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Photoshopping Fakes for the Frugal Photographer

Explore and create

Explore and create : Creation lab

Tuesday, December 1, 11:30 am–12:20 pm PST (Pacific Standard Time)

Matthew Mah  
How do you help students spot fake photos? Show them how they can make their own! Provide students the skills and free technology they need to create convincing fake photos and in the process demonstrate the power of images and trusting sources.

Audience: Teachers, Technology coordinators/facilitators, Library media specialists
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices required
Attendee device specification: Laptop: Chromebook, Mac, PC
Tablet: Android, iOS, Windows
Topic: Creativity & curation tools
Grade level: 6-8
Subject area: STEM/STEAM, Computer science
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Establish a learning culture that promotes curiosity and critical examination of online resources and fosters digital literacy and media fluency.
  • Mentor students in safe, legal and ethical practices with digital tools and the protection of intellectual rights and property.
For Students:
Digital Citizen
  • Students demonstrate an understanding of and respect for the rights and obligations of using and sharing intellectual property.
Additional detail: Session recorded for video-on-demand

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

Digital citizenship lessons often focus on the negative outcomes of technology use. Image manipulation is typically discussed as a platform for spreading misinformation ("fake news") or a form of psychological empowerment. Due to this negativity, students are left with either grandiose generalizations such as "Anything can be faked" or "I believe this because I don't know how it was made."
Teaching students how certain images are faked helps them understand the difficulty (or simplicity) of these techniques and de-mystifies the unknown. Simple techniques such as cloning, airbrushing and feathering can be accomplished in free cloud-based services, without the need for expensive applications like Photoshop or even powerful computers.
I will lead participants through these techniques, regardless of artistry skills or technical know-how. They can then take these techniques back to their own classes and help their own students demystify the "How did they do that?!"
This foundation can be easily segued to discussion of ethics, morality and the limits of manipulation, such as news agencies cropping or changing lighting.


This Creation Lab will be a condensed version of my image manipulation unit I deliver to Grade 6 students. I will begin with a slide deck of "Photoshop or Real" images that will highlight the difficulties in identifying manipulated images. To ensure captivation I include numerous images that involve practical effects, such as rigging or camera placement, but no computer effects.
Since my Grade 6 students use Bring Your Own Devices all software and image manipulation programs I use must be cross-platform and be usable on most devices, regardless of age or performance. Online services such as Sumopaint and Pixlr offer many manipulation tools for free and run entirely online, so no need for downloads.
I supply sample images to participants and demonstrate lassoing, feathering, cloning, healing/airbrushing and layering techniques in simple, easy-to-follow steps. Participants will be given time to practice these techniques.
Before participants can use their own images, I run through a guide on how to find royalty and copyright-free images on the internet. A discussion of intellectual property rights and the importance of credit is presented. Google Image Usage Rights and website such as Pixabay are presented as good sources of free images.
Participants will be given time to craft their own manipulated images before submission to an anonymous gallery. A gallery walk will follow where participants vote on which images they believe are faked, and results shared.

Supporting research

Image manipulation has existed long before the internet, from faked fairies to airbrushed circus sideshow oddities. It has seen a resurgence recently in the vein of "fake news" where images are created to sway legitimacy and promote deception.
Advanced techniques such as deep fakes or film industry special effects still present certain manipulations as impossible for the typical internet user, let alone a young student. However, online tools offer basic techniques that can create believable images. Their no-cost entry and low computer requirements offer this ability to anyone with an internet capable device, young students included. Even video games and social media apps offer images that are often indistinguishable from real photos.
Much like how we teach students to deconstruct scholarly works to understand their influence, we should do the same with image manipulation. Empowering every student with this knowledge promotes an understanding, and appreciation, of how it's done instead of invocation of fear or credulity.

Defining “Fake News”: A typology of scholarly definitions

Toward A New Visual Culture Of The News

Photorealistic computer-generated images are difficult to distinguish from digital photographs: a case study with professional photographers and photo-editors

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Matthew Mah, West Point Grey Academy

Matthew Mah is the Head of Education Technology (Junior School) at West Point Grey Academy in Vancouver, Canada. His roles as teacher coach, STEM teacher, and technology administrator have allowed him to see firsthand how policies affect every stakeholder. He has presented locally and internationally on diverse topics such as computational thinking, digital citizenship and photography. He is a Google Certified Innovator/Trainer, Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert/Trainer, and Adobe Creative Educator/Associate.

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