Pictures that lie (photos)

Photograph alteration has a long, seedy history. Digital technology, however, is taking the art to new levels.

CNET News staff
1 of 26 Screenshot by CNET

Fake Osama bin Laden death photo

In the immediate aftermath of the death of Osama bin Laden on May 1, several fake photos of his body appeared online; at least one was a scam intended to load adware onto unsuspecting viewers' computers. This doctored photo of Osama bin Laden is a mashup of two photos, one coming from the movie "Black Hawk Down," according to a breakdown of the photo by JustScandals.com.

Editor's note: This photo gallery was originally published on January 31, 2006, and has been updated occasionally since then to include more current news events that have led to doctored photos entering the news ecosystem.

2 of 26 BP

BP oil spill

All eyes were on BP in the aftermath of the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history, caused by the blowout of one of the oil giant's wells on April 20, 2010. Which made it an odd time for the company to try to pass off Photoshopped official images of its clean-up efforts.

It was astute members of the blogosphere that first noticed problems with the images. BP eventually acknowledged that a contract photographer not only used Photoshop for the usual color correction, glare reduction, and cropping, but also to cut and paste three images. The shots were removed from the BP.com site, but remain on the company's Flickr page in both original and edited versions for comparison and "for transparency."

For example, this shot taken from inside a helicopter was doctored to make it appear as if it was in the air. But among the problems, note the control tower still in the left corner of the photograph as well as white space around the shoulder of one of the pilots.

3 of 26 CBS

Doctored Katie Couric photo

The photo on the right isn't exactly what it appears to be--nor, with one exception, are the other images that follow in this photo gallery. The doctored images were manipulated beyond straightforward cropping of edges or lightening shaded areas. Often they have a key element inserted or deleted.

An image of Katie Couric, originally released in May 2006 by CBS, was slimmed down for reuse.

The left photo is the official first-pic-of-Katie released by CBS, parent company of CNET publisher CBS Interactive. (TVNewser posted it in May 2006.) The doctored photo on the right appears in the September issue of Watch magazine, which is owned by CBS, according to Mediabistro.com, which first reported on the alteration.

4 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College at http://www.cs.dartmouth.edu/farid/research/digitaltampering

Doctored photo of Lebanon air strike

August 2006: This photograph by Adnan Hajj, a Lebanese photographer, showed thick black smoke rising above buildings in the Lebanese capital after an Israeli air raid. The Reuters news agency initially published the photograph on its Web site, then withdrew it when it became evident that the original image had been manipulated to show more and darker smoke.

"Hajj has denied deliberately attempting to manipulate the image, saying that he was trying to remove dust marks and that he made mistakes due to the bad lighting conditions he was working under," said Moira Whittle, head of Reuters public relations. "This represents a serious breach of Reuters' standards and we shall not be accepting or using pictures taken by him."

Other photographs by Hajj were also deteremined to have been doctored.

5 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College

Nathan Noy

This picture is exactly what it seems to be--but for a brief time was the subject of debate because of allegations that it was doctored. Nathan Noy, a rival of Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), had taken issue with the image as it appeared on Schmidt's Web page, showing her at a 1993 marathon. In early September, the Ohio Elections Commission unanimously voted to toss out Noy's complaint because of a lack of evidence, and it is considering ordering him to pay legal fees and an unspecified fine, according to a report in the Cincinnati Enquirer. Noy has now admitted he made a mistake, the Enquirer said.

6 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College

March 2005: This Harper's cover, taken at Parris Island, S.C., shows seven Marines lined up in their T-shirts, shorts, and socks. The picture accompanied a story about soldiers who go AWOL (absent without leave). The soldiers depicted in the picture, however, were not AWOL.

The picture was supplied by Getty Images as a stock photograph. "We are decorating pages," said Giulia Melucci, the magazine's vice president for public relations. "We are not saying the soldiers are AWOL. Our covers are not necessarily representative."

7 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College

CBS emblem image

December 2000: In this single frame of a live video broadcast, the CBS emblem was digitally inserted during the New Year's Eve broadcast to conceal the NBC emblem on display in the background. The technology used is the same as what's been widely employed during the broadcast of sporting events to display advertisements on billboards.

8 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College

British soldier in Basra

Pictured here is a digital composite of a British soldier in Basra, gesturing to Iraqi civilians urging them to seek cover, that appeared in April 2003 on the front page of the Los Angeles Times shortly after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. Brian Walski, a staff photographer for the Los Angeles Times and a 30-year veteran of the news business, was fired after his editors discovered that he had combined two of his photographs to "improve" the composition.

9 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College

Tonya and Nancy

This digital composite of Olympic ice skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan appeared on the cover of New York Newsday in February 1994. The picture showed the rivals practicing together, shortly after an attack on Kerrigan by an associate of Harding's husband. The picture caption reads: "Tonya Harding, left, and Nancy Kerrigan, appear to skate together in this New York Newsday composite illustration. Tomorrow, they'll really take to the ice together."

10 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College

Kerry and Fonda

This digital composite of Sen. John Kerry and Jane Fonda sharing a stage at an antiwar rally emerged during the 2004 presidential primaries while Kerry campaigned for the Democratic nomination.

The picture of Kerry was captured by photographer Ken Light as Kerry was preparing to give a speech at the Register for Peace Rally held in Mineola, N.Y., in June 1971. The picture of Jane Fonda was captured by Owen Franken as Fonda spoke at a political rally in Miami Beach, Fla., in August 1972.

11 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College

George W. Bush's political ad

This March 2004 political ad for George W. Bush, prepared during his run for president, shows a sea of soldiers as a backdrop to a child holding a flag. This image was digitally doctored by copying and pasting, from the original photograph, several soldiers in order to digitally remove Bush from a podium. After acknowledging that the photo had been doctored, the Bush campaign said that the ad would be re-edited and reshipped to TV stations.

12 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College

Ann Richards in Texas Monthly

This July 1992 cover of TexasMonthly shows Gov. Ann Richards astride a Harley-Davidson Motorcycle. This picture was created by splicing the head of Richards onto the body of a model. The editors explained that their credit page disclosed this fact by noting in the credits page "Cover Photograph by Jim Myers...Stock photograph (head shot) By Kevin Vandivier/Texastock." After the motorcycle cover appeared, Richards said that since the model had such a nice body, she could hardly complain.

13 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College

TV Guide/Oprah/Ann-Margret

The cover of TV Guide in August 1989 displayed this picture of daytime talk-show host Oprah Winfrey. This picture was created by splicing the head of Winfrey onto the body of actress Ann-Margret, taken from a 1979 publicity shot. The composite was created without permission of Winfrey or Ann-Margret, and was detected by Ann-Margret's fashion designer, who recognized the dress.

14 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College

Septuplets' mom and dad

This digitally altered photograph of Kenny and Bobbi McCaughey appeared in December 1997 on the cover of Newsweek magazine shortly after Bobbi gave birth to septuplets. This photograph was manipulated from the original, which also appeared, unaltered, on the cover of Time magazine. Newsweek manipulated the photograph to make Bobbi's teeth straighter, and was accused of trying to make her "more attractive."

15 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College

Modeling Martha

There's a good reason Martha Stewart looks slightly different here. The body belongs to a model. And Newsweek is not the only offender in this area. Texas Monthly once used a model's body with the head of one-time Gov. Ann Richards.

16 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College

O.J.'s Time cover

This digitally altered photograph of O.J. Simpson appeared on the June 1994 cover of Time magazine shortly after Simpson's arrest on murder charges. This photograph was manipulated from the original mug shot. A copy of the mug shot also appeared, unaltered, on the cover of Newsweek. Time magazine was subsequently accused of manipulating the photograph to make Simpson appear "darker" and "menacing."

17 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College

Trotsky's elimination

Leon Trotsky. Now you see him. Now you don't. After he ran afoul of the Communist Party, Trotsky was eliminated from photos where he mingled with other officials. In other manipulated photos, the Soviets painted in the gaps for added realism.

18 of 26 Courtesy of Museum of Hoaxes

Man flying

The Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung ran this picture in its 1934 April Fool's Day edition. The paper explained that the picture showed a new invention that allowed men to fly using their own lung power as the sole source of propulsion. The picture was picked up and widely distributed in the United States by International News Photo.

19 of 26 Courtesy of Museum of Hoaxes


Photographer Frank D. "Pop" Conard of Garden City, Kan., was considered to be the master of the "whopper hopper" genre of postcards. In this image by Conard, a farmer hauls out a particularly large hopper specimen.

20 of 26 Courtesy of Museum of Hoaxes

Shark attack

The dramatic image on the top made its rounds on the Internet in 2001. The shark had been pasted into the bottom of the shot of a hovering U.S. Air Force helicopter.

21 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College

Overexposed bathroom break

George Bush did indeed need to go to the bathroom and wrote, "I think I may need a bathroom break. Is this possible?" on a note. But Reuters later admitted that it overexposed portions of the note so that the message stood out better.

Bush and Sen. John Kerry were subject to fraudulent photos during in the 2004 campaign. One fake photo circulated of Bush reading a book upside down. Another showed Kerry at a rally with actress Jane Fonda, but that particular encounter never happened.

22 of 26 Courtesy of Museum of Hoaxes

"Dad" Martin postcard

A final postcard by "Dad" Martin dating back to 1910. Martin's company, the Martin Post Card Co., was based in Ottawa, Kan. Fliers for his business read, "This is Dad Martin. He has been arrested for hunting. He is a fool about fishing. But wise on photography."

23 of 26 Courtesy of Museum of Hoaxes


The jackalope is a faux species of antlered rabbit. It is said to be highly aggressive, willing to use its antlers to fight. Thus, it is also sometimes called the "warrior rabbit." In this doctored picture, which appeared on a postcard of indeterminate age, a pair of jackalope scan the horizon of a field in Colorado.

24 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College

Pyramids in a pinch

National Geographic squeezed the Great Pyramids of Giza together to better fit the magazine's format in 1982.

25 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College

Faking diversity

The University of Wisconsin wanted a picture that reflected diversity at the campus back in 2000, so they put a 1994 photo of a black student, Diallo Shabazz, into a 1993 shot from a football game.

26 of 26 Courtesy of Hany Farid/Dartmouth College

Goodnight Moon

"Goodnight Moon," and goodbye cigarette. If you have an older copy of the kids classic "Goodnight Moon," you'll notice something different between the photo of illustrator Clement Hurd on the dust jacket and the photo here. The cigarette is missing. HarperCollins eliminated it. Now, it looks like Hurd is trying to get someone to repay him 20 bucks.

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