These are the sneaky signs that reveal a photo has been manipulated. Do you think you can spot when an image has been airbrushed, retouched or altered in some other way?

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We can't always spot what's been altered
We can't always spot what's been altered
Sophie Nightingale / University of Warwick

Do you think you can spot when an image has been airbrushed, retouched or altered in some other way?

There are certainly some great photo editing apps that make tweaking photos easy. Too easy.

Researchers from the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom wanted to find out if people could spot the tweaks.

They asked participants to review a bunch of original and tweaked images and asked: “Do you think this photograph has been digitally altered?”

According to their results, published in Cognitive Research: Principles and Implications, people were able to determine that a photo had been tweaked only 60 percent of the time, and could point out exactly where only 45 percent of the time.

“Our study found that although people performed better than chance at detecting and locating image manipulations, they are far from perfect,” said Sophie Nightingale, PhD student and lead author from the University of Warwick.

When researchers asked people to point out what may have been altered in a photo, they performed better, which suggests that it’s easier to spot manipulations than to say in general if a photo has been manipulated or not.

Can you spot the differences in the photo of the woman by the canal above?

  • Take a look at the right-hand corner. The pipe spouting water into the canal was added.
  • The woman’s appearance has also been altered: There’s been removal of blemishes on the forehead, cheeks, and chin; removal of shadows around the eyes, whitened teeth, rounding of the face shape, and there’s even been volume added to her hair.
  • The two columns between the chain railings in the center of the scene have been moved, leaving the railing hanging freely in the air. In addition, the shadows of the white columns to left of the scene have been elongated, and shadows for extra railings that do not exist on the object have been added.

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