Photo Manipulation

What happens to a photo after it is shot?

If a photo has been taken of us, we just want to check our looks, maybe have another picture taken. But if we are the photographer, it is a whole different story. We just found out that one of our new staff members, Alice, loves to take pictures for fun and we asked her, to give us a short introduction into what happens, after a picture has been taken. So here is, what she says:

Hello everyone, and thank you for the opportunity to give you some first insight into image editing, photo manipulation and compositing. Depending on which kind of output we’re aiming at and our level of proficiency (as a hobbyist mine is not that high, as you can imagine), we can get insanely creative. We might even want to prep the scenery in advance and think about:

  • What does the location look like or will I need a backdrop or even a green screen?
  • Could I use the natural light available, or will I use my equipment anyway?
  • How do I position the elements I want to be seen in the final output, or will I need to “photoshop” them in?

Let’s assume, the scenery is set, we have taken our photos and stored them carefully. Now we can select the best and edit them – just like most photographers do in photography studios that offer themed shooting sessions (application, business, family, etc.). Experienced photographers might say: “Wait, they don’t just edit, they also manipulate.” So what is the difference between the two and is there more we can do?

Image editing

These two pictures give us a good example of what image editing is. In his tutorial Colin Smith shows us even more techniques than he describes while editing this landscape image with Photoshop:


Let’s say, we love the photo we took. But somehow it could look better, if we somehow managed to enhance the components of the image, similar to the above images. There are techniques we could apply, some are for example:

Resizing and cropping

For example, cropping the image to a different size to adjust the viewer’s focus might be one thing we can do. And we can decide where that is. There are some “rules” of where the focal point of an image could be placed, to have the most impact. A common guide is the “Rule of Thirds”. We basically divide our composition in three equal columns and three equal rows, which should give us a rough grid of intersecting lines. Place the object, or the focal point (both eyes) along those lines or at one of the intersections (one eye – no need to say when creating a portrait to use the top intersections, right?).

Color adjustments

Perhaps you have already come across some of those product image series, where the images look almost exactly the same, except for the color of the product and you can tell that it has been edited? To me it is always a lot of fun trying to figure out, which image was the original. You could basically change the color of any element in your image, like eyes, to make them appear brighter, for example, to make them shine more and draw even more attention to them. When I started doing that I first exaggerated a lot. As a result, the eyes did not look natural – but after a couple of times you get an idea of how much you can adjust.

“Tone” adjustments

I used “” here, because for me it represents a pool of techniques, like adjusting the white balance to change the color of the light. That by itself can already set a nice mood. Another technique is adjusting the contrast. I feel a higher contrast makes the image look more vivid, while lower contrast creates a flatter look. Adjusting the exposure will change the overall brightness of your image (as if it could simulate to some extent how your image would look like with more light). Also correcting camera lens issues might help set the tone.

Instead of Photoshop, you could also use Adobe’s Lightroom to edit images – here are some tips and tricks to use HSL (hue, saturation, luminance):

This might give you an idea about what image editing is, before we move on to photo manipulation.

Photo manipulation

A lot of novices confuse image editing and photo manipulation and use the terms as if they were interchangeable. I surely did, and at times, when I’m not concentrated enough, I still do, because there are just so many different terms meaning the same thing. Here is how I make the distinction: image editing enhances the components of the image, while photo manipulation will change the components. Do you see my point?

What photography studios do

Let’s go back to our photography studio example and why professionals might say, they also do photo manipulation there. If a picture is taken of us, we might have temporary problems with our skin, pimples for instance, which could be removed, if we asked politely. Even freckles could be removed. Although they do belong to us permanently and most photographers refrain from deleting those parts, that make us who we are. Removing these tiny disturbing details can already be considered as manipulating the image.

Even celebrities do it

You can also see on social media, when stars post images that have obviously been edited. Well, now you know, they actually had been manipulated (remember the bath tub picture and the other leg of Kourtney Kardashian?). Other techniques some try to apply is to change the proportion of elements. Maybe they want a slimmer waist, more defined arms, longer legs, bigger but – you name it, whatever is considered “beautiful” somehow.

The ethical dilemma

But there also is an ethical point to photo manipulation. A couple of ages ago Dove had a campaign on beauty that went viral in some countries. Well, actually, they were aiming at demystifying the ideal of beauty – and photo manipulation has a lot to do with it. You will find this commercial on Youtube if you were looking for “dove beauty campaign” – you will instantly see the ethical dilemma behind it.


Now that I showed you how I differentiate image editing and photo manipulation, I also want to talk a bit about compositing – where I personally want to get better at with my new Wacom Cintiq.  A photo composition is an image that consists of at least two images, but if you want these images to look like one, you will have to do some image editing or even photo manipulation. For example, if you are using a green screen, you already know that you want to extract the object and put in on another background imagery. But you could do a lot more and just have a look at some artists we featured previously – aren’t they inspirational?

Ilona Veresk:

We interviewed Ilona Veresk on how she became a freelancer in fashion photography and graphic design . If you check it out, you will see an inspirational video that is valid for many of us now, as it was about two years ago. Additionally, the post also shows some of her compositions. So if you’re looking for inspiration, we recommend to read it.

Renee Robyn

Renee Robyn creates very exciting compositions as well and she is all into photo manipulation. Her big aim with each and every work is: do not let the viewer notice which part of the work is real and which is manipulated. You can’t tell, do you? And that is what makes her an expert artist in this field – although she refers to herself and a crafts person using several tools, like our Wacom Intuos Pro.



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