July 10, 2013

Photo Forensics

A while back I wrote about editing Nicki’s photos to reduce the appearance of orange in her nose nose. I hesitated before sharing that post, knowing I’d be opening myself up to criticism should anyone ever read my blog. What kind of mom would care about the color of her baby’s nose? Worst.mom.ever, that’s who. I ultimately decided to publish the piece because I thought there might be others interested in doing something similar, and I wanted to be honest about the level of photo editing I do. My goal in editing these photos is to learn about photo editing, not (really) to change the image. Trying to keep the photo editing a secret feels like I’m sending the wrong message, like there’s something to be embarrassed or guilty about. Let me be clear here: I don’t think that there anything wrong with photo editing, nor do I think there is anything wrong with Nicki’s appearance. This is just the next step in learning to process photos, after color balancing and contrast/brightness adjustments.

The question I keep coming back to, however, is what level of photo editing is too much? In my mind if the photo edits are noticeable, it’s too much. If you can’t tell whether a photo has been altered, does it really matter if it has? (I have the same philosophy on real vs fake diamonds, for the record.)

Recently I’ve stumbled onto the field of photo forensics. I found fotoforensics.com and decided to have a go with my images. I use the full sized images (I only post small versions on my blog) since resizing them can affect the analysis.

De-oranging the nose: De-oranging is totally a word, by the way.

Screen Grab from FotoForensics.

No white patch, or higher ELA values around the nose! Looks like I can get away with this edit.

I also ran the analysis on the small (400 x 262) version I uploaded to my blog. Interestingly the nose appears unedited but the eyes show possible signs of being altered, where the above screen grab indicates they weren’t. I have brightened eyes before (using this tutorial), but not this photo. I double checked by going back to the raw file.

Removal of scratches:

At 7 months Nicki gave herself one heck of a scratch on her cheek at day care. (We referred to it as her daycare warrior battle scar). It was pretty pronounced for a while, and is still somewhat visible, although now it looks more like a blemish than a scratch. I’ve edited it out of a few photos where it was particular pronounced, like I would with baby acne and teething rashes. Although I’ve never been very good with teething rashes, they cover too much surface area.

The arrow shows where the scratch used to be pre edit. In this one I also brightened the eyes, but left the orange nose.


The birthmark:

Like the orange nose, I thought this one might be controversial. Nicki had a small birthmark on her left arm at birth. If it was a permanent birth mark, I would have let it be. Since it looked like something that would fade, and had the appearance of a bruise in photos, I removed it from some of her early photos. It was already fading by 2 months, but you can still see it in this instagram.

The arrow shows where the birth mark used to be pre edit. In this photo I didn’t completely remove the birthmark, just lessened it’s appearance.

Maybe? There’s a little bit of a lighter patch (higher ELA values) near where the birthmarked was removed, but it doesn’t stand out from other patches of skin that were unedited.

Other Photos

This is making me wonder if any of my edits would be detected. (Or, at least, detectable by me. I read the tutorials, but I’m no forensics expert.)


This photo was actually a composite of two photos. I took them early Christmas morning, when she and I were the only ones up. I can’t get Nicki to smile when I’m staring through the view finder, so I was singing and playing her while attempting to hold the camera level. The camera slipped slightly and the photo with the good smile was poorly framed. The nicely framed photo had lens flare on her face – over her left eye of all places! Eyes are the hardest to edit. What to do? Clone the face from the one photo onto the other.

It was fun running my photos through FotoForensics. Hopefully my analysis is not embarrassingly off. I want to learn more about forensics. And photo editing. And photo taking.

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