Basics of Photo Authentication

Photo Authentication“A picture is worth a thousand words”, is a phrase coined by Frederick R. Barnard is no less true today than it was when it was first spoken.  Ever since the invention of “Still Photography” by Louis Daguerre in 1838, people are captivated by photographs.  Now that we have moved into the 21st Century, photographs still carry a great amount of weight whether it is used to express ourselves, art, or as evidence to prove or disprove something.

No matter how you look at it, pardon the pun, a certain amount of controversy has cast a shadow over photographs.  It didn’t take long for some unscrupulous photographers to discover that photographs could be manipulated yielding very shocking results.  However, these early faked photographs could be easily identified by a very keen eye because of the poor quality of equipment and materials.

Over time, the quality of faked photographs improved as did equipment and materials making it more difficult to determine whether or not a photograph is authentic or a fake. This is especially true now that we have entered the “information age” with an abundance of high-tech digital cameras and computer software just a click away.  Now, a really good “faked” photograph could easily seem authentic to an untrained eye.

As a result, I have altered my authentication techniques and take a more guarded approach when authenticating photographs and think you should too.  Everything is not always as it seems at first glance.  Some of the key items you should look for are “pixilation”.  All digital images are made up of pixels and you need to inspect each of the key elements of an image to determine if the pixels match.  A “Tell Tale” sign of a fake image is the presence of any pixel distortion, pixel discoloration, or other pixel noise in the photographic image.  This becomes very evident once you enlarge the photo.  You should also check to see if the photo has more than one layer.  This can be done through computer software that allows you inspect the elements of the photo.  If the photo does in fact contain more than one layer or the key elements can be separated revealing another image underneath then the photo has been photo shopped provide you with evidence that the photo is fake.  Lastly, you should look at the image as a whole to make sure that all of the key elements are in proportion with each other.

Most people who attempt to pass off altered or fake photographs or images as authentic usually fail in one or all of these areas.  They are more interested in the “shock” value and publicity that their images will receive.  This is why you should take a more guarded approach when authenticating photographs.  By performing these simple tasks while authenticating photos you can greatly reduce the chance of authenticating a fake photo as authentic.

As technology and the skills of digital media artists improve, you will likewise have to improve your skills of authentication adding new techniques to your arsenal just to stay one step ahead of counterfeiters.

© J.F. Dietz 2013

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