How do editors make fake photos on Magazine Covers with computers?

IF you have ever read Spy magazine you are probably familiar with doctored magazine cover photos.

The satiric New York monthly once ran, for instance, a cover that included a picture of Henry Kissinger wantonly dancing the hula. It was not really a picture of Dr. Kissinger. Rather, it was a picture of Dr. Kissinger’s laughing head attached to a picture of the jiggling body of an overweight dancer.

The fusing of the two pictures was done so seamlessly, however, producing such a strong photographic likeness, that it is almost impossible to believe that Henry Kissinger did not actually do the dance we see him performing. Spy, of course, is not the only magazine that runs doctored photos on its cover; it just uses them to funnier effect than most.

Any picture, from a Monet painting to a Polaroid snapshot, is just a collection of different colors, organized in such a way as to create a likeness of a three-dimensional object.

With the aid of computer technology the colors of a picture can be rearranged in such a way that a new picture is created from the colors of the original. Fake magazine covers are made in photo studios by feeding an original image (a photo of Henry Kissinger, say) into a computer scanner, the desktop version of which is roughly the size and shape of a laser printer.

The scanner records the photograph’s picture information (colors and color placement), translating it into a digital code. The digitally coded picture, an electronic document, is transmitted to a computer, where it can be called up on the monitor as an image of the original photograph.

Think, for example, of a jigsaw puzzle. When assembled properly, the five hundred individual pieces create a large, cohesive picture.

What a scanner does is turn an ordinary picture into a jigsaw puzzle. It isolates pixels, which are like electronic jigsaw puzzle pieces, except that each one is only the size of a pinhead. This jigsaw puzzle can be reassembled in any fashion, the pieces can be made to fit anywhere.

Once the scanner has broken down the picture into its composite elements, the elements are manipulated into new shapes, making it possible to create a new, electronic image by rearranging elements of the original picture.

Unsightly wrinkles can be removed from a model’s face by replacing the pixels that contain wrinkle information with smooth-skin pixels. Shadows can be deleted, backgrounds altered, celebrities decapitated, their disembodied heads reattached to other bodies. A tiff, that is, a hard copy of the new image as it appears on the computer monitor, can be printed by a color offset device. The finessed picture can then be reproduced on the cover of a magazine.

While a picture may be worth a thousand words, in the age of computer technology there is no guarantee that those words are not lies. Any person with the right equipment can create a convincing, fake picture.