The Art Of Image Altering

fake john kerry and jane fonda photo CBS

What is real? What is a true likeness? The smiles on their faces are genuine, but what ends up in the family album may not look exactly the same.

We can now alter these class pictures digitally so no kid has a runny nose or a blemish in the final photo.

In our digital age, images fly at us with remarkable speed and frequency. Computers, television, cell phones — this flood of visual information pours into our eyes, and our brains then determine if we like what we see. But, more and more, my brain is asking, is it real? Or is it a contrivance? Has it been touched up for vanity? Or altered to make a political point?

For example, a photographer added more smoke to a picture of the war in Lebanon for effect.

"It was a pretty crude manipulation," Dr. Hany Farid, who teaches computer science at Dartmouth, told The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. The truth came out and the photographer was fired.

John Kerry's political enemies tried to pass judgment on his patriotism when they found this photo with anti-war activist Jane Fonda, which eventually turned out to be fake. Regrettably, Katie Couric lost a dress size or two to a photo editor at CBS Promotions. Flattery? Or a failure to communicate?

We assume the pictures we see in glossy magazines have been touched up, but what of the photos of your family and friends? Have they been touched up a little? And does it matter?

"A lot of people who do Match.com send me photographs," Farid said. "They're about to meet somebody and I can tell you the vast majority of images on dating sites have been at least manipulated in some way."

Farid helped invent software that can detect when an image has been digitally altered. Sometimes it really does matter, from a police surveillance video to medical malpractice images.

"Men taking the hairline and bringing it down a little bit — very common," he said. "And very easy to do. It's my favorite manipulation. I mean, some of the most famous portraits of Abraham Lincoln, for example, are his head in somebody else's body. Stalin famously airbrushed people out of photographs that fell out of favor. It's not that it hasn't been done. It's just that it's just so much easier and so much more prevalent now."

What makes it all so easy is Photoshop, made in Silicon Valley by Adobe. With Photoshop you can alter just about anything.

"When it comes time to work with images it's the standard," Dave Story, Adobe's vice president of product development, said. "Everyone uses it. Every image that you see in print, on TV, other places, you could be completely assured that Photoshop has likely touched that image."

In the fashion world models are modified to a level of perceived beauty that doesn't exist anywhere but on billboards.
  • Caitlin Johnson

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