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Tuesday, May 14, 2013

We Do Not Trust Photos Anymore

Posted by on Tue, May 14, 2013 at 4:13 PM

Nina Frazier at Mashable says that a controversy erupted over the Photo of the Year winner from the World Press Photo Foundation:

World Press Photo submitted the files for forensic review following controversy that spiraled from a blog post by image analyst Neal Krawetz, who alleged that the photo was actually a composite of three separate images. The story was later picked up by tech blog ExtremeTech.

However, after carrying out its own investigation, World Press Photo said Krawetz's analysis is "deeply flawed."

"It is clear that the published photo was retouched with respect to both global and local color and tone. Beyond this, however, we find no evidence of significant photo manipulation or compositing," two photo experts said in a World Press Photo statement released Tuesday.

Experts said that no pixel in the image, which is really quite striking, was moved out of place, though the image did go through considerable lightening and darkening. It's getting easier and easier to manipulate photographs, and soon we'll be able to manipulate them on a granular level as soon as we take them—this product was a real eye-opener for me. So at what point do photos become as untrustworthy as drawings? Are we ever going to reach that point? Are we already there?


Comments (22) RSS

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Sir Vic 1
It may not be fake, but that photo doesn't even look like a photo. It looks like an oil painting.
Posted by Sir Vic on May 14, 2013 at 4:23 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 2
I trust photos.

For example, there's this photo of Angelina Jolie.

Oh. Wait.

Never mind.
Posted by Will in Seattle on May 14, 2013 at 4:26 PM · Report this
Dr_Awesome 3
The desire to be the absolute best in sports has led to ruling bodies and those that flout the rules. Hello, Lance Armstrong.

Photography is now in the same arena. Where there is the desire and the technical ability to be the best, participants will use any means possible.

Race cars are torn down and inspected after every race for evidence of technical cheats. Athletes submit to drug tests. Photographs are analyzed for digital manipulation. That genii is out of the bottle and is not ever going back inside.
Posted by Dr_Awesome on May 14, 2013 at 4:29 PM · Report this
Dougsf 4
I had three rambling paragraphs of opinions on what it takes to produce a photo and blah blah blah waaaay off track. Instead I'll say this: That photo looks (to me) like HDR, and everyone hates HDR.
Posted by Dougsf on May 14, 2013 at 4:40 PM · Report this
I think this has to do with the ethics of photography. Photo manipulation is very, very old. People have done all sorts of things to the actual negatives, for example. However, it's only honest for the photographer to disclose enhancements and manipulations.

Part of what's cool about *most* photography is that it purportedly captures an instance of real life, whether that's a split second or an hour-long exposure. We, as viewers, marble at the photographer's trained eye, uncanny timing, and sheer luck. However, if your amazing moment is actually fabricated, if the photograph looks natural and real and you don't reveal that it was manipulated, then that's cheating. You are then lying to your audience. This rule doesn't apply to other forms of visual art because it's obvious that those images are created, not captured.

So I don't have a problem with people cropping, coloring, lightening ("burning", they used to call it), airbrushing, or doing whatever to a photograph. Photography can be an art form, like painting, open to artistic license. However, it's incumbent on the photographer to inform the audience that the image is an illusion.
Posted by floater on May 14, 2013 at 4:48 PM · Report this
MacCrocodile 6
@4 - Is that what that is? I hated HDR, and I didn't even know what HDR was.
Posted by MacCrocodile on May 14, 2013 at 4:49 PM · Report this
Photos will be and have been forever, as untrustworthy as drawings, sometimes, less. A photo is a half truth, always. A drawing is anywhere between no truth and truth. A photo can tell you this happened in this moment.

The means behind what is going on in any photo leaves as much CONTEXT to the imagination as the biblical quotes Goldy puts up.
Posted by michael bell on May 14, 2013 at 4:58 PM · Report this
The responsibility an artist has to decree his/her manipulation to a photo AFTER the photo was taken has the same amount responsibility they have to decree the manipulation used in TAKING the photo.

You can manipulate real life with framing, angles, exposure, at what point in time you snap the photo.

The photographer doesn't just choose WHAT to photograph they choose what NOT to photograph to. I could spend days giving examples.

End of story: Trust any art the same, regardless of the medium. Art can be used to promote morals and ideals and it can be used to manipulate feelings. It is whatever the artist wants, and what the viewer sees. To trust anything innately Is a silly concept Paul. Trusting a picture taken from the world, is like trusting a paragraph randomly OR not randomly chosen from an article, to accurately describe the whole.
Posted by michael bell on May 14, 2013 at 5:07 PM · Report this
Dougsf 9
@4 - I can't be sure—maybe a pro could tell us, but the highlights/mids/shadows have an unnaturally saturated look, absolutely no detail in that photo is lost. Pretty hard to pull off with a Brownie, but many cameras can do it in-body (the Mark III does it, which is the new pro "standard"). To do it in Photoshop, I think you'd need multiple exposures of the same scene, which would be impossible here.

It's a powerful photo, if somewhat obscured by an unnatural sheen, but unless that was originally a photo of dudes carrying loaves of bread, I don't see the controversy beyond the idea that something many consider gimmicky won a top prize.
Posted by Dougsf on May 14, 2013 at 5:19 PM · Report this
Dougsf 10
Also, what #8 said. Photojournalism, and the editorial process, carry a certain weight, but photography itself is like any other art form.
Posted by Dougsf on May 14, 2013 at 5:23 PM · Report this
Dougsf 11
Whoops, I meant @6.
Posted by Dougsf on May 14, 2013 at 5:25 PM · Report this
fletc3her 12
Anyone running a photo contest should probably ask for the raw file from the camera as well as the retouched version. Which is actually what it sounds like they've done here to verify the photo wasn't significantly edited.

Maybe cameras should record an encrypted hash value for every raw image so its veracity as the output of an actual CCD exposure can be verified.
Posted by fletc3her on May 14, 2013 at 6:31 PM · Report this
This has been gong on ever since photography moved from Daguerreotypes (where the plate in the camera was the final product, like a Polaroid) to Talbotypes (where you made a negative from which you printed many final pictures, the tonalities of which could be manipulated to emphasise or conceal certain details). That's about 170 years.

Dodging and burning photographic prints is completely standard practice, and great documentary photographers like W. Eugene Smith used to spend hours brightening highlights with potassium ferricyanide reducer and burning in corners to concentrate attention on the main subject. With Photoshop it's easy to do in color as well.

Pasting in pictures of fairies in front of your little sister or shuffling pyramids around is considered cheating, though, no matter how you do it.

This picture is legit, although some viewers might not care for the implicit political message.
Posted by SkepticalSteve on May 14, 2013 at 6:44 PM · Report this
The National Gallery of Art in D.C. has an exhibit up (or, they did in February) about historical manipulation of photographs. Photos have never, ever been reliable.
Posted by sahara29 on May 14, 2013 at 8:31 PM · Report this
McBomber 15
Is it a stretch to compare this question with the GMO debate? We seem to agree that retouching images to adjust tone or focus is an acceptable alteration, partly because it has been done since photography was in its infancy. With new technology we can introduce entirely new elements to create something that's arguably better, though not technically the original subject and perhaps not discernable from the "real thing." So where do we draw the line on food and photographs? (Coming from a guy who uses Photoshop for a living and tries not to buy GMO foods)
Posted by McBomber on May 14, 2013 at 9:14 PM · Report this
Yeah it's never like the Stranger would post horrible post processed photos…
Posted by j2patter on May 14, 2013 at 11:09 PM · Report this
You know it IS possible to authenticate a digital file hasnt been tampered with after an authenticated time. Location is trickier.

It requires stuff people don't usually do but there are probably cellphones up to the task.

Posted by david on May 14, 2013 at 11:18 PM · Report this
Ballard Pimp 18
@5, as 11 points out, "burning in" is to darken part of a photo with more exposure; "dodging" is what is done to lighten part of a photo that may be overexposed. In black and white that is done using an enlarger to control exposure. With color I think it has to be done chemically.

But since the photo shows dead Palestinian children killed by the Israeli army, great steps must be taken to discredit it.
Posted by Ballard Pimp on May 15, 2013 at 12:16 AM · Report this
@18 is the first mention of the real issue. If it showed men carrying children in any other part of the world from a natural disaster, there would be no controversy over this photographer's use of post-processing. (hint: almost every other photo you see in a publication or major web site uses the same techniques)
Posted by SoSea Resident on May 15, 2013 at 7:25 AM · Report this
treacle 20
I haven't trusted published photos ever since I saw a step-by-step example of a completely faked photo (GeoBushSr & Thatcher, hand in hand in a garden) in a glossy magazine. If we can fake at 600 dpi, anything lesser (eg. 150-300?dpi in newspapers, 72dpi online) is wholly untrustworthy.

As mentioned above, it comes down to context and reputation. Is the source person or agency reputable? If they faked this photo, will they remain so? Etc.
Posted by treacle on May 15, 2013 at 9:03 AM · Report this
@4, that's not HDR. HDR looks like someone just detonated a large glazed donut.
Posted by Toe Tag on May 15, 2013 at 12:26 PM · Report this
Dougsf 22
@21 - That's a good description of it. I really wasn't sure, but I can't really understand what's going on with everything living in the mids like that. I'm relatively new to this, and I've never owned a 5D or a 1D, so maybe the RAW actually contains that much range to pull from?

Kinda thought the Israel thing others mentioned was a given, but I may live in a bubble.
Posted by Dougsf on May 15, 2013 at 1:13 PM · Report this

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