exactly the moment that the train emerged on the viaduct, sending the herd of rare animals hurtling away in fear. Well, he wasn't! It's simply yet another fake photo, obtained by combining the train and the antelopes. The story of how this photo was first acclaimed as a masterpiece, before being revealed as a fake, is utterly fascinating.

Today, I learn [once again from the excellent Scientific American magazine, mentioned in my previous blog article] that there's a clever US specialist named Hany Farid who has developed methods of revealing that such-and-such a photo is fake. I advise you to visit his fine website [display] to see specimens of Farid's art and findings. In his magazine article, Farid offers us this lovely image of Jan Ullrich shaking hands with an attractive female cyclist:

Cautious viewers, discovering this image, might ask semantic questions. First of all: What on earth was this unusual cycling event that brought together Ullrich and a female in a yellow jersey, with long hair and superbly muscular legs? Second: How come the female's helmet appears to be a recolored clone of Ullrich's helmet? Last, but not least: What's that American fire hydrant doing alongside the road? Did Jan Ullrich ever get around to competing in the USA in a mixed male/female event (?) during the brief period in 2003 when he was a member of the Bianchi team? Click the fake photo [or, better still, subscribe to Scientific American] to find answers.

Many observers are anguished when they realize how easy it has become to cheat with photos. Hany Farid's excellent article entitled Digital Image Forensics informs us that the goodies and baddies are at love-all. [Excuse me for borrowing a tennis metaphor... but the final of the French Open is about to start at Roland-Garros.] The image crooks use ingenious techniques to create fake photos, but the cops have a lot of excellent detection tricks up their sleeves.


  1. You're wrong about the Yamba snap being a fake. I live in Yamba and can vouch for it being true.

  2. Thanks for your information. I've seen several web articles indicating that the four or so photos of the foam phenomenon at Yamba are perfectly genuine, and that they were taken by a local professional photographer named Bill Counsell in August 2007. Although I still find certain aspects of these alleged photos suspicious, I'm prepared to accept your assurance that they're authentic... and so I've removed the offending image from my blog. Please let me know if you can provide further undeniable evidence that these photos are indeed authentic.

  3. Hi William.

    I too thought the Yamba foam pictures were fakes, when I first viewed them.

    I researched them, and contacted the photographer, who assured me they were real. So did other Yamba residents.

    I then wrote about them in the South Korean citizen reporters' journal OhmyNewsInternational:

    Cheers,Eric (Sydney).

  4. Although you didn't mention it William, of course the missing Russian in your first picture is the "Poison Dwarf" - NKVD chief and mass murderer, the disgusting Nikolai Yezhov who, I am glad to add, got his in 1940, courtesy of the next bunch of bandits who were running the country.

  5. And I should add that the scumbag with the trilby hat is Molotov, who signed without protest, many of the death warrants for Yezhov's "clients". Naturally I do not have to identify the "Great Leader and Teacher" (and scumbag) in the centre!

    [It's easy to be brave on the Internet isn't it!]