Fake Images

Posted on 6/27/2019 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (1)

When I got into photography one of the strengths of the profession was that what a viewer saw in a picture really happened. When a reporter wrote a story the reader often could not be sure that what was described was an accurate reflection of the truth. The photograph provided a level of truth. The viewer knew that what they were seeing really happened. The photograph may have been out of context with the general tenor of the overall event, but at least it was an accurate reflection of what was happening in the instant it was created.

Now, in the Internet age that idea of photographic truth is gone.

Paul Melcher has written an interesting story on his Kaptur blog about the increasing prevalence of Fake Images. He suggests that one way to fight against Fake Images would be to clearly associate the name of the image creator, or at least the organization that employed the photographer, with each image. Then viewers would be able to judge the credibility and bias of the creator to determine the likelihood of whether the image might be an accurate reflection of what happened, or Fake. The creator’s reputation would be on the line.

Can This Be Accomplished

Given the capabilities of technology there doesn’t seem to be any way to accomplish this goal.

1 – Most digital files are adjusted by the creator before even being presented to a viewer.  The degree to which such adjustments are accurate and truthful to the real event photographed is impossible to impartially define in a way that will be understood and accepted by all viewers.

2 – A credit could be embedded in the image. But it can be easily removed, or replaced with a different credit using the name of anyone.

3 – The creators name could be included in metadata. But much of that is routinely stripped by hosting services.

4 – GPS coordinates and time of creation might help. But that information can also be stripped.

5 – Technology has also made it very easy to manipulate any image in a way so that it “looks totally real” to the human eye, but in fact may be a totally false and misleading representation of what was actually happening.

Given these difficulties it seems that in the future viewers will simply have to accept that any image they see is the distributors attempt to “sell” them on an idea or a concept. There will be no way to tell if it is real, FAKE, or how misleading it might be.

Copyright © 2019 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


  • Paul Melcher Posted Jul 5, 2019
    Jim hi,

    Thank you for mentioning my entry on fake images and video in Selling Stock. Since you took aim at my thoughts, let me reply to the comments you made.

    First and foremost, it is a misconception that film was some kind of guarantee against fake images. Pretty much a soon as photography was invented, they were manipulated images. There are numerous famous cases, from the fake fairies to the Bolshevik party which confirms it. It is effortless to make alterations to film photography, whether it is in pre-production, like hiring models to create a scene that never existed to production, using double exposure, to post-production, by manipulating exposure of the print. For film, instead of photoshopping, it was called airbrushing.

    You mention some solutions to identify the source of an image, none of which I suggested. For a good reason: as you noticed, none are viable. The point of my entry was exactly the opposite. Seeking a solution not based on technology but instead on human behavior.

    What I suggest has been in practice for a long while with proven success. News images are frequently publicly credited with the name of the creator and its distributor. While it serves the purpose of publicizing the image for commercial reason, it also doubles as identification of the original source. We all know that an image from AP can be trusted, while one from RT might not. As well, an image credited Shutterstock or Adobe stock should be doubted as it most certainly has been altered by its creator. Stock photography has been and is still the most fertile source of fake images.

    If the practice of publicly crediting photographs and video is commodified, then fake images and videos will stand out. They will simply have either untrustworthy or no credit — no need for technology, just common sense.

    Technology can easily track false credits, if necessary. Invisible watermarking or distributed ledgers ( think blockchain) used by reputable companies (like AP or Reuters) can immediately spot legitimate images. Those services are already available via companies like Imatag ( for invisible watermarking) or TruePic ( for blockchain). As an extra level of protection, cameras manufacturers could create those beacon of truth at the creation of the image.

    My point here is that fake images or videos can be defeated not by technology but by accountability via traceability.

    Hope this clarify my point.


    ~ Paul M

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