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Magic and Photography: Once Well Kept Secrets

How can we manipulate pictures? Pictures can be manipulated to protect people, persuade people, and eventually to make people talk about what “could’ve, should’ve, would’ve, and did happen?, as the infamous Carrie Bradshaw and friends would state.

When I saw that The Christian Science Monitor did a video on Digital Forensics: Spotting Photographic Fakes in the Media, I was excited. I’m not sure why, but I think it has something to do along the lines of why and how a magician never reveals their secrets—unless you are the Masked Magician of course. Of course when I say that I mean that we, the public, are not suppose to know the secrets of these fake photographs. The first photograph they examined was a photo over a city in Lebanon. The picture shows the town covered full in smoke—the product of an Israeli attack. Evidence came to surface shortly after this photo was published that it had been a product of photographic manipulation. Propaganda might have contributed to the undermining thoughts of why the artist made billows and billows of smoke rather than just leaving the one puff all by itself.

The second photographic fake looked at was a sea of soldiers with a little boy of the top of his dad’s shoulders, waving an American flag high up in the air. What we don’t see is a podium with George W. Bush standing behind it. Even better yet, we can see the soldiers, but we don’t see the sea of soldiers standing behind him, because he isn’t even there at all. Mr. President was erased from the picture as if it was to make a magical scene and make it seem like the boy is more than elated to be in the presence of his American heroes, even though this might as well be true.

The last and final picture was in Star Magazine, when classic romance rumors started to flourish about Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. From first glance we wouldn’t notice, nor would we care if the picture was a fraud or not. I know for a fact that I never look at the shadows of people on the beach on the front cover of magazines. However, maybe I should start. Why don’t we care? Maybe because for one, its Angeline Jolie and Brad Pitt. It’s not like our best friends in high school-- which by the way would make for a much better, and easier story to believe. And two, it’s a tabloid, what can be true in those gossip magazines? The truth is that gossip tabloids almost always correct—with a few mistakes here are there. Luckily for celebrities because these tabloids have such a bad reputation, when some bad press comes out against them they can easily claim it being false.

As I researched through the Sacred Heart Spectrum, I found what I always knew. Tabloids usually have their facts straightened out before publication in fear of being sued for millions of dollars by angry celebrities. Pictures will be tweaked, but stories will be true. Yes, even the ones that say “UFO’s found in New Mexico!? That’s the point; they put aliens on the front cover, knowing you’ll be like no way, that picture and story is way too fake, thus leading you to buy it just to see what they might have to say. The fact is that just because the cover showed aliens, and you read ‘UFOs’, doesn’t mean that aliens were found in New Mexico. It usually means that something, unexplainable, something dumb and what might seem like a microscopic deal to society, was found flying over New Mexico—not an alien—nevertheless an unidentified flying object.

As I connect the stories we read earlier from Errol Morris and the pictures from Abu Ghraib, I can clearly see why people changed photographs, and if we have the technology and the willing, naïve audience to believe us, we might as well use them to our full advantage to get our point across. Even if that means that if we were ever once the ‘naïve audience’, we would understand why we were tricked because now we see why we were played like fools because the ‘photographic magician’ revealed his secrets.



I like your analogy of modern photography being like a magic act. I don’t know why I always tend to comment on photo essays, but photography is my favorite art form.

I have firsthand experience with the ‘cloning’ ‘air brushing’ tools available. For only 25 extra dollars we could ‘touch up’ people’s senior photos (removing acne, rashes, blotches, or add a tan) by using these different digital tools. It was a pretty simple process (really, not 25 dollars worth, it really just went to cover the software’s cost), and the end result looked great, if done right.

I was really intrigued by the patriotic boy in front of all the soldiers. It is fairly easy to clone clouds, or skin tones to cover up blemishes, but go copy those soldiers so they all still looked like they were overlapped and unflawed took some major talent. It’s very hard to make the rugged lines of physical people appear sharp, whereas when you are duplicating a cloud, you can change the opacity of the flow and change it up (and look less distinct).

The tabloid photo was very interesting because of the lighting issue. Shadows are very interesting, and are what make (or break) a photograph. The tabloids do a very good job at creating stories or situations that may not have happened, and who wouldn’t want to read about two famous people hooking up (besides me…)?

It was a very informative piece, and you did an excellent job relating photography to magic. Sometimes it’s unfortunate if the magician gives up the tricks secret, because sometimes it’s better to believe the false truth than the actual truth (especially in the patriotic boy, minus Bush!).

I too watched the short movie from the Christian Science Monitor titled, “Digital Forensics: Spotting Photographic Fakes in the Media.? I was particularly interested in this movie because in high school I took a class where we had a unit where we would take pictures and manipulate them. I enjoyed the class very much. I like how you said you became interested in this video by comparing it to a trick performed by a magician. I have always wanted to know how magicians did some of their tricks. In fact, when I was a kid I wanted to grow up and become a magician.

The first photo they examined of a city in Lebanon I was quite impressed with. At my first glance it looked quite real to me, as most photographs do, especially the ones from news papers and magazines. After I was told there was more smoke added to the picture I was able to start seeing where it was added to. In my class I used the cloning tool quite a bit. I was very impressed at how well done the photo was done. From my experiences, it is very hard to get a picture to look good while manipulating it.

Your comment, “Why don’t we care? Maybe because for one, its Angeline Jolie and Brad Pitt. It’s not like our best friends in high school-- which by the way would make for a much better, and easier story to believe,? I disagree with. If a magazine put our best friends on the cover of their magazine no one would by it except for people who knew your friends. The fact that they had Angeline Jolie and Brad Pitt on the cover most likely made them sell more copies than they usually do. Americans want to know what is going on with the famous people of our country.


thanks for your's expert post.it's very usefull for me because i'm beginner n photography.

Great job

thank you