In A Photoshop Age, Can You Believe Your Eyes? As it gets ever easier to doctor images, will the photograph lose its credibility? A digitally manipulated photo of an Iranian missile launch recently made its way onto major news Web sites, raising concerns about whether images can be trusted. Guests discuss the long history of altered images.

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is Talk of the Nation, I'm Neal Conan. We're broadcasting today from the Knight Studio at the Newseum, Washington D.C.'s newest museum devoted to journalism and to the news business. Earlier this month, Iran announced that its Revolutionary Guard Corps test fired several long and medium-range missiles and provided what look like proof, a photograph of four missiles shortly after launch. That picture released by the media arm of Iran's Revolutionary Guard was distributed by Agence France-Presse. It appeared on many news websites in the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune among other newspapers put them on the front page. As it turns out, the picture was not quite what it seemed. The Associated Press released a shot of the same multiple missile launch that was almost identical except only three missiles are in the air, one sits on its launcher an apparent dud. It appears the Revolutionary Guard uses Photoshop like the rest of us.

Digital cameras get better in better. Improved photo editing software makes it easier whenever they cut, crop, blur, sharpen, erase and replace and distort images, although it's relatively uncommon to find manipulated photographs in newspapers and news magazines on TV and the web. Some do get published and posted, and some publications seemed to have no problems or whatsoever putting a celebrities head on somebody else's body. And truth be told that's not new either. One of the most iconic pictures of our 16th president shows Abraham Lincoln's head on John Calhoun's body. Does it matter if photographs printed in the media are manipulated? If so, why? Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email us You can also comment on our blog at

Later in the hour, not so long ago many grumbled about the rapid growth that put a Starbucks almost everywhere. Now the chain plans to close 600 stores, and there are campaigns to save our Starbucks. But first photo manipulation in the digital age, joining us now from the studio at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire is Hany Farid, a professor of computer science at Dartmouth. Where he specializes in image forensics. You can find a link to his article "Photo Tampering Throughout History" on our blog at Hany Farid, nice to have you on Talk of the Nation today.

Professor HANY FARID (Computer Science, Dartmouth): Thank you. Good to be here.

CONAN: And when you, first saw that image of the Iranian missile launch, did you know right away it was a fake?

Prof. FARID: I saw that after the New York Times already revealed that - that it had been a fake. That is we had the copy of the image where the third missile hadn't launched, the fourth missile hadn't launched, but when you look at the - the one that was released, it was clear that there was some funny business going on in the image.

CONAN: Clear how?

Prof. FARID: A couple of things. One is, I think what people in the blogosphere had noticed which is this repetitive of pattern in the smoke. So it's a pretty common manipulation to clone or to duplicate part of an image, to hide or copy something in an image. And when it's not done well, it leaves behind a pretty obvious visual trace, and we saw that in this image. But also if you took the image and just increase the contrast a little bit, you see the trace of the fourth missile of where it was actually patched in. So there's just very simple manipulations you can do, even within Photoshop in fact that can very quickly reveal in the image to be a fake.

CONAN: And is that the kind of, well, just investigation that you thought photo editors at newspapers should have done?

Prof. FARID: I have a fair amount of sympathy for the photo editors. I mean, there are literally thousands of photographs, you know, pushing through news organization on a given day, and the reality is that it's a fairly small number that slip through. So I think this is one of those small numbers that slip through, and I think it's actually fairly understandable.

CONAN: And manipulation - manipulation is sort of an interesting word. What is it exactly? What's allowed and what isn't?

Prof. FARID: That's a great question. And it's almost an impossible question to answer. I always fall back on the definition of pornography which is I can't define it, but I know it when I see it. And the reality is just that the sort of manipulation for certain images are completely acceptable and in other cases they're not. So let's just take two very extreme examples. The cover of Time Magazine that darkened the photograph of OJ Simpson. It was him, it was his mug shot, but it was this overall darkening that made him, as people accused Time Magazine, of looking more menacing and darker. So a global transformation to the whole image in that case was unacceptable. On the other extreme was U.S.A. Today that published a picture of Condoleeza Rice where they whitened the eyes - the whites of her eyes, and it made her look sort of demonic to be honest.

CONAN: Yeah.

Prof. FARID: So that was an example of yet very few pixels were altered, almost the opposite of the OJ Simpson. And that one was also inappropriate. And so, it's not an easy definition. It can't be the number of pixels you change. It depends on which pixels those are. So defining inappropriate from an ethical point of view turns out to be very complicated. From a legal point of view, it's easier because it's anything. Change one pixel, and as far as I'm concerned, the image has been altered and should not be accepted in the court of law as evidence. But when it comes to the media where certain things are allowed, cropping, color enhancement, removing dust, resizing and then you draw the line. That turns out to be very fuzzy and very hard to define.

CONAN: And some manipulations are done rather obviously for editorial effect. There's one in your history of photo tampering throughout history where a pool of water where there's been a massacre and then the pool of water is changed to a pool of blood.

Prof. FARID: Yes. That's right. So this is at the Luxor Temple in 1997 after attack on tourists. And it shows, the Luxor Temple in the background and the pool of water was coming towards the photographer, and it was selectively colored to make it look like blood. And that clearly was some form of editorializing that was almost certainly out of bounds.

CONAN: Let's see if we get some callers in on the conversation. 800-989-8255. Email us, We're talking with a professor of Computer Science at Dartmouth College, Hany Farid about photographic manipulation. Let's go to line one. And line one is Paul. Paul with us in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

PAUL (Caller): Yes,Neal. Good to be with you.

CONAN: Nice to have you with us.

PAUL: Being a photographer, a freelance myself, and having done some digital manipulation, mainly to sharpen or enhance an image for better image clarity, I don't think that the image itself should be altered to tell a different story than what actually occurred.

CONAN: But sharpening is OK.

PAUL: Yes. To a certain extent, yes. Like if you wanted to brighten up a bluer sky or greener trees or something like that or if you have a particular photograph like I do a lot of aviation photography, you want to remove an irritating sign post or a power line that happens to be in your shot. So - but that would be OK because you're not really changing the as-is photograph.

CONAN: A mere layman would say, you certainly did change it.

PAUL: Yes. I changed it to a certain extent, but I did not change what really happened. Like the aircraft was landing or the aircraft is taking off, or it's dropping a bomb et cetera. It was - that event was not changed. I didn't change, like say the bomb into a missile, or I did not add another aircraft that it was shooting down et cetera.

CONAN: It seems...

PAUL: I did not...

CONAN: This is a pretty fine line with you, Paul.

PAUL: Yes. It is a fine line. A certain examples I've used before with a vehicle accidents in the past for publication and newspaper would be to - if it was a rather grotesque thing with a - let's say a body parts because unfortunately it does happen at times. I do that or remove or blow out the body parts at the - to - for the family's sake because I doubt that a lot of people would want to see their loved ones dismembered remains splattered all over the front page of a newspaper.

CONAN: It isn't - well, anyway, Hany Farid what Paul is describing, does that sound like the normal course of your experience of what goes on?

Prof. FARID: I think what Paul describes is the normal course, but I also think there's a danger here which is the slippery slope danger which is while we can take a power line out, while we can take this out, we can take that out, and when does it stop becoming photojournalism and start becoming, well, graphic arts. And I think that if an editor doesn't want to show body parts then don't run the photograph. I think this idea that we can selectively manipulate and decide on a case-by-case basis what's OK and what's not can lead to some potentially dangerous situations where the lie between reality and truth starts to get blurred too much.

CONAN: Paul, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.

PAUL: Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: Joining us now is professional photographer Vincent LaForet. He used to be on the staff of the New York Times. During his time there, he's had a Pulitzer Prize in Feature Photography for the photographs he took on September 11, 2001. He's now a commercial and editorial photographer. With us from our bureau in New York and Vincent LaForet, nice to have you with us today.

Mr. VINCENT LAFORET (Professional Photographer): It's OK. Thank you very much.

CONAN: And I wonder, as you listen to Paul, is this an argument that you and other photographers have with each other?

Mr. LAFORET: Of course. And I'm sitting here shaking my head. And I can see where Paul is coming from, but there have to be very, very strict rules and in editorial photography, that is for a newspaper wire service or any news agency, there should never ever be any attempt to alter the content of the photograph in any way and that means even just power lines or things in the background. You cannot alter the content of the photograph in any way, whatsoever. As Mr. Farid said, it's a very slippery slope, and you can't do that. Blurring out body parts, removing them, is absolutely, in my rule and in the New York Times rules and most U.S. editorial-based organizations, absolutely not the right thing to do. If anything, you can either shoot a photograph from a different location or move or crop the image, but you simply cannot go in there and start to manipulate the content of the image. Otherwise, you end up with some of the extreme examples that you guys have been talking about.

CONAN: Cropping an image is OK - eliminating one side or the bottom or the top.

Mr. LAFORET: I think it's fair enough. You can of course do that with you camera by zooming in or walking a little closer to the subject and as a photographer, you're always making intellectual decisions as to whether or not to include or exclude information.

CONAN: Now, do you shoot exclusively now with digital cameras?

Mr. LAFORET: I have been since 2000, yes.

CONAN: And that allows you to do an awful lot of things.

Mr. LAFORET: Yep. You have all the tools at your disposal. However, the rules are laid out very clearly, and I think it's very important to make one very important distinction. There's editorial photography for news organizations, and then there's commercial photography which is not news-based, and it's more on the magazine end of things where a lot of the articles you can say for most magazines are questionable as to whether or not they are news or PR pieces or fluff pieces. I mean, that's why magazines tend to be a lot more liberal with the use of Photoshop on their covers, et cetera. They see them as a commercial product, a way to sell the magazines. Whereas newspaper and wire services always have a very, very strict policy of in no way altering the content of an image and that for the most part is true.

CONAN: There's an interesting picture, I'm just trying to find it, specifically in the "Photo Tampering Throughout History" that Hany Farid sent to us. It's one of the celebrity magazines, and it's got an article on Julia Roberts, and I think it's called The Real Julia Roberts, and of course, it's a fake image.

Mr. LAFORET: Of course. It's her head in a different body. Correct?

CONAN: Yes. Farid, is that right?

Prof. FARID: Actually, it turns out it's her body and her head just taken two different photographs and I guess they liked her head from one photo and her body from the other and they figured, well, they're both hers so, creating this composite seem fairly harmless.

CONAN: And these kinds of composites, I guess, in that part of the industry are fair game.

Mr. LAFORET: And that's the key factor in that part of the industry. For the New York Times, to do that would be absolutely unethical and breaking every single rule that we stand by.

CONAN: We're talking with Vincent LaForet, a New York-based commercial and editorial photographer formerly on the staff of the New York Times, and with Hany Farid, professor of computer science at Dartmouth College. And when we come back, we'll talk with a photo editor from the Washington Post about their standards, too. If you'd like to join the conversation, 800-989-8255. Email is Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan. We're broadcasting today from the Knight Studio inside the Newseum in Washington DC and we're talking about the history and the future of photographic fakery. Our guests are Hany Farid, professor of computer science at Dartmouth College, author of "Photo Tampering Throughout History" and Vincent LaForet, a New York-based commercial and editorial photographer formerly on the staff of the New York Times. A photo editor from the Washington Post joins us in just a moment. Does it matter to you if photographs printed in the media are manipulated. If so, why?

Our phone number is 800-989-8255. Email is You can also join the conversation on our blog at There's a link there, by the way, to Hany Farid's article on all the photographs that are manipulated throughout history. And joining us now is Bonnie Jo Mount, deputy assistant managing editor of photographs for the Washington Post. Thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. BONNIE JO MOUNT (Deputy Assistant Managing Editor of Photographs, The Washington Post): Glad to be here.

CONAN: And did you see that copy of that picture of those Iranian missiles?

Ms. MOUNT: I did. Actually, I saw it the next day. It's not an image that we published.

CONAN: Were you just lucky or did somebody catch it?

Ms. MOUNT: No. I think we're probably lucky. Actually, we used a different primary source. So it really wasn't something that were considering.

CONAN: So, you would have gotten it from Agence France-Presse, you would have gotten it from the Associated Press?

Ms. MOUNT: Exactly.

CONAN: As you go through that, though, it is sometimes a matter of luck. I mean, do you examine the photographs you get in any way to see if their legit?

Ms. MOUNT: I don't think that's the first thing on your radar. We're really thinking about storytelling and the content of the photograph, and most of the images that we get are coming from photojournalists either on the staff or all around the world. So, there is an ethical expectation that photographs are legitimate so when they're not, it's really the exception. So, again, as one of your previous guests mentioned, we're looking at hundreds if not thousands of images a day, and so it's clear to me why it would be pretty easy for that photograph to get through particularly since it was actually a frame grab from a video so the quality of it was pretty low.

CONAN: Murky, to begin with.

Ms. MOUNT: Yeah.

CONAN: And because of photograph originated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards or North Korea or al-Qaeda, you might not examine a little more closely?

Ms. MOUNT: I think you probably would, but I think that it can also just kind of again come back to the source in the sense that the expectation of reality. I mean, this was a true event that we knew is going on so I could see how if you saw four missiles going up when at that time, people were talking about nine missiles going up, how it would be difficult to discern whether you had an image that included four or three or two.

CONAN: And of course, it's not just those kinds of photographs. We've had examples - plenty of examples in this country of photojournalists who turned out whether - the Toledo Blade case last year, 79 images, where unacceptable changes had been made.

Ms. MOUNT: That's right. And that's the kind of thing that a - I think what makes us all pretty nauseated because it really puts a big ding in the sense of credibility of photography.

CONAN: And when you get photographs - again, that example we heard from our caller earlier. If they're graphic, you know, remains at a traffic accident, that sort of thing, do you think it's your job to say that goes in or out, or is it the photographer's job to crop that out?

Ms. MOUNT: I think that we ask photojournalists to tell stories to report when they're out there in the field. And then there's an editing process, you know, where we were considering images and thinking about the impact and the kind of storytelling that we're doing. So cropping is an aspect and as Vincent mentioned that maybe something that the photographer does on the scene or you may do it later. We would not blur out a portion of an image, and we would never take elements out of an image. I knew you had a caller mentioned taking out telephone poles or distracting aspects of a photograph, and that would be considered completely unethical, and I don't think any credible news organization would condone it.

CONAN: Hany Farid, wanted to ask you - one of the images that I think everybody of a certain age will remember is of course the terrible shooting at Kent State after the invasion of Cambodia in 1970. An image, that as you point out in your history, was altered.

Prof. FARID: Yeah, that's right. And I think this is an example of what Paul is talking about where there was an inconvenient fence post behind one of the main characters. And it was simply - well, this case is pre-Photoshop, it was 1970, and it was taken out. And it was a Pulitzer surprise-winning photograph, and I think people are fairly outraged for the same reason that Bonnie and Vincent have been talking about. It's that you can't just take away things that are inconvenient even if the story stays the same because suddenly that line between reality and fiction is so blurred that we just aren't going to trust photography anymore.

CONAN: An inconvenient fence post that seem to grow out of the head of the young woman who is a - then looking stricken at her companion who was lying, dying on the sidewalk.

Prof. FARID: That's right, yeah.

CONAN: And those sorts of questions are - those sorts of examples did they live on in the memory of the photo editors?

Ms. MOUNT: Absolutely.

Prof. FARID: Well, yeah...

Mr. LAFORET: I was just...

CONAN: I was looking at Bonnie Jo Mount, I want to ask that question but - since she's a photo editor. Absolutely is the answer?

Ms. MOUNT: Absolutely. I think that a - I mean, as I mentioned before, I think it's a - an issue of credibility. And that is one of the most important things that we can offer, is credibility and a sense of authenticity.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And let's go to line four. And this is Arum (ph). Arum with us from Sacramento in California. Arum, you're on the air.

ARUM (Caller): Hi. My question is what constitutes manipulation of an image in legal terms? And the reason I asked this question is because it's impossible to take an image with a digital camera without actually manipulating it. A simple example is digital zoom which is a manipulation, you know. Every more there's a manipulation in itself. So what really is manipulation in legal terms, and what really is not?

CONAN: Hany Farid, I know that you've testified as an expert on these questions at some trials.

Prof. FARID: I have. I spent a lot of time now trying to help the courts come to grips with this complicated question. And Arum is right, by simply zooming, cropping, view angle, when you push the button is a form of manipulation or editorializing. From a legal point of view, we have come to understand that that is a serious problem. However, we say that a photograph is original if after it has been photographed nothing has been changed, it has not been imported into a photo editing software, it has not been recompressed, it has not been cropped, resized, contrast, enhanced, literally what is physically recorded.

Even though it's an imperfect recording of an event we can say that that to be original. And if you want to make an analogy, it's the equivalent of the 35 millimeter negative. Whatever was recorded no manipulation from that point on. That's going to start getting more complicated because modern day cameras are starting to do various types of enhancements on board, on the camera. And suddenly that issue of well it happened in Photoshop - oh, it can actually start happening in the camera. So those legal questions are going to get very complicated very quickly.

CONAN: And when you're asked to testify you're presented with an image and you're asked is this an original image, is that your role in court?

Prof. FARID: That's often the role. And my lab here at Dartmouth has developed forensic software to determine whether something has been manipulated or altered from the time it was recorded. So it's not just a matter of looking at the image, but it's really a matter of doing the software and mathematical analysis to try to determine if there was specifically manipulation in the photograph.

CONAN: And, Vincent LaForet, the standards that Hany Farid was talking about in terms of legal, are those your standards, too?

Mr. LAFORET: Well, there's two different standards, to be honest. I don't want to make it too complex. With the very act of photographing anything, a three-dimensional world with a three-dimensional camera on a chip or a piece of film that has a limited range of exposure is in effect you are altering the reality in a small degree just by the degree of optics and physics that you're working with. So that's complex and it's always there, and you have to realize that. So that's what the caller was referring to is that in general the act of photographing something does alter the reality you see with your naked eye in some ways. That's why, at times, photographers will go into the image and lighten or darken and to try and make the image look to the viewer very similar to the way they saw with their naked eye. That being said, the delineation again when I make - when I take a photograph or make a photograph is very, very clear. Up to the point where I don't even tell someone to do something again or move this way and move that way, I do my very best to not alter the situation any way possible.

And the very idea of manipulating the image after the fact is an absolute and clear no-no for any photojournalist in the United States. That being said, there are of course always rules outside of this country that are very different. And before I get off, I wanted to make sure that my biggest concern these days is the use of citizen journalism or reader-submitted photographs to websites and newspapers and organizations, and the reality is that, you know, you do trust professionals to adhere to certain ethics and guidelines. But when you open up to the public you're opening yourself up to a world of hurt.

CONAN: Bonnie Jo Mount, do you publish - the Washington Post publish citizen photographs?

Ms. MOUNT: We do have some spots where people can contribute images, but we don't have them generally in a news sense.

CONAN: And so there are impressions, snapshots, that kind of a deal?

Ms. MOUNT: Yes. I mean, there was something where people who had dressed up their animals for Halloween, you know, which is a complete fabrication as well. But it's pretty clear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Who's fabricating who at the point? Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. MOUNT: Exactly.

CONAN: Talking about distortions of reality. Arum, thank you very much for that phone call. We appreciate it. Let's go now to line one. And line one is Russell. Russell Kirsch, is that right, in Portland?

RUSSELL (Caller): Yes.

CONAN: Hi there.

RUSSELL: In 1957, I made the world's first digital image in the National Bureau of Standards on CX Computer and at the time, we knew as everybody who knows photography now knows, that photographers manipulate images. However, there's a whole new generation of young people who have learned Photoshop, maybe even in kindergarten and they know all about the manipulation of digital images. So, they're much more sophisticated at looking at images just like they're more sophisticated at looking at information that they get on the Internet. And so, I think that because of this whole new generation, there's much less concern with manipulated digital images than us old fossils had where just look at images as being ordinary photography. So, I think the kids are the saviors. They are the ones who know how to do this and know how to recognize it and know how to be questioning when they look at digital images.

CONAN: So, you started all of this?

RUSSELL: Yes, I did. That was in 1957, the world's first digital image was my baby son when he was born in 1957.


RUSSELL: And that was 176 by 176 pixels.

Prof. FARID: Oh, my God.

KURSCH: This pixel being just one binary digit black and white. But things, of course, have improved.

CONAN: Quite a bit, and you're son's grown larger.

KURSCH: Oh, yes. He used to be a television reporter for many years, so he was scanned every night on television.

CONAN: Hany Farid, what do you make of what Russell Kursch is telling us?

Prof. FARID: I think Russell's right. But I'm also seeing an interesting backlash. I think this new generation is much more savvy than we are. But I also see that there's a knee-jerk reaction to claiming that everything is now Photoshoped. So, there's this - why you can't believe anything anymore, and there is this rush to claim that photographs have been manipulated when in fact they haven't. So maybe they're a little too savvy for their own good.

CONAN: And I wonder, I was going to ask Bonnie Jo Mount at the Washington Post, the acceptance of this is reality. I would think that the object of a newspaper say every image that we publish is absolutely clean.

Ms. MOUNT: That is an objective, but I would have to say that there's also occasions when images are used in an illustrative sense as an illustration, and they become clearly manipulated. Like you may see a photograph for the background has been dropped out. Obviously, that person was standing there against, you know, a white sky so there, you know, it's a matter of degree. But absolutely, we have really a very much of a purist approach.

CONAN: There was an interesting photograph in your collection, Hany Farid. That was a cover of a magazine, you know - the problems at the was Ronald Reagan with a tear trickling down his cheek, and obviously, the tear, as you suggest, was inserted later.

Prof. FARID: Yeah, that's right. And I thought this was an interesting example because it also sort of troubled people because it was clearly a manipulated photograph. I don't think the Time Magazine meant to imply that they had a photograph of Reagan with a tear on his eye. And yet, I think there is still something, even though Vincent made a distinction between things like Time Magazine and New York Times and the Washington Post that there is still something about Time and Newsweek about photographs being part of the news and not a commercial photograph. And I think that distinction is what is starting to trouble people, is that it seems to be blurring quite a bit.

Mr. LAFORET: I absolutely agree with you.

CONAN: Russell Kursch, thank you very much for the phone call, we appreciate it. And thanks for your contribution.

RUSSELL: Very good, and I think that we all have the young people to thank because they are the ones who are sufficiently sophisticated that they can use these powerful tools with appropriate skepticism and nevertheless be able to do wonderful things that we never could do before.

CONAN: Oh, but they're all going to take our jobs, so.

RUSSELL: Hah, yes.

CONAN: Russell Kursch, thanks very much for the phone call. We're talking with Bonnie Jo Mount, deputy assistant managing editor of photo for Washington Post; Vincent LaForet, a New York-based commercial and editorial photographer formerly with the New York Times; and Hany Farid, a professor of computer science at Dartmouth College. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. And let's get a question from here in the audience at the museum.

ANGELA (Audience): Hi, my name is Angela Straiter (ph) and I'm from Belews Creek, North Carolina. I have a question because I was once a photo journalist for the Daily Tar Heel at UNC Chapel Hill when I was a student, and we would often throw out photos that we actually had to edit a lot, we had to crop or brighten or darken too much for the quality that we needed for the paper. My question is, I think, for Bonnie. How would you choose between a photo that has really journalistic quality, but you need to edit it a lot and one which you don't need to edit at all, but which might not have the same quality?

Ms. MOUNT: Well, I think we would always go for the strong journalistic quality. I think what you're talking about - there are technical limitations. So if there's an image that's technically too weak to publish, we wouldn't publish it. But I think that we would have largely be looking for the story-telling, in the power of the story-telling. That would be the priority. You know, I think what when the challenges in all of these is that sense of replicating reality with technology that does not have the same range as a human eye. So technically, you have - there are technical limitations where the film or your card is not - it does not have the same range as your eye.

CONAN: And Hany Farid, as you've examined - thanks very much for the question. As you've examined these throughout history, obviously, one of the first examples you have, or you know, Matthew Brady photographs from the Civil War and there are all kinds of manipulations. Yes, it's Lincoln's head on Calhoun's body, there are other famous pictures of battlefields where bodies were moved as photographs were staged, that sort of thing. This is clearly not new, but the ability now to do more and more, this is rapidly getting - you could do almost anything now.

Prof. FARID: I think it's true, and when I started thinking about this problem of digital forensics 10 years ago, it was a very different time. I mean, it was not a time of 200 dollar-six megapixel cameras that fit in your coat pocket. And it was not the time of ubiquitous computing and low-end computing that's available to almost everybody. So, while photographic tampering is not new, the ease with which we can do it as Russell said earlier is absolutely exploding, and I think the issues, the legal, the ethical, the media, the journalistic are only going to begin to increase and become more and more prevalent as the years go on.

CONAN: And Vincent LaForet, are there more and more pressures on photographers to submit images that are exactly what editors want?

Mr. LAFORET: Well, there's the same pressure we've always had. We just have to submit images that represent the truth. And you know, I'm saddened by all that's going on sometimes because one of the reasons I went to photo journalism was that I love the challenge of capturing an image, a moment that really happened. Often, that's extraordinary, and these days, I have readers or people write about some of the photographs that I've taken that are absolutely real, that they don't believe are real. And it diminishes that act of capturing an extraordinary moment, and that's a shame. It definitely one of the pleasures to any photographer to capture something that's pretty beautiful and pretty spectacular.

CONAN: And Bonnie Jo Mount, quickly, that idea of reality as it's presented everyday in the Washington Post, is that under-challenged even more?

Ms. MOUNT: No, I actually don't think it is. I think it comes to journalism values. You know, writers aren't creating quotes, we're not asking photo journalists to, you know, come up with fictitious situations.

CONAN: No, I was talking about from your reader's point of view. Are they more skeptical?

Ms. MOUNT: Yes, I think that is a challenge. I think that readers and viewers are probably are more skeptical.

CONAN: Well, thanks to you all. I appreciate your time today. Bonnie Jo Mount from the Washington Post, Vincent LaForet with us from New York where he's a commercial and editorial photographer, and Hany Farid, professor of computer science at Dartmouth College with us today from a studio in Hanover, New Hampshire. We thank you all for your time. Coming up, the new campaign to save our Starbucks. What does the coffee chain mean to your neighborhood? 800-989-8255, stay with us, I'm Neal Conan, Talk of the Nation NPR News.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.