The Interesting History of Photo Editing or Photo Manipulation

Antique camera

1893. Old dark room, Boston Camera Club, Bromfield St.

Photography is the act of capturing photos, while editing is the work that happens after they are shot. Photo editing is a broad term that means making enhancements to the appearance of an image, either manually or through automated software. From the very beginning, people wanted to enhance photos, in the same way, we do now with computer programs.

However, editing wasn’t always done easily on a computer but was often done by hand. It required a toolbox, a creative eye, and an extremely steady hand. Photographers transformed a photograph in various ways, such as the use of ink, airbrushing, adding paint directly to the print, or scratching photographs.

The Most Popular Old Photo Manipulation Techniques were:

Ghost photos

These were the most popular shots in the history of photo editing. This enabled people to be close to their relatives which were no more alive. It is obvious that the shot with a dead relative was taken when he/she was alive. Now it sounds very easy but those times history of photo manipulation was very difficult to repeat even so simple things like combining two absolutely different photographs in the one single shot.

Vivid satire

Like the modern situation, many shot makers widely used image editing as a powerful mechanism to reveal some political issues. The world's history of photo manipulation has so many interesting and even controversial examples. John Hartfield whose real name is Helmut Herzfeld (1891 - 1968) is one of the brightest artists of the 20th century in Germany. He has become widely known as the founder of the new direction in the photo art - a political photomontage. If you read the books about the history of image manipulation, this author is on the top.

Humorous photos

Although nowadays these shots may be considered to be queer ad sometimes even crazy, earlier they were extremely popular. But today everything has changed and developed that is why such images are no longer in usage. Rather popular examples of such shots are pictures in which a giant fish eats men. Moreover, photos in which people wear different costumes of super-heroes were rather common in this sphere. Without doubts these pictures made the history of Photoshop or other photo editing software’s, and contributed its development.

Photos of whole teams

Photos of whole teams occupies the essential part in photo editing history. The most widely used option applied in this sphere was deleting or adding needed people from images. Fix The Photo's team thinks that it is the most widely used trick in the whole history of photo retouching. Lately the possibilities of this technique became wider, and editors were able to remove various items from a given photo. This option enabled to remove a person, who was no longer a member of team from an already made photo.

History of photo editing in brief

At the beginning of the 1800s, shot enhancement was exciting but rather too hard as it required a lot of time and cost. For this reason, only the rich could afford to change their images. In 1841, William Henry Fox Talbot invented a calotype, which created a negative that could generate multiple copies. Five years later, Tablot’s colleague Calvert Richard Jones documented the first example of photo manipulation.

He took a photo of 5 monks on a roof of a building in Malta. Four of the five capuchin monks were gathered in a group while the 5th one was a few meters behind them. Jones thought that the fifth monk destroyed the photograph and painted the figure using Indian ink. Surprisingly, the place where he painted the monk began to appear like a white patch of sky.

Frederick Scott Archer

Frederick Scott Archer (1813 – 1 May 1857)

In 1851, Frederick Scott Archer invented the Wet-collodion method of putting multiple photos together using single-layer color negatives. A few photo manipulators used this method to edit silhouettes of ghosts on photos of deceased soldiers. Shortly after, William G, Mumler used the wet collodion method to put the spirit of President Abraham Lincoln behind the widow Mary. In 1855, the world saw the first color photograph. By 1878, the gelatin-silver photoprocess was also invented and used a glass negative as this was suitable for manual image retouching.

Around the 1900s, commercial photographers could use different images to bring family members together into one picture, even if they were not together in reality. Negatives became even popular in the first quarter of the 18th century using the two methods. In the 1940s, Fujifilm instant cameras were introduced, which gave rise to multi-layer color negatives. Fast forward to the 1980s, Adobe released the first digital editing software that allowed the use of modern photo-editing tools that could be used on computers. Since then, adobe photoshop is the most popular program that’s been used to edit photos. In fact, most people today use the term Photoshop to refer to the process of editing photographs. In 2011, the first photo editing mobile apps were released, which allowed easy editing and sharing of photos by computers. Today, you can find numerous photo-editing tools available, both free and paid.

Some of the simple photo editing techniques today include:

Noise reduction – this included smoothing the picture by reducing the pixel size.

White balance – adjusting the light in the image

Contrast – the higher the contrast, the punchier the image, while the lower the contrast, the flatter the color

Exposure – this is the photo brightness

Color adjustments – changing the color of an item in a photograph

Lens correction – adjusts any issue with the lens

Resizing and cropping- involves adjusting the dimensions

Background removal – this is isolating the image by deleting the background


All in all, every day our life changes as well as shot improving industry. In 1855 the world saw the first color photograph, and now we have thousands of color photos in our Facebook or Instagram accounts. From week to week, new unbelievable image changing options appear in order to satisfy the growing demand for this sphere. That is why it is rather interesting to observe the changes of photo art. Today, when even the mobile phones have the built-in cameras which are capable to take rather good pictures and then edit them, it is difficult to imagine that once people spent much time for creation only one single photo.

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