The thin line between beautification and photo manipulation can put you in a spot if the vital evidence is tampered with!
A few days ago, I was browsing photos posted in a photography forum and came across a picture titled “Black Drongo”. I looked at the bird in the picture. The color was a little lighter and the eye was redder than that of the Black Drongo (Dicrurus macrocercus), so I thought the bird might have been an Ashy Drongo (Dicrurus leucophaeus). But such a diagnosis, on studying colours alone, would have been inconclusive as the ambient light at that particular point of time might have had a significant influence on how the colors appeared in the photograph. To confirm the bird’s identity, I tried to locate the telltale distinguishing mark that sets the Black Drongo apart from its cousins — the rictal spot, a little smudge of white right at the base of the bird’s beak. It was missing.
I replied to the photo-poster: “Dear ABC, this doesn’t look like a Black Drongo. In all probability it is an Ashy Drongo, as the color is lighter, the eye is bright red, and the white spot behind the beak is missing.”
In a few minutes, I got a reply.
“If that is the case, this is definitely a Black Drongo. Please don’t kick me for this – the white spot was very much there, but i thought it was some leftover from something that the bird had eaten and erased it from the photograph.”
Well, post-processing touchups of ramp models is a done thing but when you “beautify” birds of the feathered kind, you might end up with perplexing results. And this was a classic example of how the photo-editor’s “beautification” of a bird in a photograph completely altered the identity of the species. In this case, the white rictal spot was more than a (un)beauty spot — it was the clue to the bird’s identity. Who knows how many such mystery birds are doing the rounds on the PhotoShop-infested Internet?
For your benefit, here are (untouched) photos of an Ashy Drongo and a Black Drongo!
Don’t ever be fooled!