How We Spot Altered Pictures

National Geographic’s top editors explain how to keep photography honest in the era of Photoshop—and why they’ll never move the pyramids again.

In the digital age, when it’s easy to manipulate a photo, it’s harder than ever to ensure that the images we publish, whether on paper or on a screen, reflect the reality of what a photographer saw through his or her viewfinder. At National Geographic, where visual storytelling is part of our DNA, making sure you see real images is just as important as making sure you read true words.

I’ll explain how we strive to keep covertly manipulated images out of our publications—but first an admission about a time when we didn’t. Longtime readers may remember.

In February 1982 the magazine’s cover showed a camel train in front of the Pyramids at Giza. The image produced by the photographer was horizontal; here at headquarters we altered the photo to fit our vertical cover. That change visually moved the pyramids closer together than they really are.

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