Photo manipulation

Photo manipulation
Photos composited and manipulated in Photoshop

Photo manipulation is the application of image editing techniques to photographs in order to create an illusion or deception (in contrast to mere enhancement or correction), through analog or digital means.[1]


Types of digital photo manipulation

Historical tools used for photo manipulation.

In digital editing, photographs are usually taken with a digital camera and input directly into a computer. Transparencies, negatives or printed photographs may also be digitized using a scanner, or images may be obtained from stock photography databases. With the advent of computers, graphics tablets, and digital cameras, the term image editing encompasses everything that can be done to a photo, whether in a darkroom or on a computer. Photo manipulation is often much more explicit than subtle alterations to color balance or contrast and may involve overlaying a head onto a different body or changing a sign's text, for example. Image editing software can be used to apply effects and warp an image until the desired result is achieved. The resulting image may have little or no resemblance to the photo (or photos in the case of compositing) from which it originated. Today, photo manipulation is widely accepted as an art-form.

There are several subtypes of digital image-retouching:

Technical retouching

Manipulation for photo restoration or enhancement (adjusting colors / contrast / white balance (i.e. gradational retouching), sharpness, removing elements or visible flaws on skin or materials, ...)

Creative retouching

Used as an art form or for commercial use to create more sleek and interesting creative images for advertisements. Creative retouching could be manipulation for fashion, beauty or advertising photography such as pack-shots (which could also be considered inherently technical retouching in regards to package dimensions and wrap-around factors) One of the most prominent disciplines in creative retouching is image-compositing. Here, the digital artist uses multiple photos to create a single composited image. Today, 3D elements are used more and more to add extra elements or even locations and backgrounds. This kind of image composition is widely used when conventional photography would be technically too difficult or impossible to shoot on location or in studio.


Before computers, photo manipulation was achieved by retouching with ink, paint, double-exposure, piecing photos or negatives together in the darkroom, or scratching Polaroids. Airbrushes were also used, whence the term "airbrushing" for manipulation.

The first recorded case of photo manipulation was in the early 1860s, when a photo of Abraham Lincoln was altered using the body from a portrait of John C. Calhoun and the head of Lincoln from a famous seated portrait by Mathew Brady – the same portrait which was the basis for the original Lincoln Five-dollar bill.[2]

The 1980s saw the advent of digital retouching with Quantel computers running Paintbox, and Scitex imaging workstations being used professionally. Silicon Graphics computers running Barco Creator became available in the late 1980s which, alongside other contemporary packages, were effectively replaced in the market by Adobe Photoshop.

Darkroom manipulation

Despite the popularity of digital photo manipulation, darkroom manipulations are regarded as traditional art rather than job related skill. Techniques are very similar to digital manipulation but they are harder to create than ones that are created digitally.

Political and ethical issues

Joseph Stalin and Nikolai Yezhov, before retouching...
...and after

Photo manipulation is as old as photography itself; contrary to the idea of a photo having inherent verisimilitude. Photo manipulation has been regularly used to deceive or persuade viewers, or for improved story-telling and self-expression. Oftentimes even subtle and discreet changes can have profound impacts on how we interpret or judge a photograph which is why learning when manipulation has occurred is important. As early as the American Civil War, photographs were published as engravings based on more than one negative.

Joseph Stalin made use of photo retouching for propaganda purposes.[3] On May 5, 1920 his predecessor Vladimir Lenin held a speech for Soviet troops that Leon Trotsky attended. Stalin had Trotsky retouched out of a photograph showing Trotsky in attendance. Nikolai Yezhov, an NKVD leader photographed alongside Stalin in at least one photograph, was edited out of the photograph after his execution in 1940. For more information, see images altered by Soviet censors.

In the 1930s, John Heartfield used a type of photo manipulation known as the photomontage to critique Nazi propaganda. The pioneer among journalists distorting photographic images for news value was Bernarr Macfadden and his composograph in the mid-1920s.

The style and techniques of modern digital photomontage were anticipated as early as the late 1960s, particularly by the surreal album cover photography of the British design group Hipgnosis.

Some ethical theories have been applied to image manipulation. During a panel on the topic of ethics in image manipulation[4] Aude Oliva theorized that categorical shifts are necessary in order for an edited image to be viewed as a manipulation. In Image Act Theory,[5] Carson Reynolds extended speech act theory by applying it to photo editing and image manipulations. In How to Do Things with Pictures,[6] William Mitchell details the long history of photo manipulation and discusses it critically.

Use in journalism

A notable case of a controversial photo manipulation was a 1982 National Geographic cover in which editors photographically moved two Egyptian pyramids closer together so that they would fit on a vertical cover. This case triggered a debate about the appropriateness of photo manipulation in journalism; the argument against editing was that the magazine depicted something that did not exist, and presented it as fact. There were several cases since the National Geographic case of questionable photo manipulation, including editing a photo of Cher on the cover of Redbook to change her smile and her dress. Another example occurred in early 2005, when Martha Stewart's release from prison was featured on the cover of Newsweek; her face was placed on a slimmer woman's body to suggest that she had lost weight while in prison.[7]

Another famous instance of controversy over photo manipulation, this time concerning race, arose in the summer of 1994. After O.J. Simpson was arrested for allegedly murdering his wife and her friend, multiple publications carried his mugshot. Notably, TIME Magazine published an edition featuring an altered mugshot credited to Matt Mahurin, removing the photograph's color saturation (perhaps inadvertently making Simpson's skin darker),[8] burning the corners, and reducing the size of the prisoner ID number. This appeared on newsstands right next to an unaltered picture by Newsweek.

A further noted example is the Adnan Hajj photographs controversy (2006), when the photographer in question retouched war images using the clone tool to increase the size of a smoke plume and to duplicate flares.

There is a growing body of writings devoted to the ethical use of digital editing in photojournalism. In the United States, for example, the National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) have set out a Code of Ethics promoting the accuracy of published images, advising that photographers "do not manipulate images [...] that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects."[9] Infringements of the Code are taken very seriously, especially regarding digital alteration of published photographs, as evidenced by a case in which Pulitzer prize-nominated photographer Allan Detrich resigned his post following the revelation that a number of his photographs had been manipulated.[10]

Social and cultural implications

The growing popularity of image manipulation has raised concern as to whether it allows for unrealistic images to be portrayed to the public. In her article "On Photography" (1977), Susan Sontag discusses the objectivity, or lack thereof, in photography, concluding that "photographs, which fiddle with the scale of the world, themselves get reduced, blown up, cropped, retouched, doctored and tricked out".[11] A practice widely used in the magazine industry, the use of Photoshop on an already subjective photograph, creates a constructed reality for the individual and it can become difficult to differentiate fact from fiction. With the potential to alter body image, debate continues as to whether manipulated images, particularly those in magazines, contribute to self-esteem issues in both men and women.


A colorized version of originally black and white photo, colorized using GIMP

Photoshopping is slang for the digital editing of photos.[12][13] The term originates from Adobe Photoshop, the image editor most commonly used by professionals for this purpose;[14] however, other programs, such as Paint Shop Pro, Corel Photopaint, Pixelmator, Paint.NET, or GIMP, may be used.[15] Adobe Systems, the publisher of Adobe Photoshop, discourages use of the term "photoshop" as a verb out of concern that it may undermine the company's trademark.[16]

Despite this, photoshop is widely used as a verb, both colloquially and academically, to refer to retouching, compositing (or splicing), and color balancing carried out in the course of graphic design, commercial publishing, and image editing.[17][18]

In popular culture, the term photoshopping is sometimes associated with montages in the form of visual jokes, such as those published on the website and in MAD Magazine. Images may be propagated memetically via e-mail as humor or passed as actual news.[19][20] An example of the latter category is "Helicopter Shark," which was widely circulated as a so-called "National Geographic Photo of the Year" and was later revealed to be a hoax.[21]

Photomontage of 16 photos which have been digitally manipulated in Photoshop to give the impression that it is a real landscape.

See also


  1. ^ Webster's Dictionary 2006 edition
  2. ^ Farid, Hany. "Photo Tampering Throughout History". 
  3. ^ King, D. (1997). The Commissar Vanishes: the falsification of photographs and art in Stalin's Russia. New York: Metropolitan Books. ISBN 0805052941. 
  4. ^ Carlson, Kathryn; DeLevie, Brian; Oliva, Aude (2006). "Ethics in image manipulation". ACM SIGGRAPH 2006. International Conference on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques. ACM. doi:10.1145/1179171.1179176. ISBN 1-59593-364-6. 
  5. ^ Reynolds, C. J. (July 12–14, 2007). "Image Act Theory" (PDF). Seventh International Conference of Computer Ethics. 
  6. ^ Mitchell, William J. (1994). "How to Do Things with Pictures". The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era. MIT Press. 
  7. ^ "NPPA Calls Newsweek's Martha Stewart Cover "A Major Ethical Breach"". National Press Photographers Association. March 9, 2005. 
  8. ^ Carmody, Deirdre (June 25, 1994). "Time Responds to Criticism Over Simpson Cover". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ "NPPA Code of Ethics". National Press Photographers Association. 
  10. ^ Lang, Daryl (April 15, 2007). "Blade Editor: Detrich Submitted 79 Altered Photos This Year". Photo District News. 
  11. ^ Sontag, Susan (1977). On Photography. p. 4. 
  12. ^ Geelan, David (2006). Undead Theories: Constructivism, Eclecticism And Research in Education. Sense Publisher. p. 146. ISBN 9-077-87431-3. "And with digital photography, there is also the possibility of photoshopping – digitally editing the representation to make it more aesthetically pleasing, or to change decisions about framing." 
  13. ^ Laurence M. Deutsch (2001). Medical Records for Attorneys. ALI-ABA. 
  14. ^ "Photoshop Definition". 
  15. ^ Rodriguez, Edward (2008). Computer Graphic Artist. Netlibrary. p. 163. ISBN 8189940422. "The term photoshopping is a neologism, meaning "editing an image", regardless of the program used." 
  16. ^ "Proper use of the Photoshop trademark". Adobe Systems Incorporated. June 21, 2006. Retrieved March 25, 2007. 
  17. ^ Blatner, David (August 1, 2000). "Photoshop: It's Not Just a Program Anymore". Macworld. 
  18. ^ "Photoshop Essentials". Graphic Design Portfolio-Builder: Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator Projects. Peachpit Press. August 15, 2005. ISBN 978-0-321-33658-3. 
  19. ^ Jenn Shreve (November 19, 2001). "Photoshop: It's All the Rage". Wired Magazine. 
  20. ^ Corrie Pikul (July 1, 2004). "The Photoshopping of the President". Arts & Entertainment. 
  21. ^ Danielson, Stentor; Braun, David (March 8, 2005). "Shark "Photo of the Year" Is E-Mail Hoax". National Geographic News. Retrieved May 20, 2006. 

Further reading

  • Baudrillard, Jean (1995). The Gulf War did not take place. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253329469. 
  • Ades, Dawn (1986). Photomontage. London, UK: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0500202087. 

External links

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