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How to Spot a Photo That’s Been Retouched

Was Hollywood's most devoted husband caught canoodling with an extra—or is your favorite tabloid faking you out with a Photoshopped picture? Here’s how to tell.


  • Step 1: Look at the lines Look at any square images in the photo, like road signs. Natural photos don’t contain perfect 90-degree angles--but computers even them out.
  • Step 2: Find patterns Look for recurring images--like the same cloud pattern or a group of people that is repeated elsewhere in the crowd. This indicates that a part of the picture has been replicated to cover up something else.
  • Step 3: Study shadows Study shadows to make sure they’re consistent. If two people in a photo are looking at each other, but the shadows on their faces indicate they’re both looking directly at the sun--bingo! You’re looking at a composite image.
  • Step 4: Inspect seams Look closely at where body parts meet. When a head has been placed on someone else’s body, it often appears at an odd angle and/or at a weird distance from the neck.
  • Step 5: Use Photoshop Import the image and view it in Photoshop, if you have it. Click on 'image,' then 'adjustments,' then 'hue/saturation.' Set hue to 'low' and saturation to 'high.' Now scroll the light bar back and forth. Splotches of discoloration indicate photo tampering.
  • FACT: During John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid, someone merged a picture of Kerry at a 1971 peace rally and Jane Fonda at a political rally one year later to make it seem as though they were protesting the war together.

You Will Need

  • A keen eye
  • Photoshop (optional) (optional) (optional)

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