It’s no secret that photo-trickery is used to enhance the beauty of celebrities and models splashed across billboards and magazines. But to what extent should image manipulation be allowed?
Now, two scientists are proposing that glossy magazines and advertisers should publish a score alongside the images so readers will know the extent to which the image has been retouched.
Professors Hany Farid and Eric Kee, Computer scientists at Dartmouth College in the US have developed a tool that automatically analyses digital photographs on a scale of 1 to 5, making it possible to gauge the extent to which images have been buffed using digital polish.
The researchers believe retouching has gone too far, creating ‘fantasy’ images that have negative consequences, like eating disorders and body dissatisfaction.
In their journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Professor Farid and Kee wrote: “Impossibly thin, tall and wrinkle- and blemish-free models are routinely splashed onto billboards, advertisements and magazine covers.”
“The ubiquity of these unrealistic and highly idealized images has been linked to eating disorders and body-image dissatisfaction in men, women, and children.”
[Left to right shows the original and modified pictures of Fergie with three images highlighting the extent of retouching. Positive values suggest blurring and negative values imply sharpening.]
Professor Farid and Kee want to introduce a system that recognises and scores the most artificial changes made to each photograph.
The pair analysed 468 sets of unedited and retouched photographs looking at the augmentations made to a model’s features, such as their shape or their skin tone.
Their system highlights two types of adjustments made in photos, geometric adjustments that slim arms, legs, and torso and photometric alterations that affect skin tone and texture, removes wrinkles, freckles, dark circles and blemishes.
[Gallery: Retouched images that have gone too far]
They produced a mathematical algorithm to work out the amount of retouching. The computer system scores a 1 when there are minor tweaks, for example removing spots, and 5 when there are significant changes, like body alteration.
Professor Faird said: “We start with the before-and-after digital images, from which we automatically estimate the geometric and photometric changes, effectively reverse-engineering the manipulations that a photo retoucher has made.”
Volunteers were also asked to score the photos from 1 to 5 on how similar each image was. The scientists found a close correlation between their computerised assessment and the human opinion.
Professor Farid and Kee suggest that from their findings advertisers and publishers should recognise the importance of issuing a rating alongside some images.
They wrote: “When published alongside a photo, such a rating can inform consumers of how much a photo has strayed from reality, and can also inform photo editors of exaggerated and perhaps unintended alterations to ... appearance.”
Professor Farid and Kee are not the only ones concerned about the growing trend of digital photo manipulation that appears to make individuals younger, slimmer and flawless.
Health organisations want these images banned as they believe they promote unrealistic expectations of body image among young people, especially girls.
In September the government revealed that children age 10 and 11 will be warned about how magazines use airbrushing and photo manipulation in a special lesson plan developed by a non-profit organisation called Media Smart.
Professor Farid and Kee’s research will provide an alternative to banning images giving publishers to opportunity to reduce some of the extreme forms of digital alterations they said: “It remains to be seen if this rating can mediate the adverse effects of being inundated with unrealistic body images.”