Introduction to Photoshafting: First Lesson in Photographic Manipulation

Cindy Sherman: Artful Fakes

Have you ever wondered how presidential administrations achieve that flawless look? Meet Photoshafting. Photoshafting, meet these people who read Medium instead of real news sites. (Actually, I forgot your name, and I’m waiting for you to introduce yourself…. Go ahead. It’s okay.)

Photoshafting, in this article, is the artful digital manipulation of images for extended-reach news enhancement.

Here is a brief how-to, a guide to making those fake images that speak 1000 false words so they sound like one big truth. For this lesson, I’m going to use Gimp because it’s free, and I’m scared that, you know, freedom is becoming so anachronistic.

But I digress.

First: find an image…

Now let’s say you want to add to the image. Don’t like what you see, why trouble your eyes? Enhance it a bit. How? Rather than drawing something on your own — which takes talent — just find another image on the Web. Say, like this one:

Now all you have to do is add it as a new layer to the first. But if the image has a frame — what we might call “context” — that conflicts with your view, you may have to remove it. Use the magic wand on your photo software:

To erase the background, select the background color with your magic wand and turn it transparent, and faster than you can say Wingardium Leviosa, it’s gone!

There’s one in every class.

You often have to play with the threshold to make sure you’re not selecting too much. From my experience, if you delete too much background, people start to get suspicious.

Oh, and some people like to name their wand. (I call mine, Desperado!)

Now delete what you just selected.

Sometimes this happens….

You accidentally destroy the image you were trying to preserve. That’s when the clone brush comes in handy. Or Bourbon. This stuff is a pain in the booty.

Cloning is not just for sheep anymore. It’s a good way to make, say, one supporter look like an army. On Gimp, the clone brush looks like a stamp because… clone stamp!

You place the brush — er, stamp in the spot (command-click) that has the color or pattern you want to copy to some other place. Then you can paint-stamp that color in another section of the image. It’s just like using a real life paint-stamp. This technique works better usually than just using a fill color because, well, fills are for foolz.

Now, combine the two pictures using layers.

But that doesn’t look right. So play around with the sizing because as with everything size matters. And that’s equally true for Pokeballs. I think. Are they different shapes? You would know. I’m too old — hey, don’t cut me off, I was going to add, “to know,” “too old to know.” Okay?

That’s better. Notice how I flipped the ball from the RIGHT to the LEFT because as Adorno pointed out everything has ideology.

Still… not quite right.

Criminy. Now what?

First of all, we’ve got to get her hand in front of the ball to make it look like she’s holding it. Balls don’t just float on your hands even if you’re Antonio Brown. So we delete a bit of the ball so the hand shows through the ball.

See, that’s counterintuitive. How do you show your hand? Erase your balls.

It’s like middle school. All day. Every day.

Seriously, replace that joke with something less juvenile before you publish this post.

When you erase the ball, you want to be careful not to create more problems by introducing unsightly jagged edges. So use the eraser tool and choose an anti-aliased brush.

Not this:

Some people neither forgive nor forget

But this:

I like a circle with some fuzzy edges because — lets face it — the world is fuzzy! Especially if you remove your lenses. (Not metaphorically. I just like to take off my glasses sometimes and pretend I live inside an Impressionist wonderland! Gaston, another sherry for my friend Monet, please!)

But the lighting is still off. Here’s a true fact for you: The longer you stare at an image, the more it starts to fall apart. That’s a hazard of — of — I don’t know — thought.

So this is where you might have to try a filter to help you not have to look at those glaring imperfections.

I recommend using the Brightness-Contrast because it’s much easier to deal with an image where the contrast is high — Black and White, Red and Green, Steelers and Patriots, keep it simple. This might seem to contradict my point about fuzziness. But that’s an effect of contrast! Everything looks more…dialectical.

…. And voila!

Oh, okay, so I added a bit more. Yeah, I hear you. That’s no good. Just adding things like that is…what’s the word…un-ethical.

No. That’s not it.



Shabby shabby sucky sucky.


If you look closely, you see that Trump’s edges are all jacked up because I’m lazy. But you get what you pay for.

Fine. Here’s a little more cleaning up.

fakey fake fake.

Yeo. Still pretty shoddy.


Are you still reading?


The next steps involve some filtering and compositing to make sure the lighting is uniform.

Compositing sounds like the kind of word you’d get to hear in a real class.

Actually, that’s what we’ve been doing this whole time. Compositing. Taking two things that were separate and smashing them together. Chocolate-Peanut Butter. Clean Coal. Fake News.

But in this instance I’m using it to refer to some of the finer points of photoshafting.

So I’m going to remove the chairs…..

…….. ……….and the touch up Donald….

……………….….and switch to an illustrated look using the Cartoon filter.

…………………………and then add this…….

Oh, and I might want to make sure his legs go all the way down if I don’t want to have people do this to me.

Courtesy of Buzzfeed, more or less

Look at how those two circles aren’t even the same color. Can’t see it? Keep looking. Look deep into the circles. Relax. Try to forget what you’ve been reading. What’s that supposed to mean? They probably already did? Just get this next part down…

Pro tip: Make sure you save often. If you’re going to fake an image, you do NOT want to have to do it twice. That’s called: plausible deniability.

Now, Gimp has actually made this whole activity of Photoshafting a bit easier in version 19.8.4. with it’s newest tool. You’ll find it in the Toolbox window.

The so-called Trump Brush can be used to achieve a kind of combover effect, minimizing embarrassing bald patches — those parts of a picture that don’t quite fit your frame of reference. It’s a touch-up brush, lense adjuster, filter bubble, echo chamber, all in one.

It’ll take your image from this.

to this.

And presto.

There you go.

Instant alternative-fact-driven images.

And end it there. Nope that’s it.

Make sure to add a bunch of funny images to illustrate the article before you publish it to Medium— and PLEASE, let me proofread it this time before it goes out. The last time you were typing up my lecture notes it was so full of errors, all the other fakulty were mulching me for weeks.

I will pay you. Of course. Can I send you money through that App? What’s it called?


Well, whatever.

No, I’m good. I’m gonna watch some Netflix later.

Garfunkel and Oats. I love them!

Okay, welll, call me later.

Or text me.

Just send me an email. I’ll get back to you.


Now, try making your own images. Don’t say I told you to.

That’s how I shoulda ended it.

Next time.



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Mark C. Marino

Mark C. Marino

writer/researcher of emerging digital writing forms. Prof of Writing @ USC, Dir. of Com. for ELO, Dir. of HaCCS Lab