Tell-Tale Signs That You Are Looking at a Processed Image

There is a lot of noise around the use of digitally processed photos in advertisements and magazines, and for good reason: the effect of altered photos in the media on consumer self-esteem has long been studied, and the results are not very good . Recently, the proliferation of easy-to-use apps like FaceTune has led to manipulated images all over social media. Celebrities are no longer the only ones who slim their waists, smooth their skin and whiten their smiles.

While there’s really no harm in using a VR filter to improve your appearance on your Instagram story or touch up a dull picture for the grid from time to time, some influencers (and regular users) take the practice to the extreme. Before you compare yourself to these seemingly perfect images, look for clear signs that what you see isn’t quite true.

Look for the curvature

The most obvious sign of many processed images is warping, which occurs when an object other than the subject is inadvertently distorted by editing tools.

“I think with Facetune and similar apps, people know how to look for deformation in the background, where (usually) the body has been bent, compressed or inflated, as well as the background,” said Natalie Peoples, graphics editor here at G/O Media.

The warp is so common that it is constantly referenced in the image manipulation detection subreddit. Check out r/instagramreality , which boasts over 1 million members, and you’ll find people discussing social media posts from both mega-celebrities and everyday people. Whether the poster in question has 10 followers or 10 million, Redditors will analyze the image to determine if it has been enhanced or altered, and warp is always at the top of the list of dead giveaways.

If you see a photo of a curvaceous woman posing in front of a fence, check to see if the slats are “curving” where her waist drops inward. Long hair and mirrored edges can also “curl” around the waist, bust, and cigarette butts if those features have been messed up in the photo editor. The same goes for gym photos: does the squat rack look like it’s literally flexing around some dude’s arm? Metal doesn’t do this—unless it’s in a manipulated image.

Be suspicious of unnatural surroundings

Another common theme among self-proclaimed Facetune researchers: Let’s say there’s an influencer who will always post photos with a suspiciously clear sky in the background. Sometimes the clouds are in the same place in photos posted a few days apart. What happened to it?

Background editing is very common, whether for aesthetic purposes or to hide a person’s location. Sometimes this is done because the body of the person in the foreground has been edited so much that it has to be pasted into an undistorted background.

“I would advise looking for anything that is duplicated. If there are parts of the background that are exactly the same, they have probably been cloned and stamped elsewhere and are probably hiding or replacing something,” Peoples said.

Check image quality

From magazine covers to movie posters, it seems like famous media projects are always called out for the super-obvious Photoshop bug. If the highly paid photo editors in these places can’t change the image without being detected every time, what chance do regular people have? Fragments of visible evidence almost always remain, and image degradation can be one of them. There is little that an enterprising poster can do with a few quirky iPhone apps.

“The telltale signs that something has been tampered with in Photoshop or video will be changes in the pixelation of the features of the object,” said Jimmy Hasse, creative director of editorial art at The Onion. “Saturation, resolution, and color balance can also identify altered work. An easy trick is to add a little blur to the changes so they blend in with the original object, and then add some noise to further hide any seams from being manipulated. There can often be slight deviations in color balance – something cooler than the rest of the warmly lit image, or something muted to the point where it [looks] slightly off.”

use common sense

Look long and hard at the photo you are asking. Human hair is too lush? Are their boobs too perky? Are their waists too narrow? Are their muscles too massive? For God’s sake, do they even have one pore?

It really can be as simple as reminding yourself that no one is completely perfect. It’s just not possible for someone’s legs to be this long, their ass not to be so round, and they couldn’t look so unreal.

“Proportions are very important,” Hasse said. “Sometimes you can see things like big ears if a smaller face has been superimposed on the subject. If the facial features do not match the original perfectly, proportional differences are striking.

On r/instagramreality you will find many examples of edited images where the hands of a person appear absolutely huge compared to the body parts they are manipulating, and the head appears tiny. In fact, the tiny head is infamous in the subreddit because it keeps popping up. Remember that when you change something in a photo, something nearby suffers in comparison. Often this is the head of a person.

Don’t put yourself down

Although it’s easy to compare yourself to fake images – even if you know they’re fake! – Don’t worry about not looking like a supermodel when you get out of bed. None of the people whose photos you post look so good in real life.

This doesn’t mean that manipulating your own images makes you a terrible person. Professional photographers have offered image retouching and photo editing for years; the desire to improve memory is not a new desire, nor is it inherently shitty. Just don’t overdo it unless you want your selfies to appear on Reddit.


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