Data verification – Canon Professional Network

There is some truth to the telling, ‘the camera never lies’. The photographer, on the other mitt, can manipulate the truth. The choice of lens, viewpoint and moment of exposure can all make the resulting pic emerge very different from the actual subject. That’s nothing, however, compared to what can be done after the picture has been taken. And we are not just talking about digital photography. Almost since the day photography was invented people have been adding to, subtracting from, and merging two or more photographs to create fresh pictures.

In their deceits, photographers are merely following in the tradition of painters. A portrait of a general sitting astride a pony would uncommonly be posed by man and animal together. The two would be sketched at different times and merged in the final painting, along with a background that was often imagined.

Artists and photographers also flattered their sitters – artists by omitting to paint in the wrinkles and other imperfections, photographers by employing teams of ‘retouchers’ to paint out these signs of age captured by the unchivalrous camera. Many photographs of famous film starlets from the 1940s are strongly retouched.

All of these retouching mechanisms required special abilities and extensive practice. They were uncommonly carried out by the photographers.

Digital deviations

The advent of digital photography has liberated us all. Computer imaging applications such as Photoshop permit almost anyone to retouch pictures, and if performed well, leave little evidence of any manipulation. Where once it would take hours to merge the sky from one picture with the landscape from another, it can now be done in a matter of minutes.

Does this matter? If the photographs are for our own private pleasure, the response must be no. But pic manipulation has become so common that some photographers are blurring the line inbetween fact and fiction in areas where truth is paramount. News reporting is just one of the areas where a few photographers have let standards slip – with serious consequences for themselves and their newspapers.

Digital picture archive

Digital photography may make manipulation of photos effortless, but digital technology also makes it possible to detect such switches. With film, you can retouch a print, copy it and make fresh prints. If this is done skillfully, it is difficult to tell which is the original and which the copy.

Digital pics, however, come with ‘metadata’, which gives the time and date a file was created, the time and date it was modified, and much else. Canon data verification adds to the arsenal of detection technologies.

Sometimes it is necessary to modify or enhance a digital photo to bring out more information. In forensic work, for example, detail can sometimes be made clearer by enhancing the contrast or by applying digital filters. In these cases it is good practice to create an archive file, beginning with the original picture from the camera, and adding a copy of each modified photo created. This provides a clear trail back to the original pic if any of the modified pictures are disputed in court.

It’s just not cricket

In this cricket picture (right) the bails (the two puny, wooden jams that sit on top of the three larger wooden ‘stumps’) have been captured in mid-air – testament to the photographer’s swift reflexes. However, the cricket ball has not been captured in the shot. In the 2nd picture, the photographer has cut and pasted a ball from a different picture. This is acceptable if the photograph is for private use, but not if you are submitting the picture to a newspaper or magazine, even if the manipulation has not altered the story that the picture conveys – which is that with or without the presence of the cricket ball in this pic, the actual story remains the same – the cricketer has been bowled out.

In April 2007 The Toledo Blade newspaper, Ohio, discovered that staff photographer Allan Detrich, a one-time Pulitzer Prize finalist and four-time Ohio News Photographer of the Year, had submitted for publication almost 80 doctored photos in only 14 weeks. One of these pictures was of a basketball match where Detrich added the ball after he had taken the picture. The photographer resigned.

Here is a wildlife pic of an owl that is kept in captivity. In the original picture (above left), the tether can be seen very clearly. In the retouched photo (above right), the tether has been liquidated. Does this matter? Not if the photos are for your own private pleasure. But if you are coming in the picture into a photo competition – especially a wildlife contest – manipulation is usually prohibited.

The rules of the Wildlife Photographer of the Year contest, for example, state that “Digital adjustments are only acceptable if limited to minor cleaning work, levels, kinks, colour, saturation and contrast work. The faithful representation of a natural form, behaviour or phenomenon must be maintained. Compositing and numerous exposures are not permitted. Sharpening is permitted. Cropping is permitted.”

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