What Is Photo Manipulation?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 08 April 2014
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Photo manipulation is a process in which a photograph is altered in some way that can be fairly subtle or quite dramatic. While these types of changes were often accomplished in the past through physical alterations to the negative or a print of an image, improvements in technology have made the use of computers much more common. Photo manipulation can be performed for artistic purposes, to make an image unique and to combine artistic beauty and imagination with real images. There have also been numerous instances, however, in which altered photographs have been used for commercial or political purposes in ways that have been controversial.

The methods by which artists have performed photo manipulation have changed quite a bit over the lifetime of photographs as a medium. In the past, these changes typically had to be done in a physical way to the negatives used to capture an image or to prints of a photograph. Techniques such as the creation of a double-exposure by taking two images on one piece of a negative were often used to create artistic images. Modifications to a print could be made through direct photo manipulation in which someone might physically cutting and pasting part of a photograph to change it.


Due to developments in computer software and the proliferation of digital photography, however, photo manipulation has become easier than ever before. Changes to pictures can be easily accomplished using programs that are specifically designed to allow someone to alter images in a variety of different ways. This software can be used for artistic purposes, to create pictures that are clearly based on a photograph, but which portray things that are impossible. Other types of photo manipulation have also been made much easier, which can include possibilities as simple as changing a color image into a black and white photo and complex alterations like placing one person’s head onto another person's body.

Such dramatic photo manipulation possibilities have also made it simpler for people to create images for fraudulent or deceptive purposes. Computer programs can easily be used, for example, to remove someone from a photograph in order to change evidence in a trial or in public opinion. Politicians have used this kind of photo manipulation for decades to remove someone from a photograph who has fallen into political disfavor. Altered pictures have also been used in some political campaigns and commercials to try to make a person or product appear unattractive or disreputable; these types of actions have typically elicited controversy and outrage once uncovered.


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