Digital Slavery – The Ultimate Roadmap

A quick guide of troubling issues in our digital lifestyle.

digital manipulation : photos

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Photo by Hany Farid, Dartmouth College

Covers of Newsweek and Time Magazine in June 1994, based on the same mug shot of O.J. Simpson. Newsweek used the original image while Time magazine was subsequently accused of manipulating the photograph to make Simpson appear "darker" and "menacing." (photo by Hany Farid, Dartmouth College)


Photo manipulation is the application of image editing techniques to photographs in order to create an illusion or deception (in contrast to mere enhancement or correction), through analog or digital means. Its uses, cultural impact, and ethical concerns have made it a subject of interest beyond the technical process and skills involved. More…

Photo retouching / airbrushing: Airbrushing has long been used to alter photographs in the pre-digital era. In skilled hands it can be used to help hide signs that an image has been extensively retouched or “doctored”.

As a result of Stalin’s purges, and later destalinization, many photographs of officials from the periods show extensive airbrushing, often entire people have been removed. The term “airbrushed out” has come to mean rewriting history to pretend that something was never there.

The term “airbrushed” or “airbrushed photo” has also been used to describe glamour photos in which a model’s imperfections have been removed, or in which their attributes have been enhanced. The term has often been applied in a pejorative manner to describe images of unrealistic female perfection and has been particularly common in reference to pictures in Playboy, and later Maxim magazine. More…

Photoshopping is slang for the digital editing of photos. The term originates from Adobe Photoshop, the image editor most commonly used by professionals for this purpose. “Photoshop” is widely used as a verb, to refer to retouching, compositing, and color correction carried out in the course of graphic design, commercial publishing, and image editing.

In popular culture, the term photoshopping is sometimes associated with montages in the form of visual jokes. Images may be propagated memetically via e-mail as humor or passed as actual news. An example of the latter category is “Helicopter Shark,” which was widely circulated as a so-called “National Geographic Photo of the Year” and was later revealed to be a hoax. More…


  • seeing is no longer believing
  • everything (photos, video, and audio recordings, besides text) can be digitally manipulated, altered, tempered, doctored
  • legal documents and historical records need to be properly protected in the long-term against manipulation

In the entertainment industry

  • movies routinely use digitally created, enhanced and manipulated photos and videos (CGI) with such quality and realism that are virtually indistinguishable from real images and footage (easing the “suspension of disbelief” feeling)
  • this may be considered a neutral, self-inflicted and generally accepted “fraud” by viewers

In the marketing industry

  • similarly, advertising routinely “deceives” consumers with digitally perfect ads (photo realism)
  • in the last few years, through more subtle and devious means, viral and guerrilla marketing have been “injecting” altered media (manipulated photos and videos) in the online culture, most of the time not acknowledging its false/fraudulent nature
  • this has not always been accepted as a neutral “fraud”, leading to public backlash

Regarding history and politics

  • digital manipulation of relevant documents is usually viewed as condemnable and liable to legal prosecution
  • extreme political regimens have been known to adhere to “photographic” cleansing of individuals (airbrushing)
  • this is generally seen as serious “fraud”, usually leading to significant public backlash and outcry

At home

  • photos, videos and audio files can be easily manipulated, altered and faked by non-skilled users with low cost or free software
  • common practice includes “glamour” repairing techniques (red-eye removal, skin softening, artificial skinning) and “vintage” restoration (dust cleaning, scratch removal, tone correction), background cloning, etc
  • advanced users use airbrushing for “social” purposes (removing or even adding people on photos)
  • this is generally viewed as a neutral harmless “domestic fraud”


  • serious social impact in law & justice, journalism, history, democracy and, ultimately, in freedom
  • plummeting public confidence in media elements (photos, videos and audio recordings), eroding trust and confidence in society

In the justice system

  • decreasing trust in physical evidence used in court proceedings (law & justice), political confrontations, corporate disputes, etc
  • in the future, digital proof will only be likely accepted if authenticated, dated and integrity-verified since stored in the recording device (digital audio recorder, photo or video camera)

In history

  • historical documents, records and evidence, once digitally archived, can be rewritten or insideously altered with long-term consequences (like history denial and revisionism)

In journalism and news reporting

  • decreasing public trust in the credibility of media presented in everyday news
  • increasing cases of erroneously media reports mislead by false documents (mainly doctored photos and videos)


Protecting the capture and management of digital assets, in the near-term and long-term

  • increasing need for secure “digital vaults” to safeguard the integrity of relevant historical documents
  • increasing need of more formal rules in tracking and accountability of media sources (like codes of conduct and media assets management systems) in news reporting

Adopting stricter rules of conduct

  • need for complete end-to-end digital assets management systems for news agencies and law & order forces (to ensure secure custody and integrity of media assets)
  • self-imposed codes of conduct for photography and video ethics should soon be mandatory in audiovisual industry

Detecting frauds

  • using digital forensics techniques and fraud detection software (including watermark detection) in justice, legal and historical matters


  • when too much manipulation is really too much?
  • is personal manipulation of photos/videos a serious issue?
  • should viral marketing be banned? are all viral campaigns created equal?
  • is self-regulation and codes of conduct sufficient to prevent media misreporting news?
  • can culture artifacts (text, photos, videos, audio, software applications, media) be securely preserved for future generations with some level of reliability against manipulation and fraud?
  • how can society at large cope with decreasing trust in media material (trusted until now)?
  • what will happen if/when the common citizen stops believing in the news, TV programming, online sources and, ultimately, in history books?
  • is the digital evolution rushing the twilight or even collapse of trust in contemporary society?


Image galleries / slideshows

Doctored magazine covers
Pictures that lie
Is seeing believing?
Girl Power – The Retouch campaign (intro)
Greg Apodaca’s digital portfolio
70 beauty-retouching Photoshop tutorials

Famous examples of digitally manipulated photos
Photo tampering throughout history
The Hoax Photo Database: A catalog of photo fakery throughout history

15 digital photo manipulation from Flickr to get inspiration!
Awesome photo manipulation inspiration

In the media

Again! New York Times, LA Times, major news media worldwide publish faked photos and stories
Once again the news media of the world is caught printing fake news and photographs.

Altered images prompt photographer’s firing
Reuters severs ties with photographer over manipulated Lebanon photos.
Reuters admits altering Beirut photo

Toledo Blade editor: Allan Detrich submitted 79 altered photos
The Toledo Blade says it unknowingly published dozens of digitally manipulated images.
Detrich resigns; Paper examines additional photos

In Ohio, a news photograph is digitally altered

A basic rule: Newspaper photos must tell the truth

Charlotte Observer photographer fired for altering colors
Photographer lost his job for manipulating the colors in a photo that appeared in the newspaper.
Photographer fired for altering photo
Patrick Schneider: Where is the line?

Photo comparison of three altered photos
Observer photo was altered improperly (archived)
NCPPA strips photographer’s POY Awards

Iran missile photo “doctored”
A photograph of a recent Iranian missile test was apparently doctored to show a fourth missile firing from a desert testing range.

Listen up, McClatchy
El Nuevo, the most-honored Spanish newspaper in the US, is ethically challenged.

Controversial photo ends Ed Keating’s career at The Times (archived)
Keating was accused of setting up a news photo in violation of the paper’s policy on journalistic ethics.

CBC boss grilled about “doctored” photo
The CBC used an altered photo to accompany a story on the Kyoto accord on its Web site in April 2007.

Fox News airs altered photos of NY Times reporters
During a live segment, Fox News featured photos of two New York Times reporters that appeared to have been digitally altered.

Beatles Abbey Road cigarette airbrushed
US poster companies have airbrushed the classic Beatles Abbey Road album cover to remove a cigarette from Paul McCartney’s hand.

Scientology lies to media – doctored photos proof
Man with no head goes round the world…

School airbrushes pupil’s pink hair
A Suffolk schoolgirl had her pink hair airbrushed out of her year group photograph because teachers said the colour was incompatible with school uniform.

In marketing & advertising

Katie Couric photo airbrushed
Latest in series of digitally altered photos sparks mini controversy.

Jessica Alba airbrushed thinner for Campari
She may be one of the most beautiful women in the world… but that doesn’t stop Jessica Alba from getting airbrushed.

Magazine admits airbrushing Winslet
The editor of a UK men’s magazine has admitted its cover photograph of actress Kate Winslet was airbrushed to improve the image.


Counterfeiting for fun and profit
Since he died in 1996, Tupac Shakur has become a cottage industry.

Perfecting the picture: enhancing the moment? (intro)
Technology allows news agencies to alter photographs… and that raises eyebrows.

Thin, pretty and airbrushed
Clicking the shutter is just the beginning of model beauty.

The man who can make you a star
Ron Rinaldi uses digital technology to help actors fulfill their dreams.

What’s real? The murky road of digital retouching (archived)
If we take photographic altering of models and actresses for granted, where does it stop? With news photographs?

Inauguration photo manipulation raises questions
Recently we witnessed one of the most documented events in history with the inauguration of President Barack Obama. Why then would an image need to be manipulated? (includes photo manipulation guidelines)

Ethics in the Age of Digital Photography : Digital Manipulation
There have been many cases of digital manipulation over the past 20 years or so, the first of note being the famous pyramids cover of National Geographic in 1982.

The Ethics of Digital Photo Manipulation
Doctoring photographs has been around almost as long as photography itself, but as digital imaging hardware and software has both advanced and come down in price, the practice of digital image manipulation has become much more commonplace and faked photos are becoming harder to detect.

Media Ethics by David Nolan

A question of truth: photojournalism and visual ethics
Photography and visual ethics are currently hot topics in the journalism community.

A Photojournalistic Confession
I couldn’t take it anymore. So, I confessed: I dodge and burn.

Interview: Brian Walski Discusses His Doctored Photo
The Los Angeles Times fired the staff photographer after he admitted to digitally combining elements taken from two different exposures.

Airbrush Quiz: Spot the doctored photo
You can’t believe everything you see when it comes to photographs. But can you spot when images have been altered?


David Nolan (media ethics)
School of Journalism & Mass Communication, Texas State University (US)

Hany Farid (image analysis/digital forensics)
Sudikoff Lab, Computer Science, Dartmouth College (US)

Kenny Irby (visual journalism)
Visual Journalism Group, The Poynter Institute for Media Studies (US)


The Poynter Institute for Media Studies
Dedicated to teaching and inspiring journalists and media leaders.

Committee of Concerned Journalists
A consortium of journalists, publishers, owners and academics worried about the future of the profession.

The Media Literacy Clearinghouse by Frank Baker
Critical thinking about media messages.

An orange diamond () marks specially interesting resources.


doctored photo ~ airbrush photo

RELATED (available soon)

media manipulation : video
media manipulation : audio
digital forensics
hoaxes, myths & urban legends
media ethics
media watchdogs


Written by RicardoNunoSilva

2009/02/19 at 16:47

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