With all the incredible and astounding photographs spread the past week it's important we learn how to tell actual photographs from the fakes, because there's nothing so terrible as being awestruck over something that someone somewhere might laugh at you for, besides finding the hurricane's made pieces of your hometown wash up in Bolivia. The quickest approach is declaring everything you see --- photographs, videos, paintings, text messages, squirrels, Nevada --- to be a hoax, but this has risks, since you might think something real, like the Leaning Tower Of Wii Balance Board Cartons, wasn't real. So here are some tips.
- Light. All photographs require light to be made. Astounding photographs require between 25 and 45 percent more. This can be your clue. For example, Figure Two (omitted) appears to show a pleasant scene of my relatives opening gifts in my parents' living room, which has a high, light grey ceiling, no interior partitions, and seven five-foot-tall, three-foot-wide windows letting light in. Don't be fooled. My parents' living room is some kind of black hole, and even with all the lights on and using the most sensitive imitation film all you can get is a muddy image of blurry rags out of focus. The picture is obviously Photoshopped. Those aren't even my relatives, which you can tell from their voices.
- Horizons. Photographs looking far into the distance may capture the horizon line, which reflects land curved down as one gets away, explaining the well-known phenomenon whereby cars and sailboats roll faster as they get drop out of sight. A failure of such distant objects to roll away, creating blurred outlines, indicates either that the photograph is faked or that you live on the inside, upward-sloping curve of a giant cylindrical generation starship. Look for evidence that, as required, a mutiny some several minutes into the 900-year voyage destroyed all societal knowledge that you launched from Earth and are cruising to a perfectly decent other planet that just needs some fixing up such as by adding a biosphere, ecology, and plumbing system.
- Details. Any actual photograph will contain telling little details that the staged or faked photograph just won't. For example, imagine you met David Ogden Stiers, and got his picture. Somewhere in the detail --- maybe on a monitor, or a book or license plate, or assembled as a human pyramid by nearby acrobats --- should appear the number 4077. Without details telling the viewer might recognize the thing pictured but not notice that something connected in some way to the thing pictured was also there, essential to creating ``References In Pop Culture'' links on Wikipedia. See figure 17, page 01 (d).
- Artist's Renditions. Artist's Renditions, like vampires, don't appear on film, due to their extreme allergy to silver nitrate and their not hearing that film hasn't been made like that in decades and not at all since like 2004 or something. Thus any rendition, whether on computer or in colored pencil, showing what the courtroom, a proposed new building complex, or the world outside your starship is immediately suspect or an Artist's Rendition itself.
- Dolly Madison. There are daguerrotypes of Dolly Madison. Let me put that more clearly: there's photographs you can look at of a person born before the Boston Massacre. If this doesn't make you sit up some night wondering how that can possibly be you're doing something wrong. Dolly Madison, for crying out loud. Dolly Madison!
- Giraffes. No authentic photograph ever lacks giraffes, because if you haven't got a giraffe in frame why would you even bother taking a picture? What could possibly be worth it? They're giraffes! See Figures Four and Five for demonstration. The giraffes are the long-necked spotty things not my sister. Llamas are a credible substitution for photographs from South America, but those would only appear in someone's vacation photographs, which only the photographer looks at.
There are other tells, but those are the big ones. If you're on the lookout for Light, Horizons, Details, Artist's Renditions, Dolly Madison, and Giraffes, you're well ahead of the people who might be laughing about you, and isn't that the real triumph?
Trivia: The Two Guys discount department store chain, opened by Herbert and Sidney Hubschman in 1947, began in what had been a 20 by 40 foot diner in Harrison, New Jersey. Source: The Grand Emporiums: The Illustrated History Of America's Great Department Stores, Robert Hendrickson. (The chain is long-since defunct, although its ultimate overlords, the Vornado Realty Trust, still exists and doesn't sound even a tiny bit like a useful EvilCo for your dystopian science fiction setting.)
Currently Reading: The Storm Lord, Tanith Lee.