August 29, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Digital cameras focus on revised reality

Want to look thinner? Taller? Tanner? Don't worry, there's a camera for all that.

Today's cameras will let you do more than adjust the flash; they'll let you adjust reality. Photo-adjusting features that once required a PC and special know-how are now allowing consumers to alter a photo as soon as it's snapped.

Some new Hewlett-Packard cameras include a feature that makes subjects look thinner, while another mode makes facial lines and pores virtually disappear. A "skin tone" feature on some Olympus models can give consumers a leisure-class tan. Other manufacturers offer modes to make the colors of the world richer as you capture them. Using these new in-camera tools, consumers can even crop out ex-boyfriends, or put a virtual frame around a new one.

Most digital cameras to date have had tools that remove red-eye from photos or lighten darkened images because of a poor flash. But that editing corrects a deficiency in the photographer's skills, or the camera itself, not the subject.

With new tools, average people can create their own " pictures that lie" at the moment of capture, without any trace of the real image that was seen with the naked eye.

"People in the legal world are now concerned about whether photos can be accepted as evidence anymore, especially when you can alter the scene as you click the shutter," said Peter Southwick, associate professor and director of the photojournalism program at Boston University. "And in the old days, there was an original, now there is no original. Photography as a tool for providing evidence, or as proof, may not exist anymore."

The late media and culture critic Neil Postman had famous criteria for all technology, noted Anthony Spina, an adjunct professor of sociology at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey who specializes in technology's impact on society.

"(Postman) would ask: 'What problem does this new technology answer?' What problem is this solving? What's the point? The problem is, obviously, that people want to look thinner," Spina said.

Photos before and after

Spina is referring to HP's recently released in-camera editing feature that makes a person appear more svelte. The tool, called "Slimming Mode," is part of HP's Design Gallery software, which is included on some of its Photosmart M and R series cameras. It compresses the center of a photo and stretches the edges to fix the aspect ratio, said Linda Kennedy, a product manager for digital photography at HP.

The slimming tool doesn't target people specifically; it will elongate any object centered in the photo, with three degrees of slimness. Like most digital cameras with editing tools, the changed photo is saved as a copy, and the original image remains on the camera intact.

Kennedy, one of the proponents of the feature while it was in development, said the idea came from the many people HP surveyed who said they hated having their picture taken. Kennedy also pointed to another use.

"We had a personal trainer wanting to use the camera as a motivational tactic for her clients," she said. "Putting a good photo of the person on their refrigerator so they can say, 'I do want to look like this,' as opposed to the fat picture in a bathing suit," can be inspiring.

HP isn't the only manufacturer to offer this type of alteration feature. With the digital camera market maturing, manufacturers are using new features to entice customers to upgrade their current digicams. Canon, Kodak, HP, Nikon and Olympus all offer features that increase saturation, bumping up the richness of color "seen" by the camera. The photographer clicks and a sunset forever becomes more brilliant than it appeared in real life. Homegrown vegetables become more luscious.

"The consumer products and all these changes in photography, to me, are going to cause an undermining of people's ability to believe a photograph, which is the foundation of photojournalism," Southwick said. "Now that it is at the consumer level and people are going to see this, I am not sure on a fundamental level that they are ever going to believe a photo when they see it."

CONTINUED: Prettying up an online persona…
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15 comments

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Grow Up!
There are people who believe photos? Are these the same gullible ones who believe all that spam that the democrats are bad because they do this, and the republicans are good because they do that?

Come on, folks, grow up! Photos, unsolicited Internet e-mail, advertising and much of what the news media reports have been distorted forever! At least Jon Stewart has the nerve to admit it!

--mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yeah, John did a beutiful thing
I caught his interview a while back with a big-wig journalist who was giving him grief for reporting false news to which he replaied: "It's a comedy show"

Good on him for reporting news while providing comedy and a beutiful comentary on mainstream disinformation services.
Posted by jabbotts (492 comments )
Link Flag
Get Real!
There are people who believe photos? Are these the same gullible ones who believe all that spam that the democrats are bad because they do this, and the republicans are good because they do that?

Come on, folks, grow up! Photos, unsolicited Internet e-mail, advertising and much of what the news media reports have been distorted forever! At least Jon Stewart has the nerve to admit it!

--mark d.
Posted by markdoiron (1138 comments )
Reply Link Flag
For Legal use: GPS + MD5 checksum. WORM memory
Because there is no sure way to verify the authenticity of an electronic image, their use in a court of law is diminished.

One possible solution Write Once Read Many (WORM) memory cards and MD5 checksums would aid investigators in proving the unfakedness of their evidence photos.

I am begging SONY for a GPS reciever in a camera and editing software that could read the EXIF GPS information, and pin each photo to GOOGLE EARTH.
Posted by disco-legend-zeke (448 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Photographers want reality
There will always be those who want to look better than they do. But the majority want reality. A camera feature with the ability to make people look thinner may be used but not many will buy a camera for that reason. Most want easy, accurate and quick.
Posted by shanedr (155 comments )
Reply Link Flag
BIG MARKET - all the women want to look think..
even the thin ones!
Posted by baswwe (299 comments )
Link Flag
Dig Cams
It Started a long time ago, I mean "the lying" with a camera. Chaplin did a great job, now I want to play that game too.I stopped believing the media (with a few exeptions) quite a while back.
Not taking it to serious though, perhaps
Reuter destroyed the idea completely, so now I come to the conclusion why not everybody jump on the waggon and deceive themself and others, perhaps everything is like a movie, lie back and enjoy, or leave the theater.
Posted by jackrabbitslam (21 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Those aren't the fakes we're worried about
So someone wants to hide a few pounds for their vacation pix, big deal. I don't care if your fake tan came from camera software or out of a can ofdarkening lotion. Those aren't the fakes I'm concerned about.

The fakes we should care about are the photojournalists, which we've heard of altering photos for dramatic effect. That's the kind of thing which is a step toward the inner party continuously rewriting history to suit their goals, and that's what I don't like happening. I don't know if skin toning or weight hiding features can accomplish this journalistic fraud, I suspect probably not, at least for now they'll need a laptop and some decent photo editing software there.

Only when cameras can copy portions of one photo into another, such as adding a person in one photo to another photo, will truely worrisome faking be done without the help of a computer.
Posted by amigabill (93 comments )
Reply Link Flag
The biggest concern
the biggest authenticity concern isnt fancy cameras that automatically airbrush blemishes from people's faces. Its the staged news photography that so-called news outfits such as Reuters have published. Who needs a fancy camera when you can just have a kid at gunpoint pose next to an unexploded bomb?
Posted by (402 comments )
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Good point
Boy, have I seen that technique in "journalism". I am convinced that most of the "riots" and "demonstrations" that are portrayed to the public as major events are nothing more than a dozen people with a couple of dozen onlookers. I have learned that if the picture only shows 10 people, that's probably the total count, even though the photo is framed to make it look like the "crowd" goes on forever.
Posted by GTOfan (33 comments )
Link Flag
We wonder why people throw up to be skinny
Its so sad that HP has to make this feature availiable on there
cameras . People feel bad enough about them selfs, why does HP
need to feed to americas disorders. Thanks HP now maybe us fat
people out there will take more pictures of our selfs, and throw up
a little less. FU HP!
Posted by moparcars2fst4u (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
the real question is... who's the girl??
the real question is... who's the girl.
with or without edits; very nice :)
Posted by mikesidea (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Inductive Fallacy
"But does it really matter? Photos have been "lying" for years in one respect or another. For example, photography from the 1940s, because it was black and white, gave a clean orderly appearance, with people in photos from that era appearing consistently crisp, with bright white teeth and seemingly matching outfits."

That's a hasty induction. Images don't appear more orderly just because they're monotone: Look at some Civil War battle-aftermath images for examples. Since North Americans up through the early 1960's (which I presume is the author's photographic reference culture) were crisply-pressed, snappy dressers, perhaps that's why B&W (and color) images show as much. Finally, most photo emulsions compress tonal values to some extent; B&W press emulsions do that by design, better matching the tonalities to those reproducible on newsprint. Off-white values get pushed towards white, and light-colored objects such as teeth teeth are represented as more white. That's necessary compromise in image reproduction, not lying. That most mid-20th century press images were exposed using flash units certainly contributed to the crisp appearance of those images, but that no more results in a lying image than the sun suddenly shining on a formerly overcast scene you're viewing and causing an increase in contrast.
Posted by CarpalDiem (4 comments )
Reply Link Flag
What's the old saying?...
the camera puts on 10 pounds? Well, not any more. (Of course, you can still make it do that, too.)
Posted by GlennAl (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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