I'm ready for my touch-up... the secrets of Photoshop unmasked

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

It was once the invisible art of creating perfection – but now the imaging trickery can been laid bare. Steve Connor reports

Glossy magazines and advertisers that retouch photographs of models and celebrities should publish a score alongside each digitally enhanced picture to alert readers to the extent to which an image has been manipulated artificially, scientists have suggested.

The researchers have developed a computerised "metric" that can automatically quantify from "1" to "5" the extent to which a digital image has been enhanced so that readers can assess how close a photograph is to reality.

Health organisations are increasingly concerned about the growing trend towards the digital enhancement of photographs to make subjects look younger, slimmer or more physically perfect and alluring than they really are. They believe it promotes unrealistic expectations of body image among young people, especially girls. Some want the technique banned completely.

Professor Hany Farid and Eric Kee, computer scientists at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire in the US, believe an outright ban is unrealistic as glossy magazines have always tinkered with photographs. Instead, they want to introduce a system that identifies and scores the most dramatic changes.

Their system scores a "1" when there is little retouching and "5" when there are significant changes. The computer programme they have developed looks at the image in terms of geometric changes, which include slimming of the legs, hips and arms, the elongating of the neck or the enlarging of the eyes. It also assesses the photometric alterations, which affect skin tone and texture and are used to eradicate wrinkles, cellulite, blemishes, freckles and dark circles under the eyes.

"We start with before and after digital images from which we automatically estimate the geometric and photometric changes, effectively reverse engineering the manipulations that a photo retoucher has made," Professor Farid said.

"You need to distinguish between simple retouches to photographs that have always occurred, such as colour correction and cropping, to really extreme forms of enhancement, such as elongating a figure to make it appear slimmer, that can affect the perception of body image."

The rating system was devised through the analysis of a diverse set of 468 original and retouched photos. Each image and its enhancement were assessed for the level of retouching that went into them, and then volunteers were each asked to score from 1 to 5 how similar to one another are each original and digitally enhanced photograph.

The scientists found a remarkable similarity between their computerised assessment and the subjective judgement of the human observers, suggesting it was possible to use the technique to produce scores that could be published alongside the image when used in advertisements and fashion magazines.

"We propose that the interests of advertisers, publishers and consumers may be protected by providing a perceptually meaningful rating of the amount by which a person's appearance has been digitally altered," the scientists write in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"When published alongside a photo, such a rating can inform consumers of how much a photo has strayed from reality, and can also inform photo editors of exaggerated and perhaps unintended alterations to ... appearance," they say.

Darkroom arts: the camera obscurers

The process of retouching pictures, which has become known by the generic trademark "photoshopping", has been around a lot longer than Adobe's much-maligned computer program. Indeed, it has been around almost as long as photography itself.

It is seen, however, as a much subtler process than is often used today. Contrast and light were commonly manipulated in the darkroom in order to divert attention from imperfections in a picture, such as overexposing a subject's face to hide blemishes, or to bring the foreground out of the picture by lighting it up. The "dodging" technique (blocking light from an area of the picture during exposure) is used to lighten it. The opposite process, "burning", is used to darken the image. Technicians who want to completely alter images can paint directly on to a negative.

Masters of the art can often command six-figure salaries and Pascal Dangin, recognised as the premier re-toucher of fashion photographs, has become notorious for his work with Annie Leibovitz, among others.

At the other end of the spectrum, however, are the simplified versions of Photoshop-like programmes which allow families to remove stray thumbs and passing pedestrians from their holiday snaps.

Kevin Rawlinson

Before and after: an expert's view

1. Twiggy Photoshop lets you take years off someone's age. Here they've lost wrinkles in the skin, taken out bags under the eyes and brightened the eyes and teeth. Flesh has been cleared of freckles and blemishes. The eyebrows look airbrushed and smoothed out. They've left some lines to give a bit of shaping to the cheeks but lost the bagginess underneath the cheeks and taken out the lines in the neck.


2. George Clooney

The lines on his forehead and around his eyes are softened, as are the wrinkle on his cheek and the lines under the cheekbones. His grey hairs have been darkened and blemishes are gone from the forehead. They've colour corrected the image which adds more shadow, more range of colours. It brightens the image.


3. Plus-size model The obvious change here is the waistline. The arms and legs have also been made thinner. Her left arm almost seems as if it's been elongated. And they've shrunk her tummy, pulling in the bump.


4. Kim Cattrall Wrinkles around the eyes have been taken out. They've smoothed the ageing lines on the facial tones. Looks like it's been softened – you're losing the harshness in the lines. It's far too yellow. She's be de-aged, making her look younger.


5. Angelina Jolie

Dimples have been taken out. They've cleared her skin of impurities. A freckle has been removed from her cheek and they've softened the lines on her neck.Defocusing on the skin takes away any blemishes. As soon as you take it out of focus you lose the harshness of lines and blemishes. The eyes have been cleaned: they taken some redness and veins from the eyes. Eyes have got whiter and stand out more – they've upped the contrast, making the details sharper. The lips stay the same.


John Bowman,picture retoucher

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'