Camera – Truth or Lies?

The talented photographers among us have a great feel for lighting and composition in creating a mood, but in these days they will need to be digitally adept if they want to move into the professional scene. Portraits for publication, maybe for advertising or maybe just to head up a feature, are frequently being “retouched to remove blemishes.” Blemishes, like beauty, are in the eye of the beholder.

To Photoshop is now a verb in common use and has raised red flags for some years now in the field of fashion photography. Rightly or wrongly, heavily photoshopped advertising images are touted as the cause of the growth of eating disorders among the young. Mutterings are getting louder about truth in advertising and control of the digital airbrush.

Kee and Farid have rushed to the aid of the industry with a solution in the digital issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (1). Their solution comes in the form of a computer analysis of the before and after pictures to quantify the retouching. It works on a scale of 1 to 5 where 1 means “no change” and 5 is “OMG who’s that?”

They trained their computer on almost 500 images and then verified the effectiveness with a crowd of 390 sourced through the internet. The perception of the crowd  was in fairly good agreement with the computer, so now there is  a numeric ranking of the distortion of reality which is available by a disinterested party (your computer has no personal or financial interest, of course).

Thus the industry can now self-police by labeling their pictures with a Reality Rating in the form of a number. A nice idea, but labeling for content is usually only achieved after a long drawn out battle. I don’t think we should hold our breath.

  1. doi:10.1073/pnas.1110747108

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