Faked photos have circulated through popular culture ever since the camera was invented.
But with the advancement of digital editing tools and the impeccable talents of many who use them, it’s becoming more difficult to spot a fake. Even forensic experts, who have a number of tools at their disposal, can have a tough time determining whether a photo has been doctored.
But some photographs can be debunked without too much effort by anyone who knows what to look for. If your gut tells you a photo may not be the real deal, do a little digging to help you find out if you’re right. Just follow these five tips for spotting a fake.
1. Look for tell-tale signs.
A multitude of barely perceptible tell-tale signs can help you quickly spot a fake. Check the shadows in the photo to see whether they jibe with the light source and match the objects in the photo. Look at reflections to see if they match the subjects. Look at subjects’ eyes to see if the light source is reflected there and whether it matches the location.
For example, if the sun is reflected in someone’s eyes at night or indoors, you can assume it’s a fake. Look for blurs and noise around the objects in the photo, which can indicate that they’ve been added after the fact.
2. Do a reverse image search.
A great way to determine whether a photo has been faked–and the best way to prove it–is to conduct a reverse image search using Google Image Search. Right-click the image you want to search, and select “copy image address.”
Paste it into the search box, and see what comes back. You may get goose eggs, but you may also end up finding the original, unedited photograph that you can compare with the doctored version.
3. Get the image metadata.
Metadata is the information about a photo that’s added by the camera. The metadata doesn’t lie. It tells you things like the make of the camera, the time the photo was taken, and sometimes, it’ll even tell you the GPS coordinates of the location where it was taken. If the image was opened in Photoshop and then re-saved, that information will also be in the metadata.
Although photos uploaded to Facebook and Twitter have had their metadata stripped, you can use an identical photo from the reverse-image search, which may still have the metadata attached. Upload an image to a site like metapicz.com (http://metapicz.com/), which will display all of the metadata for that photo.
3. Check in with Snopes.
Questionable photos that go viral are often proven real or fake by snopes.com, which is a site devoted to getting to the truth about rumors, urban legends, fake photos, and other deception. Type a few keywords into the search box, and you may find the entire story behind a faked photo.
4. Examine it in Photoshop.
If you import a doctored photograph into Photoshop and play around with the exposure, brightness, color, and contrast, you may see tell-tale signs that it’s been doctored, such as solid blocks where things were added or taken out.
5. Be skeptical.
If you’re wondering whether a photo is fake, there’s probably a good reason. Outrageous political photos, such as the president holding a book or the phone upside down, are most likely fake. Arresting photos of natural disasters–like a shark swimming on a flooded freeway–are often faked.
Viral photos that show a logo could be created simply to blast the logo all over the Internet. The website the photo is published on can also give you a clue–if it’s on a reputable news site, it’s likely to be real, although reputable sites can be fooled, too. Ask yourself if the photo makes logical sense. If it doesn’t, it’s probably a hoax.
Spotting a fake isn’t always easy. If you’re still unsure whether a photo is real or not, take it with a grain of salt. It may be real, but it may not be.