How To: Tell If Images Were Faked

As a skeptical consumer, you’ve probably looked at photos in the news or a piece of advertising and thought, “Hey, I bet that was faked, because no cat/person/burger is that perfect.” Now with a little help from Photoshop, and Tim Mathenson’s tutorial [NOTE: Looks like the page linked here has been changed or removed since this story was posted in 2007, but the steps remain below], you can tell.

• Open Photoshop
• Open questionable image
• Press CTRL+U or go to Image -> Adjustments -> Hue/Saturation
• Set Hue to low
• Set Saturation to high
• Scroll the light bar back and forth, looking for areas of the image that don’t match
• If you find a splotch of discoloration, that may indicate the picture was retouched.

Tim says this will work on any retouched photo, not just Photoshopped ones. — BEN POPKEN


Edit Your Comment

  1. Wait, this is missing a step.
    • Pay obscene amount of money for Photoshop program.
    • Open Photoshop
    • Open questionable image
    • Press CTRL+U or go to Image -> Adjustments -> Hue/Saturation
    • Set Hue to low
    • Set Saturation to high
    • Scroll the light bar back and forth, looking for areas of the image that don’t match
    • If you find a splotch of discoloration, that may indicate the picture was retouched.

  2. Ben Popken says:

    People pay for Photoshop?

  3. bambino says:

    That’s what I was thinking. If you know a student at a university, you can get it for around $20

  4. Antediluvian says:

    Paintshop Pro works great in general, costs ~$100, and is compatible w/ Photoshop plugins and more. I’ve been using it since v3, and they’re up to 10(X) now (I skipped some, and their upgrade costs are way less than full retail). It was made by JASC until it was bought by Corel.

    I think you can still (legally) download a trial version.

    It’s a different UI that Photoshop, but nearly all the same features are present.

  5. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    • Open Photoshop
    • Open questionable image
    • ???????
    • Profit!


    Actually, my mom (who is an ebay power seller) refuses to use any new versions of Photoshop. The only one she uses is the version from 1998…and it doesn’t even work right! She says the newer ones are too complicated.

  6. He says:

    Gimp works the same way for this trick except maybe the “Ctrl+U” part. Plus it’s free.

  7. denki says:

    I used this method on one of my own shopped images, and even though I can see the seam where the two photos don’t match (quick job for a birthday), this method doesn’t show any funky stuff. This method would only work in image mash-ups if the two source materials were wildly different, and then if it wasn’t a very good job. As for patching (sample image up top), there are a variety of factors. Image type, quality, what is being removed, etc. At that size, you can’t see the discoloration if you try this trick with the sample image above, because of low resolution. It’s likely that a lot of photoshoppers are also good enough to get past this trick, so this not an automatic win.

  8. Tim Matheson says:

    I cant tell you where to get PS but Google can “Photoshop filetype:torrent” Cheers.

  9. YodaYid says:

    There’s also Paint.Net (free) which has many of the same features.

  10. dohtem says:

    AlteredBeast: True that. They pack more and more features, move things about, and if you are running anything short of a Cray, goodluck. It’s insane. I switched to Paint.NET a year or so ago and haven’t looked back. Light, free and fast. I rarely do that much advanced editing anyhow.

  11. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:


    Yeah, all she does is just use auto-fix, cleans up the picture, adjust the contrast…very basic stuff. I haven’t tried out Paint.Net. I’ll do that tonight, then foward it to her. Thanks!

  12. Tim Matheson says:

    You dont need a Cray to run Photoshop CS2 or any of the other sweet apps from Adobe. Sure the software is not cheap but its worth every penny if your serious about graphics for web and print. That said heres what I run and all my apps sing like Sinatra.

    *Windows XP/ Ubuntu (Yes PS works on Ubuntu)
    *1 GB of DDR (Pretty much standard today)
    *2 SATA 160GB HDD (Helpfull for large projects but not required)
    *P4 3.2 GHZ HT 64 BIT Of course.
    *Wacom Pen Tablet (Not required but helpfull)
    *Twin 20″ AOC LCD Monitor (Nice for putting those pallets in their place but not required)

    Sure the Adobe Creative Suite can run $1500+ dollars but if your serious about graphics it pays for it self when you open the box.


    Tim Matheson

  13. It’s still a neat trick, regardless of what anyone’s opinion of photoshop is…

  14. saikofish says:

    Yeah, can we discuss the trick rather than Photoshop itself? Because I just want to say I don’t think the trick actually works. Or unless I’m doing something wrong? I’ve got a (legally purchased) copy of Photoshop 7.0, which is a few years old now. I can’t get the same result on the test photo that Tim Matheson did.

    I tried it with one of my own photos, which was heavily edited to remove some background garbage. (here: I think there’s some telltale clues in the image that says something’s been retouched, but still, the tutorial doesn’t really seem to expose anything out of the ordinary…

  15. SpecialK says:

    Another way to determine if a photo has been doctored is to look for the “Reuters” name.

    Sorry. Cheap shot.

  16. What’s the underlying science behind why this works? Is it because photoshop’s “smudge” feature leaves some kind of residue or something?

    Also does this technique only work for things that have been removed or does it work for things that have been inserted?

  17. Yes, this is a neat trick that can make some retouching obvious (if it wasn’t already, cf. Reuters’ Beirut-smoke debacle).

    It absolutely will not work on all retouched images, though, and I’d be surprised if it were useful on most.

    There’s no ISO Standard Retouched Image Corpus for us to compare it against, of course, but I think the fact that it seems to declare this haunted house to be genuine is a significant count against it :-).

  18. raindog says:

    Yeah, the type of retouching where you actually composite images together (as I did once when my niece had received an award but there were people running around in the background…. I created a black floor and beige “stucco” wall in the GIMP, pasted her into it, created a shadow, and it looked good enough for a local paper to print it) are immune to this technique.

    But if someone has just erased an object from a low-frequency background like a sky or wall, it should work.

  19. Tim Matheson says:

    If you have a copy of the photo you don’t mind sending me I would be more than happy to accept the challenge. me [at] timmatheson [dot] com

  20. matto says:

    The number of white collar sacks who’ve commented on how smart they are here for stealing Photoshop dissapoints me.

    What sort of middle-class sense of unlimited entitlement do you need to feel proud of stealing someone’s work? Do you think your superior Internet know-how is really that impressive?

  21. You may also use the Gimp for the same purpose and not pay 1p.

  22. Recoding says:

    @Matto: no, just i needed it and did’nt have the money, blame my college for that =]

  23. pra says:

    This is actually a pretty serious issue. For greater public credibility, newsgatherers could start using more advanced techniques: