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How to Blur Faces and Strip Metadata From Your Protest Photos, and Why You Should Do It

How to Blur Faces and Strip Metadata From Your Protest Photos, and Why You Should Do It

If you’re photographing the ongoing protests taking place in cities across the world, you might want to consider making the people in those photographs anonymous and stripping the EXIF data before putting them online. Here are some tools to make the process easier.

Image Scrubber is an online tool created by software designer Everest Pipkin. After you drag and drop an image, the web page removes all of the metadata that is usually contained within an image, and then allows you to blur out parts of the image with a brush.

An image's metadata typically contains information about the camera, lens, and exposure settings, but it may also contain personal information (depending on how you've set up your camera) and geodata. The Image Scrubber website states that "All processing happens directly in the browser - no information is stored or sent anywhere." If you want to check how it works, the tool is available on GitHub.

As noted by Mashable, the U.S. government has monitored protest movements through social media in the past, and revealing people’s locations and identities through photographs posted online might inadvertently give that information to the authorities.

If you’re photographing and posting using a mobile phone, another solution is to use your phone’s editing tools to conceal a face. A quick means of stripping the metadata is to post a screenshot of the edited image.

For those working in Lightroom, the Clone Stamp tool is probably the easiest way to conceal a face. You can then choose to limit the information in the metadata when exporting from within the Export dialogue.

Away from Lightroom, stripping metadata information from a batch of images is best achieved by using a dedicated piece of software such as EXIFPurge or ImageOptim. Both are available for Mac and P.C. for free.

If you have any further suggestions, please leave a comment below.

Lead image is an edit of a photograph by Jeppe Mønster.

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12 Comments

Kenneth Jarecke's picture

Maybe the title of this post should be, "How to Destroy the Power of Your Images and Disrespect the Efforts of the Protestors".

Adam Rubinstein's picture

It’s ironic that a British photographer would be calling for censorship and anonymity considering that the U.K. has cameras spying on its citizenry almost everywhere.

paul aparycki's picture

Being paranoid is not a good thing. You need help.

As for stripping data? Well you might think that it is a good idea, but in fact, it gives an enormous boost to the psychotic rantings and ravings of right wing media and tyrants like the big orange (trump).

Their power, or so they think, is lies.

Ours should not be.

Joshua Bessex's picture

NY Times Photo editor Brent Lewis put it the best way I've seen.

“Outside of the slippery slope of journalistic ethics, the idea of taking away the humanity and ability to connect with a Black person and turning them into just a figure with no facial features, no emotions, just another lifeless creature is honestly more damning to the cause. With that filter, they are no longer human.

Folks can't connect and see someones loved one, just a figure that gives you anger and frustration which let's all be real for a moment, isn't that what they expect out of a Black body anyways?

Now back to ethics, you should be documenting the event happening. I understand what we have seeing happening, but if you do this, it's going to be a slippery slope of the destruction of journalistic ethics that are already being attacked. Not only at that point are you becoming "fake news", you are also allowing others to do the same. I mean how would you feel if you opened that photo from Charlottesville and all the identities were hidden? Or Amy Cooper was still employed because she requested that her live was at risk? What is good for the goose, is good for the gander and sometimes the gander is a lot more ruthless.”

Back to me:

Instead of blurring faces, make a connection with the people you're photographing.

I work for a local newspaper covering my community and I go up to people after photographing them to ask for their name which gives them an opportunity to know that I'm there and that a photo of them will be published. It gives them the option to opt out if they want and generally I don't have a problem not publishing an image if the person has a reason they don't want to be featured.

Erin B.'s picture

Curious to know how many people want to remain anonymous but still allow the use of their likeness in your images.

Glen Barrington's picture

The WHOLE point of a public protest IS the PUBLIC protest. It is the statement, that I am NOT OK with what is going on. You, as a photographer or as a journalist have NO RIGHT to minimize someone's political power. And that is exactly with Andy Day is suggesting.

JR Martinez's picture

How many of you (author included) have actually been involved in any kind of serious protest, movement or organizing? A read on your responses sound like your experience with this is pretty thin, but context always plays a role. I think the purpose of this article is more relevant to certain contexts (not photographing protest in general), but that doesn't seem to be elaborated on much.

Documenting protest, movement and its participants\leaders is of course absolutely important, far more important than any one individual photographer's ego or sense of entitlement. This documentation and story telling is most authentic when done by those associated with the movement itself, of course thats not always possible or does it always give a complete picture either of a particular event.

What i dont hear in the article or the responses is WHY a consideration of the sensitivity of people's identity when some kind of risk is involved is important. Not all rallies, protests and movements are the same. We live in a police state with heavy surveillance, and the nature of dissenting though righteous and necessary, can also be unjustly criminalized and used against someone at a later date. Police agencies absolutely use social media and other means at their disposal to retro-actively charge and question their 'people of interest,' especially if property gets damaged, or other activity happens that they consider criminal. Many people who don't want to be identified already make efforts to conceal themselves, but that might not always be enough.

Alternatively, depending on your agenda for photographing a rally or protest to begin with, you could choose to give your images or some of them at least to organizers themselves.

Guy Pearson's picture

People assembling peacefully aren’t being targeted for arrest after the fact. Criminals looting and rioting are. I sincerely hope they spend the next months scouring these photos and videos arresting every single person who took part in the violence and destruction. Anyone hijacking this cause and drowning out the voices of those who are the real victims with their violent behavior are the real problem.

Joel Manes's picture

I do not agree, .... at all.

Michele Cheeseman's picture

I think anyone taking part in a protest needs to own it! Myself included! No to censorship!

Erin B.'s picture

I think there is a tacit assumption that if you attend a protest out in public and you are holding up a sign that you will be photographed. If you don't want to be seen doing this then why are you out there in the first place? When a journalist blurs the faces, then they are just photographing a sign. I think the message is more meaningful if there is a person behind it.

Simon Patterson's picture

So where's the answer to "why you should do it"? I don't see any reason given in the article.