The term ‘photo manipulation’ often makes some people think it is something negative. It may be because, over time, many people have used this practice to deceive people and cause political scandals. Even the fashion industry has seen controversies where models were made to look skinnier than they really are. In real estate, it has been used to boost property values unfairly.

But image manipulation is not completely bad. It has plenty of advantages, and uniquely, there is a need for a lot of creativity. Yes, that’s right! Image manipulation is not completely bad.

Before deciding to use it for your advertising and promotions, there are some things you should know. So, to help you, we have made you this simple guide.

What is the meaning of photo manipulation?

Photo manipulation is an editing process where a photo is altered and transformed using various techniques, usually to achieve a particular visual effect. It is almost like a cross between regular photography and graphic design. Specialized software is used to distort, alter, and combine pictures for a realistic result.

History of image manipulation

Fact time! Image manipulation has been around for a long time. It’s, in fact, just as old as photography itself. However, back then, photos were manipulated in darkrooms during the film development process.

In the early stages of photo manipulation, film developers would lighten or wash out parts of the negatives using bleach. They would make composites by merging two or more photo negatives. They’d add people, objects, or effects to regular pictures this way. Ink, paint, an airbrush, and scratching techniques were also methods that were employed for photo retouching.

Moreover, photographers could manipulate photos while the negatives were still inside the camera using the double exposure method. It is a technique where photographers expose the negative twice to take two photos with the same piece of film. The double exposure method basically superimposes the new photo onto the old one, creating a surreal effect. It was often used to create the illusion of spirit photography.

Today, photo manipulation is considerably simpler due to sophisticated camera technology and photo editing software.

Photo manipulation vs. photo editing: What’s the difference?

Photo manipulation and photo editing sound like they could be the same technique. Both of them also deal with making modifications to photographs. But, these are two very different techniques. The main thing that makes them dissimilar is the degree of alteration made to the original image.

Now we’ll look at some more differences between image manipulation and photo editing.

In photo editing, editors only adjust the photo’s color and exposure. Most of the original’s attributes are untouched, as the aim is only to improve the quality of the image or add style.

It’s a pretty simple and straightforward process that you can even do with the help of mobile apps or basic photo editing software. Photo editing is a much easier technique to learn, as you can pick it up from tutorials, online courses, or by using trial and error.

Now, moving to photo manipulation. This process is much more than basic adjustments as it completely changes the photo’s reality. It is much more complicated than photo editing and demands professional software and advanced editing skills.

To convincingly manipulate the reality of an image, the editor needs to invest a lot of time and effort in the process. They must skillfully cut out objects/people, combine images, create new effects, remove blemishes and other flaws, etc.

What are the advantages of photo manipulation?

A huge benefit of image manipulation is that it helps you communicate your message through a single visual. You can be as creative and imaginative as you want when making promotional and presentation materials.

The beauty and fashion industries use image manipulation to create ideal representations of their product or models. Brands use photo retouching to highlight the traits of a product they wish to promote.

For eCommerce, image manipulation helps present products neatly and attractively. Here, manipulation can involve the removal of distracting backgrounds, shadows, etc., from product images.

Product photos must be presentable and impressive to attract the customer’s attention. So, pictures are manipulated to highlight the product, its look, and its features. The most common techniques are ghost mannequins, image rendering, compositing, shadow effects, etc.

In advertising, images do much of the heavy lifting when conveying the promotional message. Advertisements on billboards, posters, online ads, etc., must convey the message in as few words as possible. So, images are altered artistically and quickly convey the message to consumers.

Is photo manipulation illegal?

The problem with photo manipulation is that it is not always used for ethical reasons. For example, retouching images for political propaganda, smear campaigns, or to deceive people in any other way.

Image retouching is looked down upon in politics, journalism, real estate, and fashion.

In politics, doctored images are often used as propaganda to deceive people, especially before elections.

In journalism, only minor adjustments to improve image quality can be made in photographs. Any other alterations call into question the credibility of the image and the associated article. The aim here is to prevent the misrepresentations of the truth and facts.

It is common to adjust real estate photos to attract potential buyers. However, some alterations can are considered misleading in real estate marketing. For example, editing a room with limited sunlight to make it look bright and sunny.

In fashion, photo retouching is considered unethical in many parts of the world. For many years, there have been concerns about the negative effects of photo manipulation on people’s mental health. Many argued that these images promoted unrealistic body standards. That is why countries like Norway and France passed laws requiring advertisers and social media influencers to include disclaimers on retouched images.

Final thoughts

Despite the controversy, photo manipulation is still valuable for businesses, provided you don’t overdo the alterations. Unlike photo editing, it has the ability to alter the reality of your images. So, you must be careful when retouching your images.

Even if you don’t plan on publishing any altered images, you can still use this technique to sharpen your editing skills.

We hope this article has been informative and helped clear some of your doubts about photo retouching. Cheers!