How to cheat at spot the difference

Yesterday I left you, dear reader, with a spot the difference puzzle. Here it is again, with my answer:


Notice how my answer (made with GIMP) is not just a list of differences or a squiggly circle around each one. It's an exact map of the location and nature of every difference. I like the effect of seeing which 'direction' the difference goes in: blue things are in the left image but not the right. One flaw in this method is that I have reduced the image to a monochrome image; changes in colour only would not show up. 

Another way to do it, a way that would catch even a subtle colour change, is to simply difference the images. Let's look at a detail from the image—the yellow box; the difference is the centre image:


The right-hand image here is a further processing of the difference, using a process in ImageJ that inverts the pixels' values, making dark things bright and viceversa. This reveals a difference we would probably never have otherwise noticed: the footprint of the lossy JPEG compression kernel. Even though the two input images were compressed with 98% fidelity, we have introduced a subtle, but pervasive, artifact.

So what? Is this just an image processing gimmick? It depends how much you care about finding these differences. Not only was it easier to find all the differences this way, but now I know for certain that I have not missed any. We even see one or two very tiny differences that were surely unintentional (there's one just next to the cat's right paw). If differences (or similarities) mean a lot to you, because a medical prognosis or well location depends on their identification, the small ones might be very important!

Here's a small tutorial showing how I made the line difference, in case you are interested →