Photo manipulation

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The skin features shown in Portrait of Minnie Driver by Justin Hoch (left) have been manipulated to create the image on the right.

Photo manipulation is a process to transform a photograph into a desired image. There are currently many different software applications to choose from ranging from professional applications to basic imaging software for the casual user.


Vintage manipulated photo of World War I battle action including details combined from multiple photos.
Joseph Stalin pictured with the "Vanishing Commissar" (Nikolai Yezhov) before retouching
The photo after retouching, with Yezhov entirely removed
Goebbels family portrait photo in which the visage of the uniformed Harald, who was actually away on military duties, was inserted and retouched.
Retouching tools from the pre-digital era: gouache paint, kneaded erasers, charcoal sticks, and an airbrush.

Photo manipulation is as old as photography itself, and its history can be seen as part of the history of image manipulation in general, which can be found already in Ancient Egypt. So Kanawati[1] gives examples where images have been removed to penalize persons.

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. Darkroom manipulations are sometimes regarded as traditional art rather than job related skill. In the early days of photography, the use of technology was not as advanced and efficient as it is now. Results are similar to digital manipulation but they are harder to create.[2]

An early example of tampering 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.[3]

The 1980s saw the advent of digital retouching with Quantel computers running Paintbox, and Scitex imaging workstations being used professionally.[citation needed] 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.

Political and ethical issues[edit]

Contrary to the idea of a photo having inherent verisimilitude.[dubious ] Photo manipulation has been regularly used to deceive or persuade viewers, or for improved storytelling and self-expression. Often even subtle and discreet changes can have profound impacts on how we interpret or judge a photograph[citation needed] 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.[4] 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.[citation needed] In a well known case of damnatio memoriae image manipulation, NKVD leader Nikolai Yezhov (the "Vanishing Commissar"), after his execution in 1940, was removed from an official press photo where he was pictured with Stalin.[5] (For more information, see Censorship of images in the Soviet Union.) The pioneer among journalists distorting photographic images for news value was Bernarr Macfadden: in the mid-1920s, his "composograph" process involved reenacting real news events with costumed body doubles and then photographing the dramatized scenes—then pasting faces of the real news-personalities (gathered from unrelated photos) onto his staged images. In the 1930s, artist John Heartfield used a type of photo manipulation known as the photomontage to critique Nazi propaganda.

Some ethical theories have been applied to image manipulation. During a panel on the topic of ethics in image manipulation[6] Aude Oliva theorized that categorical shifts are necessary in order for an edited image to be viewed as a manipulation. In Image Act Theory,[7] Carson Reynolds extended speech act theory by applying it to photo editing and image manipulations. In How to Do Things with Pictures,[8] William Mitchell details the long history of photo manipulation and discusses it critically.

Use in journalism[edit]

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;[citation needed] 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.[9]

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 published an edition featuring an altered mugshot credited to Matt Mahurin, removing the photograph's color saturation (making, perhaps inadvertently, Simpson's skin darker),[10] 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.

Photo manipulation alters the content of the images in a devious manner. It becomes difficult for the audience to differentiate between a manipulated image and reality. But Photoshop's popularity has proven to be divisive. While some laud it for its ability to allow subjects to look their best in a photograph, others see it as a vehicle for feeding our culture's desire for ultimate perfection. Manipulated images are created to deceive the audiences and form their understanding on how the media presents everything with perfection.[11] Therefore, with digital democratization[vague] increasing at a rapid rate it[vague] is creating problems. Since more people have access to technology it[vague] creates curiosity in the readers mind when they see an image published in newspapers or magazines. The reader begins to question the ethics of the publication which results in a debate. Photo images were considered as a reliable source and were known as a medium of communication to present the truth to the media.[2]

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."[12] 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.[13]

Use in glamour photography[edit]

The photo manipulation industry has often been accused of promoting or inciting a distorted and unrealistic image of self; most specifically in younger people. The world of glamour photography is one specific industry which has been heavily involved with the use of photo manipulation (an obviously concerning element as many people look up to celebrities in search of embodying the 'ideal figure').[14] Manipulation of a photo to alter a model’s appearance can be used to change features such as skin complexion, hair color, body shape, and other features. Many of the alterations to skin involve removing blemishes through the use of the healing tool in Photoshop. Photo editors may also alter the color of hair to remove roots or add shine. Additionally, the model’s teeth and eyes may be made to look whiter than they are in reality. Make up and piercings can even be edited into pictures to look as though the model was wearing them when the photo was taken. Through photo editing, the appearance of a model may be drastically changed to mask imperfections.[15]

Celebrities against photo manipulation[edit]

Photo manipulation has triggered negative responses from both viewers and celebrities. This has led to celebrities refusing to have their photos retouched in support of the American Medical Association that has decided to “take a stand against rampant photo retouching, declaring the practice detrimental to your health.”[16] These include Keira Knightley, Brad Pitt, Andy Roddick, and Jessica Simpson.

Brad Pitt had a photographer, Chuck Close, take photos of him that emphasized all of his flaws. Chuck Close is known for his photos that emphasize all skin flaws of an individual. Pitt did so in an effort to speak out against media using photoshop and manipulating celebrities’ photos in an attempt to hide their flaws. Also, Kate Winslet spoke out against photo manipulation in media after GQ magazine altered her body, making it look unnaturally thin.[17]

In April 2010, Britney Spears agreed to release "un-airbrushed images of herself next to the digitally altered ones".[14] The fundamental motive behind her move was to "highlight the pressure exerted on women to look perfect".[14]

In addition, 42-year-old Cate Blanchett also appeared on the cover of Intelligent Life's 2012 March/April issue, makeup-free and without digital retouching for the first time.[18]

Companies against photo manipulation[edit]

Multiple companies have begun taking the initiative to speak out against the use of photo manipulation when advertising their products. Two companies that have done so include Dove and Aerie (American Eagle Outfitters). Dove created the Dove Self-Esteem Fund and also the Dove Campaign for Real Beauty as a way to try to help build confidence in young woman. They want to emphasize what is known as real beauty, or untouched photographs, in the media now.[19] Also, Aerie has started their campaign #AerieREAL. They have a line of undergarments now that goes by that name with the intention of them being for everyone.[20] Also, their advertisements state that the model has not been retouched in any way. They also add in their advertisements that “The real you is sexy.”[21]

Also, the American Medical Association has taken a stand against the use of photo manipulation. Dr. McAneny made a statement that altering models to such extremes creates unrealistic expectations in children and teenagers regarding body image. He also said that we should stop altering the models so they are not exposed to body types that can only be attained through the use of editing the photos. The American Medical Associations as a whole adopted a policy to work with advertisers to work on setting up guidelines for advertisements to try to limit how much photoshop is used. The goal of this policy is to limit the amount of unrealistic expectations for body image in advertisement.[22]

Governments against excessive photo manipulation[edit]

Governments are exerting pressure on advertisers, and are starting to ban photos that are too airbrushed and edited. In the United Kingdom the Advertising Standards Authority has banned an advertisement by Lancôme featuring Julia Roberts for being misleading, stating that the flawless skin seen in the photo was too good to be true.[23] The US is also moving in the direction of banning excessive photo manipulation where a CoverGirl model's ad was banned because it had exaggerated effects, leading to a misleading representation of the product.[24]

Support for photo manipulation in media[edit]

Some editors of magazine companies do not view manipulating their cover models as an issue. In an interview with the editor of the French magazine Marie Claire, she stated that their readers are not idiots and that they can tell when a model has been retouched. Also, some who support photo manipulation in the media state that the altered photographs are not the issue, but that it is the expectations that viewers have that they fail to meet, such as wanting to have the same body as a celebrity on the cover of their favorite magazine.[25]

Surveys done regarding photo manipulation[edit]

Surveys have been done to see how photo manipulation affects society and to see what society thinks of it. One survey was done by a fashion store in the United Kingdom, New Look, and it showed that 90% of the individuals surveyed would prefer seeing a wider variety of body shapes in media. This would involve them wanting to see cover models that are not all thin, but some with more curves than others. The survey also talked about how readers view the use of photo manipulation. One statistic stated that 15% of the readers believed that the cover images are accurate depictions of the model in reality. Also, they found that 33% of women who were surveyed are aiming for a body that is impossible for them to attain.[26]

Dove also did a survey to see how photo manipulation affects the self-esteem of females. In doing this, they found that 80% of the woman surveyed felt insecure when seeing photos of celebrities in the media. Of the woman surveyed who had lower self-esteem, 71% of them do not believe that their appearance is pretty or stylish enough in comparison to cover models.[27]

Social and cultural implications[edit]

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".[28] A practice widely used in the magazine industry, the use of photo manipulation 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.

In today's world, photo manipulation has a positive impact by developing the creativity of one's mind or maybe a negative one by removing the art and beauty of capturing something so magnificent and natural or the way it should be. According to the Huffington Post, “Photoshopping and airbrushing, many believe, are now an inherent part of the beauty industry, as are makeup, lighting and styling”. In a way, these image alterations are “selling” actual people to the masses to affect responses, reactions, and emotions toward these cultural icons.[29]

Types of digital photo manipulation[edit]

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 examples. 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, noise, 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 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 whereby the digital artist uses multiple photos to create a single image. Today, 3D computer graphics 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.


Photoshopping is a popular term used to refer to the digital editing of photos.[30][31] The term originates from Adobe Photoshop, the image editor most commonly used by professionals for this purpose;[32] however, any image-editing program could be used, such as Paint Shop Pro, Corel Photopaint, Pixelmator, Paint.NET, or GIMP.[33] Adobe Systems, the publisher of Adobe Photoshop, discourages use of the term "photoshop" as a verb out of concern that it may become generic, undermining the company's trademark.[34]

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.[35][36]

In popular culture, the term photoshopping is sometimes associated with montages in the form of visual jokes, such as those published on Fark and in MAD Magazine. Images may be propagated memetically via e-mail as humor or passed as actual news in a form of hoax.[37][38] 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.[39]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Naguib Kanawati, Conspiracies in the Egyptian Palace: Unis to Pepy I, Routledge, 2003
  2. ^ a b Peres, Michael (2007). The Focal Encyclopedia of Photography, Fourth Edition. Focal Press; 4 edition. p. 880. ISBN 0-240-80740-5. [vague]
  3. ^ Farid, Hany. "Photo Tampering Throughout History". 
  4. ^ King, D. (1997). The Commissar Vanishes: the falsification of photographs and art in Stalin's Russia. New York: Metropolitan Books. ISBN 0-8050-5294-1. 
  5. ^ The Newseum (Sep 1, 1999). ""The Commissar Vanishes" in The Vanishing Commissar". Retrieved September 30, 2012. 
  6. ^ 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. 
  7. ^ Reynolds, C. J. (July 12–14, 2007). Image Act Theory (PDF). Seventh International Conference of Computer Ethics. 
  8. ^ Mitchell, William J. (1994). "How to Do Things with Pictures". The Reconfigured Eye: Visual Truth in the Post-Photographic Era. MIT Press. 
  9. ^ "NPPA Calls Newsweek's Martha Stewart Cover "A Major Ethical Breach"". National Press Photographers Association. March 9, 2005. 
  10. ^ Carmody, Deirdre (June 25, 1994). "Time Responds to Criticism Over Simpson Cover". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ Kitchin, Rob (2011). Code/Space: Software and Everyday Life. The MIT Press. p. 304. ISBN 0-262-04248-7. 
  12. ^ "NPPA Code of Ethics (dead link)". National Press Photographers Association. 
  13. ^ Lang, Daryl (April 15, 2007). "Blade Editor: Detrich Submitted 79 Altered Photos This Year". Photo District News. 
  14. ^ a b c "Britney Spears bravely agrees to release un-airbrushed images of herself next to the digitally-altered versions". Daily Mail. April 13, 2010. Retrieved March 23, 2012. 
  15. ^ Metzmacher, Dirk. "Smashing Magazine." Smashing Magazine. N.p., n.d. Web. April 16, 2014.
  16. ^ "5 Celebrities Rejecting Hollywood's Photoshop Fever". Retrieved March 28, 2012. 
  17. ^ "Keep It Real Challenge: Photoshop's Impact on Body Image". 29 June 2012. Retrieved 19 April 2015. 
  18. ^ Roberts, Soraya. "Cate Blanchett goes without digital enhancement on the cover of Intelligent Life". The Juice. Retrieved March 22, 2012. 
  19. ^ "The Evolution Video - Dove Self Esteem Project". 2 June 2013. Retrieved 1 May 2015. 
  20. ^ "Aerie for American Eagle". Retrieved 1 May 2015. 
  21. ^ Krupnick, Ellie (17 January 2014). "Aerie's Unretouched Ads 'Challenge Supermodel Standards' For Young Women". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 1 May 2015. 
  22. ^ "AMA Adopts New Policies at Annual Meeting". 21 June 2011. Retrieved 19 April 2015. 
  23. ^ Zhang, Michael. "Julia Roberts Makeup Ads Banned in UK for Too Much Photoshop". PetaPixel. Retrieved July 27, 2011. 
  24. ^ Anthony, Sebastian. "US watchdog bans photoshopping in cosmetics ads". Retrieved December 16, 2011. 
  25. ^ "In Defense of Photoshop: Why Retouching Isn't As Evil As Everyone Thinks". The Cut. 29 August 2010. Retrieved 19 April 2015. 
  26. ^ "Women Need Further Educating Into Extent of Digital Manipulation of Mo". 26 November 2013. Retrieved 19 April 2015. 
  27. ^ "The Self Esteem Act: Parents Push for Anti-Photoshop Law in U.S. to Protect Teens from Unrealistic Body Image Ideals". Associated Newspapers (Daily Mail Online). 12 October 2011. Retrieved 19 April 2015. 
  28. ^ Sontag, Susan (1977). On Photography. p. 4. 
  29. ^ L. Boutwell, Allison. "Photoshop: A Positive and Negative Innovation". 
  30. ^ Geelan, David (2006). Undead Theories: Constructivism, Eclecticism And Research in Education. Sense Publisher. p. 146. ISBN 90-77874-31-3. 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. 
  31. ^ Laurence M. Deutsch (2001). Medical Records for Attorneys. ALI-ABA. 
  32. ^ "Photoshop Definition". 
  33. ^ Rodriguez, Edward (2008). Computer Graphic Artist. Netlibrary. p. 163. ISBN 81-89940-42-2. The term photoshopping is a neologism, meaning "editing an image", regardless of the program used. 
  34. ^ "Proper use of the Photoshop trademark". Adobe Systems Incorporated. June 21, 2006. Retrieved March 25, 2007. 
  35. ^ Blatner, David (August 1, 2000). "Photoshop: It's Not Just a Program Anymore". Macworld. Archived from the original on March 15, 2005. 
  36. ^ "Photoshop Essentials". Graphic Design Portfolio-Builder: Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator Projects. Peachpit Press. August 15, 2005. ISBN 978-0-321-33658-3. 
  37. ^ Jenn Shreve (November 19, 2001). "Photoshop: It's All the Rage". Wired Magazine. 
  38. ^ Corrie Pikul (July 1, 2004). "The Photoshopping of the President". Arts & Entertainment. 
  39. ^ Danielson, Stentor; Braun, David (March 8, 2005). "Shark "Photo of the Year" Is E-Mail Hoax". National Geographic News. Retrieved May 20, 2006. 
  40. ^ ABC News (Jan 4, 2013). "Pelosi Defends Altered Photo of Congresswomen". Retrieved January 4, 2013. 
  41. ^ Washington Post (Jan 4, 2013). "House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi defends altered photo of women House members". Retrieved January 4, 2013. 
  42. ^ (Jan 4, 2013). "Pelosi defends altered photo of congresswomen". Retrieved January 4, 2013. 
  43. ^ Huffington Post (Jan 4, 2013). "Nancy Pelosi Defends Altered Photo Of Congresswomen (PHOTO)". Retrieved January 4, 2013. 
  44. ^ WSET News (ABC TV-13) (Jan 4, 2013). "Pelosi defends altered photo of congresswomen". Retrieved January 4, 2013. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Ades, Dawn (1986). Photomontage. London, UK: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-20208-7. 

External links[edit]