It is important in the investigation of UFOs to be able to weed through photographs that are obviously hoaxed. However, it isn't always an easy task to be able to tell if a photo has been faked. So how do you know if a picture has been Photoshopped?
Context: In what context is the picture presented? Image manipulation is the norm in some contexts, like product and fashion photography, and some kinds of artistic photo. News agencies and nature photographers on the other hand have strict ethical rules against manipulation. First think about if manipulation is to be expected and if it should be accepted.
Realism: Is the image realistic overall? Some manipulated images are so surrealistic that you can dismiss them as unreal at once, even if they are very well done technically. Ask yourself, - can this be real?
Sequence: Do you have access to several shots from the same scene? Are there discrepancies between them?
Lighting: Are light and shadows similar between objects in the picture? Pay attention to which side is lighter, how hard the light seem to be and how the objects cast shadows. Needless to say, objects close to each other get the same light in real life. If they are illuminated differently, they may originate from different photos. Also pay attention to the environment. From what direction is the light supposed to come?
Perspective: Is the perspective right? Getting this right is always a challenge when combining objects from different pictures. Just look at the shot and trust your gut feeling. Pictures with minor perspective errors do often feel wrong even if you can’t tell what the problem is.
Antialiasing: Does the objects’ edges look right? A lot of work may go into the edges when putting something in front of a new background. They often give away the fake if they are done sloppily or with lacking skills. Pay special attention to people’s hair as that is hard to mask.
Cloning: Image manipulation often requires filling areas to replace removed objects. Patterns that repeat in an unnatural way is a sure sign of sloppy cloning. Cloning can also be used to multiply an object, but several identical object do rarely look exactly identical in a real photo due to differences in perspective and lighting. It’s fishy if they look identical in a picture.
Color: Is the color consistent? Do different parts of a human’s body have the same skin color? An object’s apparent color depends very much of the illumination’s color temperature. Do the different objects have a consistent color cast?
Eyes: Pay close attention to the detail hidden in eyes. Compare eyes against other eyes. And watch for the glare or dots of light reflected. Light reflections coming from different angles are usually an indication of a Photoshopped picture.
Noise and grain: All digital capture devices leave some kind of structure in the picture. Most notable is the noise produced by digital cameras. You can check that this structure is constant over the whole picture if you have access to a fairly hi-resolution image. It’s futile to try this on small images from on-line news sites.
EXIF / Metadata Metadata is data hidden inside the image files. One important piece of data is the software used to save the file. A camera model name would indicate no manipulation at all. Workflow programs like Adobe Lightroom and Apple Aperture are typically used to do moderate adjustments of images, but no real manipulation.
E.L.A: Error level analysis (ELA) works by re-saving the image at 95% compression. Then calculating the difference. Big changes indicate its a manipulated. Touched up areas are easily seen. Blue/Red areas are generally Photoshop at work.
Image analysis tools:
With all of the above being said, we have gathered together several useful photo analysis tools that you can use right now to help you determine whether or not a UFO photo is real. You do not need to be a professional image analyst to use these tools. However you will need a little bit of technical aptitude and of course an attention to detail.
Feel free to scan your photographs using these tools, but always keep your good ol'fashioned instincts in tune because there is ultimately no substitute for a keen eye and a sharp, discerning mind.
FotoForensics is an excellent Error Level Analysis tool that you can run on any photo you wish right inside your browser window. Click on the FotoForensics logo to access the application.
Online EXIF data and GPS viewer with map!
Image error level analysis is a technique that can help to identify manipulations to compressed (JPEG) images by detecting the distribution of error introduced after resaving the image at a specific compression rate.
Here is an HTML5-based E.L.A. analyzer where you can simply drag your image directly onto your browser window to begin a detailed side-by-side E.L.A. scan.