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Integrity of Digital Images

Integrity of Digital Images:

We all relive memories by looking at pictures we’ve taken. Pictures remind us of the facts as they happened then – sometime in the past.  And we do use this method of recording facts even in our professional lives. Many a times these photographs (or Images as we shall refer to them in this discussion) serve as vital pieces of evidence when matters go in court of law or arbitrations. I myself being a Maritime consultant ( as my main profession) carrout maritime accident investigations and I had made this write up for maritime professionals, but none the less this blog and the video is vital for those photographers who offer services to legal professionals.

Hypothetical situation:

Imagine a situation where you have carried out a very meticulous investigation. No stones left unturned, no evidences left uncollected. The matter goes in the court of law or for Arbitration. You have successfully proved your case so far. The opponent’s counsel comes up with a point which can tip the scales to the other side … You suddenly remember of this image that you had taken whilst on investigation and request to put that up as a vital piece of evidence.  You do that and on scrutiny of the image the opponents counsel throws that away saying it lacks sufficient evidentiary value. You now see a case that is all in your favor turning the other way; just for a small silly unintentional action back at your office which you could have easily controlled to preserve the evidentiary value of that Image which could have been a CASE TURNER!

Situation ends:

How do we preserve the evidentiary value of our digital images?

There are several factors that affect the evidentiary value of the images. One of them is the integrity of the images amongst  various others.

The incident I asked you to imagine happened with me about a decade ago; and what we discuss today is an outcome of what I learnt and researched since then with the help of my Lawyer , Surveyor and Photographer friends,

And that is precisely what we shall discuss about today!

  1. Photography deals exquisitely with appearances, but nothing is what it appears to be . – Duane Michals.
  • A photograph speaks a thousand words….. but with photo editing tools it can speak a thousand lies!
  • We are talking about integrity of digital images, but what is Integrity?
  • It is adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character, honesty. It is the state of being whole, entire or undiminished. It is sound unimpaired or a perfect condition. And so should be our digital images! We shall not discuss how to take digital images, we all are very well versed with it.
  • What I discuss in the video linked below is what lies behind the digital image – what I call the Integrity Triangle i.e. metadata, manipulation versus enhancement of images and most importantly Imaging workflow. We shall see how each one of them is inter-related and how one affects the other.
  • Manipulation and enhancements are not new, they are both being practiced for ages. Retouching a negative or a print to remove dust speck spots or abrasions on negatives is not new. And so are Manipulations  just Google “most famous image manipulations’ and you will be astonished. 
  • Another aspect to consider is workflow. We all do have our own work flows I am sure, but evaluating them against these for aspects would help us make them fool proof. How and when to transfer images – this is particularly true when your assignment covers long stretches of days or weeks. It is not “go- shoot- see -come back and archive and report type of assignments”. In such cases it helps to have a routine for download and transfer of images from field to office.
  • It is self discipline – both your and of your office staff – that would matter when it goes to following imaging workflows and maintaining integrity of the images. More so when you often are involved in survey cases that land up in courts of law or in front of arbitrators.

This presentation is condensed version of a half day workshop and there are several other aspects to this issue of “Evidentiary value of images” –  which one would have to consider and know about to get things right. But just as we maintain personal integrity whilst we do our surveys, maintaining the integrity of images is equally important. We now know what the pit falls are or could be and let us be careful of those. 

As we said earlier Honesty is the foundation of Integrity. Let our images be honest representation of what we saw. Let us adopt right work flows which are well defined, followed and  documented  – we will never have to bother of our images being challenged for Integrity.

Watch this detailed presentation ( with head phones on) to understand the nuances.

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