How to Spot a Photoshopped Image

As people become more adept at manipulating digital photography (for instance, by coming on our Photoshop course!) – and as the technology for it advances – it is becoming more and more tricky to spot a photoshopped image. So where do you start?


Look at the colours

Nothing gives an image more of the wow-factor than extreme colours – especially with landscapes, skies and eyes. Usually, if it’s too good to be true then it’s probably been photoshopped.

Changing colours is simple to do in the software, with extreme results.



Check the eyes

Speaking of eyes, if the photo is of a person, check the whites closely. Publications will often whiten the eye to make it less cloudy or remove the small pink veins that should show in every photo.




Lighting signals

Check shadows – are they all present and correct? Do they match up to both the light source and the object? Is there any unexplained shade? Does the light in people’s eyes match?

We wonder how such a badly photoshopped image can make it to the front cover of Time magazine!







Check for repetition

An easy tool to use in photoshop is the stamp tool, which simply lets you take part of one image and ‘stamp’ it over and over somewhere else. This can be used to remove parts of an image, e.g. a freckle by cloning some clear skin. The clone stamp might also be used in crowd scenes or landscapes – for instance, the same trees may be used multiple times but resized to appear different.

(Image via, who have lots more examples of bad photoshopping!)

Get up close

You’ll need proper technology for this, but if you can analyse an image to the exact pixel then you can see whether the quality is inconsistent or if different parts of the image have been blurred together.

Use a tool

Image Error Level Analysis claims to help identify when images have been manipulated, but stresses that “it’s more of a toy than anything else”.

The Photo Police iPad/iPhone app also allows you to check JPEG files, but the customer reviews are mixed at best.

Scientists at Dartmouth have also created a tool that detects how much retouching has been done to a photograph, the results of which are proven to match up with human judgement of how much a photograph has been altered.

Run a simple sanity check

As these photoshop disasters go to show, sometimes it’s just obvious when an image has been doctored.

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Aaron Charlie

Aaron Charlie is a Creative Design & IT expert at Silicon Beach Training. Connect with Aaron on Google+

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