We’ve been talking so far about the good aspects of photographic magic – white magic as it were. There is, of course, a dark side as well, a black magic. We see so much of this every day, mostly on the web. I’m talking about the use of photography to deceive. These appear to come in two flavors: wholly made up and created and images that have been drastically modified. There’s so much of this stuff around that “to shop” an image has become a verb. I’ve seen two interesting examples recently; so let’s start with them.
The first is an image purported to be a picture of the Earth, Jupiter, and Venus looming above the Martian horizon taken by the new Mars rover “Curiosity.” It’s gone viral on the web, and I got suckered in as well. But then I started thinking about what a feat it would be to achieve so much dynamic range in a picture and I went to the NASA website to see how it was done. And it wasn’t
there. A quick search of the web turned up Philip Plait’s Discovery Magazine blog, and sure enough “fake!” Plait even points out the letters NE on the bottom edge of the picture, indicating that it was generated using a computer planetarium software package showing the view from Mars. This is an example of a completed computer generated image.
The second is an example of a “shopped” image. It is a picture purported to be Mitt Romney and his family wearing t-shirts misaligned so that they spell RMONEY instead of ROMNEY. This is entitled; “Romney’s family misspell their last name in the greatest Freudian slip in history.” Well, not so much. In fact it’s not even Romney’s family and the reordering of the letters, as explained by David Emery in the urban legends website is the work of a mischievous photoprankster.
Usually, what’s too good to be true isn’t true. Usually too, one can detect a “shopping” job by looking at the suspect edges and monkeying around with the contrast. Image manipulation runs the whole gamut. In fine art photography it’s, well art. In scientific photography it’s a big no no. And in currency counterfeiting it’s as much as twenty years.