Photoshop was originally a tool for improving photos or fixing mistakes in them that couldn’t be corrected when a photo was actually taken. It’s a powerful bit of software so it shouldn’t surprise anyone if it’s used for more than just its intended use. Of course, no one could imagine it would be popular with Instagram users. If you happen to come across an image that you suspect is Photoshopped, and you can’t tell just by looking, there’s still a chance you will find a Photoshop footprint in the EXIF data. Here’s how to look for it.
Photoshop footprint in EXIF data
There’s no shortage of tools for viewing EXIF data. You can find web apps, desktop apps for Windows, macOS, and Linux, and mobile apps that do the job. The results may vary in that some apps may not display all the data that is stored in an image.
For this specific purpose, i.e., to find the Photoshop footprint in EXIF data, you can use a web app called Exifdata.
Visit the web app and upload the photo you want to check for the Photoshop footprint. The image should not be larger than 20MB. Once uploaded, the app will reveal the EXIF data that it’s found.
Under ‘XMP Toolkit’ and ‘Creator Tool’ look for anything related to Adobe and any mention of Photoshop. In the screenshot above, Exifdata not only indicates that the image has been passed through Photoshop (notice the very obvious brush stroke on the image), but also that it was edited on a Windows system.
Is EXIF data wrong?
Technically, EXIF data can be removed from an image and it can be edited. There are quite a few EXIF data editors available for free use. Additionally, someone editing an image in Photoshop may have the foresight to remove or prevent this information from being added to an image in the first place. Last, if the image you’re checking was downloaded from a web service e.g., a social media website, it is possible that the website removed some of the data when the original uploaded added it.
If you do need to investigate an image, the EXIF data is a good place to start for two reasons; it can be independently verified by anyone, and it’s quick. On this same note, remember to not use this method maliciously. You might want to use it to verify if a photo of a UFO landing is real or not, but using it on someone’s vacation photos to prove they’re not real is a bit much.