Is it real or is it Photoshop?

It’s been a while since I’ve been on a jury, and now I’m past the age of obligatory duty. Too bad, because I could cause quite a stir.

The first thing I’d do is question any photo or document submitted as evidence. Here’s why.

A couple of Saturdays ago I gave a talk at a writers meeting in Belmont, California. I stood at a podium in front of a white board that had writing left over from another meeting.


I wanted to use this photo on my website, but I didn’t like the idea of someone else’s writing behind me.

SIDE NOTE: my husband/IT guy asked, “Why do you want to use that photo? Half your face is hidden.” I nodded. “That’s exactly  why,” I said. But that’s another blog entirely.

Once he accepted my choice, he went to work, and about 10 minutes later came back with the photo below. I know if I’d wanted to push it, I could have had him put anything I wanted on the board. E=mc2, for example.


Here’s another example, from 2006.

I was at a bookstore on a panel with a well-known Bay Area writer. The best picture of me from the event was one in which HER book was featured on a little stand. My book was on another stand, out of the picture.

No problem. Enter my IT guy and voila, here are me and MY book, on HER stand. Another twist: this photo was taken in July 2006; The Oxygen Murder wasn’t released until August 2006, a month later. Think how often time lines are used to establish guilt or innocence.


The pages look a little squirrely, and it’s possible that a really good forensics person could spot the fake, but that was 7 years ago, many generations in software land.

How’s a jury to function these days? I think of this almost every time I watch or read a crime drama. There’s so much “evidence” that could easily have been photoshopped or hacked into another entity and another timeframe.

I’ve never used this idea in a plot but it’s bubbling just under the surface and could come up in any book now.


7 Responses

  1. Great idea, Camille–I promise not to steal it.

  2. Wow. While a friend was touching up a photo of me (to remove a bra strap that shouldn’t have been showing) she also touched up my face. Not that I wanted it touched up, so we went several rounds about that. But it never occurred to me that all this Photoshop makeup she was giving me could be given to, say, a corpse. Steal that plot idea? I can’t believe some teenager isn’t way ahead of us. You’ll just have to outwrite the kid.

  3. Thanks Shelley and Sara. I’ll be watching!

  4. Really a frightening thought–how much evidence is skewed or doctored to fit! Let us know, Camille, when the new plot comes to fruition. And then I’ll scrutinize the photo on the back cover.

  5. If you want to learn a little more about faking photos and videos, take a look at the Hacker Factor Blog. In some of his posts, the guy discusses a photo and what has been done to it. He also looks at things like the photo’s metadata (that’s the information attached to the file, such as when it was taken, by what model camera, even data about how many times it has been opened and closed in a program).

    Some of it is a little complex, but you’ll get an idea of what’s involved in figuring out if it’s real or Memorex.

  6. Great stuff for a mystery, Bill.

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