Digital Concepts Design

How NOT to and How TO Fake a Photo
July 10, 2008, 5:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

It was recently noted that Iran has been faking photos for propaganda. This process has a long and colorful past. The Soviets would have political enemies rubbed out, both really and in photos/paintings. The Soviets even added people in.  (A good resource on this can be found at Robert Conquest’s article at the Hoover Institution.

While some of the Soviet’s works were less than perfect, Iran’s recent photo fakery however was even more obvious. A recent article by Hany Farid in Scientific American explains some of the ways of spotting such forgeries.

I’ve got a lot of experience doctoring photos using Photoshop. In my employment there are often unwanted artifacts or elements in photos that simply cannot be left in the image lest the consumer think they’re getting more than we’re offering. I often have to remove pillows and adjust designs of furniture to better present the actual product my company offers. I also have had the opportunity to clean up and repair old photos for folks wanting family snapshots digitized. (One tip here, you might own a scanner already, but shooting an old photograph with a high resolution digital camera will often produce superior results than flatbed scanners in reproducing old photos.) With this in mind, let me show you what the Iranians did, and what they should have done.

Here’s the Iranian photo as it ran in many newspapers world-wide.


This photo was credited Sepah News.

Here is the actual image, received by the AP by Sepah News later.
The REAL photo.

Here’s the faked image in use:
The Fake in Use

The NY TImes was kind enough to make a graphic depicting what was done to fake the image:
How it was done.

Several things stand out in the image, that clue us into the fact that it was fixed using clones. Notice the base of vapor trail of the fake missle, how the smoke blurs out. Smoke and clouds RARELY blur like this, they often have (as can be seen in the images above) very clean dileniation between the background and the smoke. Secondly, the folds in the cloned area aren’t just similar, but IDENTICAL to the ones next to it. A proper fake would have randomized the details a bit more. It’s probable that Iran’s fourth missile failed to launch, or it was on a different schedule.  I agree with one commenter on the site where these were posted who stated that the four-missile photo looks better… 😉

I took the original photo and doctored it using the full range of capability available in Photoshop CS3. While certainly detectable as a fake, especially given the techniques explained in the Scientific American article, I think this photo would have not been found as easily:

A better fake?

Notice the smoke is more randomized, the details look completely foreign to those surrounding them, the color and angle of the missle has changed. Just a few simple steps would have prevented the embarrasing discovery (apart from the release of the “original”.)  Simply using the clone tools cannot cut it.

First, duplicate the missle on the left and shrink it. Use a color brush to change the flame to a more yellowish. Clone details from other parts of the same plume, and use the dodge/burn tools to darken and lighten areas of the plume. Copy the smoke layer from other launches, hiding the details by cloning other areas. Finally, remove the truck and launcher by using the patch tool in Photoshop CS3, clean up the details using cloned areas around.

You can compare the Iranian fake and my fake here.


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