Thursday, December 31, 2009

You can re-touch, but you can't hide

BoingBoing linked to an awesome two part article (1 - Body by Victoria, 2 - The Secret Is Out) in which a security expert uses digital forensics techniques to reverse engineer what retouching has been done to a photo of a model in a Victoria's Secret catalog. The photo first showed up on the fabulous Photoshop Disasters.

As with anything showing up on the Disasters site, there are some glaring errors, but what makes the above articles great is how the author uses the errors introduced here, along with a bunch of different filters and analysis techniques, to begin tugging at the threads of what the image has been through. When the unraveling is done, he determines that the model's skin has been lightened, teeth and eyes brightened, breasts enlarged, nipple removed, and that the dress featured isn't even the color of that in the original photograph, just to name a few things.

It's an entertaining read, and one that spurred a few thoughts:

First, what in this case was an expert applying a couple principles and a set of photoshop tools, I could easily see being a single, end-user-ready, image analysis tool. "Upload your image here and we'll highlight everything that we beleive has likely been modded".

Secondly, if people start to tear this stuff apart everywhere it appears (witness the BoingBoing Demi Moore kerfuffle), I can't imagine that the industry is going to be able to stay ahead of people's ability to uncover its secrets. It's one thing to find talented photoshop artists. Its another to say "...and are you skilled at making sure your image has consistent JPEG compression artifacting and no discontinuities in alternative color spaces" during interviews. Maybe this kind of 'out'-ing will lead toward a downfall of the fake model/body image in media?

Finally, for all industries, this is a great example of how in the Internet age, there are no secrets, especially if you are a large and prominent company.

In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the only way your secret is safe is if no one cares about it.