How to become a pro in photo manipulation photography What it is and how to do it


What is photo manipulation photography?

Photo manipulation photography is the term used to describe the photographer altering aspects of a photograph in post-production to make it appear different. There are two types of photo manipulation photography: manual and digital. Getting the perfect photo is nearly impossible, so photo manipulation bridges the gap between reality and perfection. It is a skilled technique that requires practice, patience, and creativity.

Photo manipulation photography can be done for a range of different reasons. It can be done for commercial purposes, so that product photographs for adverts look more attractive to the customer. Editorial photographers often employ photo manipulation techniques so that the photos look flawless. People often manipulate their photographs digitally so they look as good as possible, too. 

It is also done for artistic purposes. Fine art photographer Ansel Adams was a pro at manual photo manipulation photography. He used photo manipulation for aesthetic purposes using techniques such as darkroom exposure, burning, and dodging. 


Photo manipulation


Manual photo manipulation photography

There is a misconception that photo manipulation was invented by Adobe. Before Photoshop, photographers have been manipulating their photographs freehand for hundreds of years! Abraham Lincoln even had a photo manipulated to make it look like his head was on another man’s body. Here are some of the manual photo manipulation photography techniques.



An airbrush is a small painting tool that is operated by air to spray dyes and inks. Before digital editing, photographers would manually airbrush photographs to remove subjects from photos or to rectify photos so they didn’t appear as though they were doctored.


Darkroom manipulation

Another manual manipulation technique is darkroom manipulation involves using a darkroom to experiment with dodging, burning and masking. 

    • Dodging holds back exposure to make the photograph lighter. Dodging can be used by hand or by using tools such as black cardboard or opaque materials so that shadows can lighten the image.
    • Burning is when the photograph receives more exposure to darken it. Like dodging, burning can be done by hand or by using objects.
    • Masking is making a low-contrast positive image on film.

Double exposure

Double exposure is the superimposition of two exposures to create a single image and is used for artistic effect. However, the double exposure can happen accidentally making a blurred image. Some film cameras have the option of double exposure but this can be achieved on digital cameras using a filter to cover different parts of the lens in each shot. 


Negative scratching

Negative scratching was invented by pictorialists during the 19th century for artistic expression in photography. To experiment with negative scratching, you should use 35mm negatives and a scratching tool to distress the negative for an interesting look. Some creative photographers distress their negatives in other ways such as bleaching, burning, and ageing them in the sun or even writing on them with a pencil.


Photography manipulation


Digital photo manipulation photography

 Thanks to the advances in technology, darkroom photography techniques can be done on a computer. Photographers and graphic designers these days are well acquainted with digital editing software. Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom are perhaps the most well-known, but there are many excellent software packages on the market such as Corel PaintShop Pro and Affinity Photo. With digital editing, you can change exposures, colours and textures of your image all with the click of a mouse. Here are just a few of the techniques you can use to digitally manipulate your photos.



Using the same concept as traditional airbrushing, you can make skin look flawless and even in a digital photo. In Photoshop, go into the Toolbox, and select Brush or another painting tool. On the Options bar, activate the airbrush mode by clicking the box so that a tick appears. Set the ‘Flow’ amount, which regulates the speed at which the tool applies paint.


Spot Healing

In Photoshop you can use the spot healing tool to cover up blemishes. In the Layers panel, select the layer that contains blemishes you want to remove. Go to the Tools panel, and select the Spot Healing Brush tool. In the options bar, adjust the size and hardness of the Spot Healing Brush tool to adapt to the item you’re trying to cover and then click on a spot or drag over an object you want to remove.


Frequency separation

Frequency separation is another Photoshop technique used to even the tone of your image. This method is very severe so it is something to be used in moderation. As well as skin, you can use it to make your backgrounds look smoother.


Dodging and burning

You can alter an image to be darker or lighter using editing software. You can do this in Photoshop using the curve adjustment layer to change the exposure to a brighter one or a darker one. Then you can dodge and burn using the layer mask and brushes to your taste. This is a more subtle technique than using the designated dodge and burn tools, but these can be useful in altering shadows and highlights.


Using adjustment layers to change colour and tone

You can adjust the image colour and tone of your photo using adjustment layers. You can go into the Adjustments panel, and then click on the tool icon for your desired adjustment.

    • If you want to correct tonality and colour, you should click Levels or Curves. 
    • To adjust the colour of your image, you should click Colour Balance or Hue/Saturation.
    • To make a coloured image black and white, click Black & White.

Finally, in the Properties panel, amend the adjustment layer tool settings as desired.

Now that you know the basics about photo manipulation photography, you can use manipulation photography techniques to your advantage – and the best to start is to practice!


If you require an expert photo editor, let Splento do it for you! Splento offers a retouching service at just £0.49 per photo. Contact a member of our team who will be happy to answer any questions you may have. 

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