New Tool Detects Photoshop Shenanigans in Fashion Photos

By Veronique Greenwood | November 29, 2011 2:28 pm


An image analyzed by the researchers, before retouching, after retouching, with an overlay that shows the strongest retouching in red, and with two facial overlays showing other measures of retouching.

What’s the News: It’s not news that in the age of Photoshop, celebrities and models in magazines have started to look like perfect aliens crash-landed among we ugly Earthlings. But though sometimes it’s obvious when a photo editor has gone too far (witness the Ralph Lauren her-head’s-bigger-than-her-pelvis debacle), the gap between what real people look like and what magazines and other media regularly show has grown distressingly wide without most people consciously noticing it, creating a sea of misinformation that may contribute to body-image disorders.

An analytical tool developed by Dartmouth scientists, though, picks up and quantifies those alterations, potentially providing a useful metric for policymakers looking to set boundaries on how much limb-stretching, torso-trimming, face-smoothing alteration is appropriate.

How the Heck:

  • The tool rates altered images on the basis of geometric change, like stretching and shrinking, and photometric changes, like airbrushing and heightened colors.
  • To test their system, the researchers had 390 volunteers from Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service analyze 468 photos before and after retouching, most of them from the sites of retouchers advertising their services. Each photo got a rating (1 to 5) that described how much reworking the image had undergone.
  • The researchers then had their system rate the images on the basis of statistical measures like facial distortion and local image similarity, which measures the photometric change between different areas of a picture.
  • In most cases, it corroborated the ratings of the human volunteers. Interestingly, the few examples where the results didn’t jibe reveal that humans do some complex processing that machines do not when looking at faces: the volunteers picked up on minute changes to facial structure more strongly than the tool did.

What’s the Context:

Reference: Kee and Farid, A perceptual metric for photo retouching, PNAS. Published online before print November 28, 2011, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1110747108

Image courtesy of PNAS

  • Samsam von Virginia

    Prior to the 19th century, one relied on a portrait artist to produce a likeness of a human. I suspect the successful artists were well-versed on how to cure acne, delete or add bulges in the fashionable places, heal withered limbs, etc.

    Today such actions are so evil they must be banned by law. I am so glad I live in such enlightened times.

  • me3po

    In the old days there weren’t millions of prints being sent out to millions of people who have no chance of achieving the “accepted” norm in a society dominated by over-eating and sitting around.

    If it were still fashionable to be over-weight with lots of roles hanging all over our bodies like way back when, there would be millions of potential super models.

    I’d like to see rounder healthier faces and a natural looking hip to waist ratio on women in fashion magazines. As for men, I’m thinking less oil. When was the last time you saw a muscular guy walking about without a shirt glowing as the sun reflects off him due to an unhealthy over-production of oil that has coated his skin. I imagine he’d also be covered in acne if that were a realistic situation. Of course, we can always learn what a proper couple looks like by watching popular sitcoms. I believe, I’m supposed to actually desire the body of the man I marry when he has a giant gut hanging over his pants that are barely pulled up over his butt crack while I struggle to maintain some kind of anorexic style body. We can enable each other to be completely unhealthy, die early as a result, and leave our young children in the care of our slightly psychotic parents. :)

  • GeorgeK

    My favorite bad ad comes from the 80’s where the cover of a running magazine had the buttocks of runner, super imposed on the front of a runner, just to show the logo of the shorts.

    Then again were talking about marketing people who never have rated high on the common sense scale.

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