Let’s take a look at some EXIF data: A semi-aggressive and unprovoked dive into photographic dupery

Battlecorals

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The old rule in comedy and satire is that you can always slam up, but you never punch down. You can trash anyone and anything and get away with it as long as you are “below” them on some accepted albeit imaginary anthropomorphic scale. For the underdog, practically anything goes. A simple example of this would be, an average ”Joe” picking on the wealthy. Joe can take crack shots all he wants at anything from lifestyle choices to flip flop sizes - and it works. It's funny and perfectly acceptable because Joe is seen as the underdog. But, if Rick millionaire fires back with just one derogatory insult, then the humor tends to wane and it comes across as crass and condescending at best.

I'm not here to argue whether this is right or wrong, rather to simply establish my firm understanding of this culturally tilted ethos - especially as it relates to commercial competition.

I have followed these rules in all of my heavy handed promotion and writings, often landing jabs wherever I could. My implications aren't always subtle but I stop short of coming out and identifying my intended targets by name. Fair game. And man, have I been tempted to go after some of the ridiculous Facebook crazies but have chosen not to, mostly guided by these principles. Whether in poor taste or just not worth the effort, I would not consider myself the underdog compared to a lot of these kinds of vendors and I feel extremely fortunate about that. So instead, I focused my efforts on more positive ventures.

But, and this is BIG but, what if the way we are qualifying the “underdogism” is skewed so grossly that anyone who chooses to play fair will never find themselves at equals to, or above them on this accepted imaginary scale in a commercially competitive way. This can be good in some ways, meaning as the underdogs we can dish it out as much as we like. But we can’t deny the conundrum then that on a fair playing field we may still be equals.

So, where the heck am I really going with all of this? I confess. Originally I had intended on calling out by name, some of the more blatant offenders with undeniable proof of their dupery. I had links and images and all sorts of ammo that I intended full well on using aimed directly at some of the worst examples. A few of my early drafts were unflinching jabs at some of the industries most loved and reputable vendors. In fact t
he title and entire preface still reflect that. The prose however, was driven by emotion rather than good intentions. So after a number of rewrites and sensible discussions, I have opted to give you the tools to explore these shenanigans yourselves rather than drop the hammer on specific vendors.




You see my good friends, a lot of Adobe Lightroom users don’t realize this, but all of the adjustments they make to a photo are recorded as EXIF data and can be viewed using this extensive viewer. It’s all right there in plain sight for anyone with the viewer to see. So when you push that slider to 100, or transform that green to a sweet yellow, or the brownish to orange using hue adjustments, there’s no hiding it. With the data viewer below you can see it all.

Of course there are ways to circumvent this and it only works with Lightroom processed images, so it's not going to solve the problem entirely, but I encourage you to go back and take a look at some of the edits that your favorite vendors made to the pics you drooled over. I am certain in some cases that you will be surprised, or maybe not, depending on your level of skepticism. But your assumptions will be confirmed at least.


I am going to use one of my own pics for demonstrative purposes. Here's what you do.

First, open this link and book mark it. You'll want an easy way back to it. This is the tool we are going to use to view the EXIF data.


JEFFRYS EXIF VIEWER


Next, choose any pic you want to see the data for. Right click on it and select "copy image address". Guessing the function is very similar in windows but please correct me if I am wrong.



Here is the actual pic above, so go ahead and right click on it.





Then paste the image address into the data viewer. Hit enter.





An that's it. Scroll down to see any and all edits made to an image in Lightroom. I'm sure a lot of it will be unfamiliar, maybe a little confusing even. Try to zero in on stuff like saturation, vibrance, hue adjustments. These are the ones that can really affect or enhance far beyond what is actually there and by far the most abused.



Of course, now that I have put this one out in the open I am sure most of the unscrupulous will use other programs to edit or start removing some of the pics from their forums and databases to avoid your efforts. But ultimately I just want you, the consumer to have some form of leverage against the crap thats been going on with pics these days. This tool is a great place to start because the last person who should ever be the underdog is you!
 

loglan

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Well said Adam. To take your words "the Truth is in the PUDDING" is completely true. I bought my tank to look at it during all hours of the day not just with royal blues for an hour of the day. Your photos of your frag packs are true to form and honesty goes a long way with not just me but I'm sure many others. Your class act Adam and keep up the good work sir! Happy Reefing to all!
 

cthedaytrader

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Great read, I can't wait to try it out also. I have been in this hobby for a long time and I always liked collecting "named corrals." I have ordered from Blane Perun when he was selling zoas (originated the PPE), directly from TUBBS, and even FragFarmer before they went whole sale, and most of the major vendors on here, and most of the time I have been happy. This is going back some 16 years.

I have to say I never get involved in these discussions, but lately with the drastic increases in sps pricing and having always been an "SPS guy" I have found it more frustrating then ever lately, and actually sometimes I have been more frustrated with "hobbyist's then vendors."

I would just add some points and/or questions that I have had for some time now, that relate to the sale of sps or any coral for that matter.

1) More and more I see hobbyist's defend the purchase, and blame it themselves on shipping, or their own tank, or frankly the hobbyist pictures or frags they sell are worse than the vendors pics lol I know people want to justify the purchase, but are they really just trying to turn a buck as well?

2) Do people really pay some of these really crazy prices? Some of these prices have gone way up, and to each their own, people can spend thier money however they chooser. I myself have spent a small fortune on sps over the years, but I have always wondered if a frag is intentionally marked as sold at some outrageous price, so it gives the illusion of selling for a that high price? Does anyone else ever wonder if this happens as well?

3) I see hobbyist's push certain frags they have purchased sometimes to an extreme, and I just wonder how do I know if they are affiliated with a vendor, or once again just trying to turn a buck by defending a high priced purchase they made?

4) Bringing it back full circle, while I think the ability to see if a pic has been edited is great and would certainly open some eyes. However, I was a bit disheartened not long ago, when I saw someone break down how a picture of a high end sps was "photoshopped" and the thread was deleted. I don't know why it was deleted, so perhaps there is some underlying reason, but you can't call someone out if it's going to be deleted lol


Wow long post, I hope its inline with the post.
 

Tweaked

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2) Do people really pay some of these really crazy prices? Some of these prices have gone way up, and to each their own, people can spend thier money however they chooser. I myself have spent a small fortune on sps over the years, but I have always wondered if a frag is intentionally marked as sold at some outrageous price, so it gives the illusion of selling for a that high price? Does anyone else ever wonder if this happens as well?
.
Was at a recent show where the new $1000 frag was being sold, and people were jumping to buy it. One guy supposedly asked for a free-be to be thrown in if they paid cash right there- vendor simply said no. The piece eventually sold and was hot, but about 1/2" with only a few polyps.
 

BNUTTHEHUT

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This a a great point and I'm sure alot of people aren't overly familiar with lightroom or photoshops interworking. And this is a great tool for people not in "the know". But how do you point out vendors that use lens filters and adjust the camera setting and save as jpeg? If you've taken alot of pictures it's easy to spot some things but not all the time and not everyone has enough experience to do it. At some point someone needs to call out those who are not named. It's almost like someone should set up an fake user account to name names. It's hurts everyone when vendors do that. It's basically stealing...
 

Jimbo

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Thanks for posting this Adam. I can't help but wonder if maybe your original idea of a post would have been better though.

I think part of the problem is that nobody ever calls these vendors out by naming them. Wonder why that is ?
 

Reefrookie220

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I say this info should be stickied.


Good call Adam, when my club got one of your packs I was there for the acclimation process and we looked at your site and at each frag, I was super impressed with how true everything was.

Thanks for giving the average Joe some ammo lol
 

Berlibee

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This a nice move Adam. :) I like it.
Just a question and your example image was color edited too and some params are pretty higher no?
 

hatfielj

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Yeah, exif is no secret. Its also no secret that if someone doesn't want you to see the metadata all they have to do is select for it to be removed when they are saving the image from photoshop/lightroom or any other program. You can also remove this data straight off the camera. This brings up a pet peeve of mine and this is a nice forum to discuss it:)...It seems like everyone likes to assume that if a picture has been edited in any way that it must have been done in an effort to try to fool you. There are too many people who assume photoshop = con-artist. And I don't blame you if you feel that way because there certainly are those type of images out there. Whenever there is money to be made, someone is going to come along and try to be dishonest. Buyer beware, right?

The thing to keep in mind is that for a picture to look "correct" or "natural" a lot of editing has to be done, either in photoshop/light room or on the camera itself. Just because an image comes "straight off the camera" doesn't mean that what you are seeing is exactly what it looks like in real life. There are a lot of edits made automatically in camera that are no different then the edits that can be done in photoshop. The post you previously made describing how to adjust white balance on camera using the custom white balance function is the same kind of editing that is often done in photoshop. ALL DIGITAL PHOTOS MUST BE EDITED IN SOME WAY for them to look natural, especially under our crazy blue lighting. Some need more work than others and often times the camera is doing the editing automatically for you and you just don't realize it.

Let me explain...
Cameras do nothing more than gather information in the form of light. Just like our eyes. Its up to the computer (either the one built into our cameras or our PC/Laptop) to interpret this data and turn it into an image we can recognize. Photographers can manipulate this process of course. This is what our brains do for us automatically when we see light with our eyes. The job of a responsible digital photographer (in the reef aquarium hobby that is) is to use the editing tools (again either on camera or on our computers) to make that picture look as natural as possible. This is where people have the opportunity to use editing software to make pictures look unnatural if they want. Its a fine art and difficult to do correctly. Its also leaves a lot of room for personal tastes. I may like a certain look to my photos and another person may not like it at all. This is also where people can try to fool the unsuspecting consumer by making unnatural edits (cranking up saturation for instance).

So, I guess what I'm trying to say is that just because a picture was edited in PS or LR does not necessarily mean the photographer is trying to fool you. Also, just because a picture comes straight off the camera doesn't necessarily mean its unedited. I've seen a lot of very unnatural looking photos coming off of people's cameras. So, buyer beware. Buy from trusted sellers and read others feedback before purchasing. Also, don't be surprised if a coral looks different in your tank even when the picture was a fair representation of the coral. Different lighting set ups can have a dramatic effect on how a coral appears to our eyes. Plus virtually all corals will change color when placed in a new tank environment anyway. Even if you try to perfectly replicate the tank you are buying from, its unlikely that coral will remain exactly the same in your tank as in someone else's.
 
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Battlecorals

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Thanks for posting this Adam. I can't help but wonder if maybe your original idea of a post would have been better though.

I think part of the problem is that nobody ever calls these vendors out by naming them. Wonder why that is ?

Nah, I couldn't do it. Was too mean. lol By the end of the write up you would have been sympathizing with them, and I just looked like a jerk with a axe to grind. It won't be too hard to find. Many if not all of the pics I intended to post are still where I found them. You'll have to do a little digging:)

Thanks for the post!
 

NeptuneGarden

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The thing to keep in mind is that for a picture to look "correct" or "natural" a lot of editing has to be done, either in photoshop/light room or on the camera itself. Just because an image comes "straight off the camera" doesn't mean that what you are seeing is exactly what it looks like in real life. There are a lot of edits made automatically in camera that are no different then the edits that can be done in photoshop. The post you previously made describing how to adjust white balance on camera using the custom white balance function is the same kind of editing that is often done in photoshop. ALL DIGITAL PHOTOS MUST BE EDITED IN SOME WAY for them to look natural, especially under our crazy blue lighting. Some need more work than others and often times the camera is doing the editing automatically for you and you just don't realize it.
My thoughts exactly. I have to post pics of the equipment I sell through emails and online ads and there are many times, if not most, that the colors the camera picked up just don't quite match what the eye sees in real life.

I guess it really comes down to the level of adjustment made and intention behind it. Personally I can spot the overly edited ones a mile off anyway. The colors will just look too saturated and too vibrant
 

tnyr5

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Cool trick, but it appears as though it rarely works. I've yet to find a picture other than your own where it doesn't say "No color space metadata and no embedded color profile"
 

hatfielj

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Here is an example of my editing process to show that just because it was edited doesn't mean it was done to fool you. These photos were all taken under T5, LED combo (5 blue plus, 1 coral plus, 2 aqua blue special) and 2 reefbrite blues. All bulbs on.

Here's straight off the camera (I used a Nikon which does not have good custom white balance, so it looked like this first). The white balance on the camera was set to "auto" because I knew it didn't matter since I'd be adjusting it in LR anyway (the camera chose a setting of 7300K for what its worth)


Here's after photoshop. My goal was to make it look like it does in real life. And this is my interpretation of what it looks like in real life. There was a lot of work needed. The white balance was adjusted to 18,000K. The hue was adjusted to more of a red tone because the image was too blue (my T5's have a more warm cast to them in real life). The image was over exposed so I turned the exposure down by about 1 stop. I also decreased the highlights so you could see more of the detail in the brighter portions of the photo. I increased the vibrancy bar and saturation bars slightly because the photo looked duller than real life. Then I sharpened it and transferred it to photoshop. There I used a filter to adjust the contrast. I think that was about it. One way I can tell if the picture is natural or not is to look at the color of the live rock (when visible). If you look at the bottom left corner of the picture you can see the coralline algae, grey rock, and other colors that we would expect to see when looking at live rock under day lights. It looks very natural to my eyes and that's how I know I made an accurate photo. Now, with this being said there are tricks to get around this (such as using masks so you only apply certain edits to certain areas of the photo), but this is usually easy to spot too.


As another example, here's what it looks like with more unnatural edits. This time I used the same edits as above, but cranked them up to unnatural levels to show you what is possible. Obviously this photo looks more colorful, but clearly its not right. It looks like a neon poster under a black light.
 
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hatfielj

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Cool trick, but it appears as though it rarely works. I've yet to find a picture other than your own where it doesn't say "No color space metadata and no embedded color profile"
The reason being is a lot of photographers (myself included most of the time) don't want their exact editing secrets revealed. Its kind of like baking. When you have a winning recipe you want to protect it so no one can make an exact duplicate.
 
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Battlecorals

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Cool trick, but it appears as though it rarely works. I've yet to find a picture other than your own where it doesn't say "No color space metadata and no embedded color profile"
keep looking :)
 

Berlibee

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So I still don't understand hmmm you edit colors as well if we're looking by your EXIF. But not so "Toxic" :) I'm not trolling you and always posted only positive feedbacks about your products and will order corals and skimmer from you anyway. Just want to understand better your position. :)
 

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