The Difference between Photo Editing versus Photo Manipulation?

‘Digital Photography’. Two words that may sound as just another variation of the art of photography, but look closely, and it is almost an endless list of possibilities. Digital photography does not translate to just using a ‘digital sensor’ in place of a film roll to capture images, in fact that’s just mentioning the physical difference. With digital photography comes an entire ideology of enhancing, manipulating and creating a visual art which goes beyond the medium of pure photography and can only be limited by the photographer’s imagination.

With the idea of enhancing and manipulating a digital photograph, comes the choice of selecting the right software which will help a photographer achieve a result close to his imagination. This also means that the chosen software should be able to present the photographer the right options in a quick and easy way so as to optimise the time for the photographer to enable him/her to spend less time in front of the computer and shoot more. As there are a zillion ‘photo-editing’ and ‘photo-manipulating’ softwares available to us today, it is extremely important to understand the difference between ‘editing/enhancing’ a picture and ‘manipulating’ a picture.

Difference between Editing and Manipulating!

 In plain words, the idea of editing a digital image is to simply enhance the components of the image. Thus, if a photographer decides that he needs to increase the brightness, enhance the contrast, add saturation to the image and shift colours, optimise the composition by cropping, it is essentially just enhancing the already captured image. However, if the photographer further decides to change elements of the image, for example adding a skyline from a different image, removing light poles and unwanted shapes in the image, eliminating blemishes from a person’s face, changing the features of a person’s body, the photographer is basically manipulating the image to match his imagination. So as it stands, ‘editing’ images is less time consuming than ‘manipulating’ them.

As not every picture needs to manipulated, a photographer can choose between basic editing software’s like Adobe Light room, Adobe Camera RAW, Aperture by Apple, Capture One Pro by Phase One. This distinguishes from the software’s which are designed for the manipulation like Adobe Photoshop, which uses layers and masking techniques to fine tune the image as per the photographer’s vision. Thus, photo manipulation is more to do with the category of redesigning a photo to a new version or design.


When we correct, manipulate and enhance digital images in software’s like Adobe Photoshop, we must deal with questions of both ethics and aesthetics. Ethics are set of rules that we invent that define what we think is good and bad. Aesthetics, on the other hand, deals with the nature of beauty, art and taste, and things that are pleasing in appearance.

With digital processing, there are almost no limit to what can be done to an image, and many things are done to images with the best intentions. The question is, when does the pursuit of aesthetics violate our ethics?

Charles S Johnson Jr

(Insert Image. Credits: Charles S. Johnson, Jr.)

(a) A night time photograph with standard post processing to enhance the image. (b) A composite image that combines two images with considerable post processing.

To conclude, I would like to share a story about the great artist Pablo Picasso.

Once, when a GI was visiting Pablo Picasso during the liberation of France, he said that he could not understand the artist’s paintings: “Why do you paint a person looking from the side and from the front at the same time?” Picasso asked, “Do you have a girlfriend?” “Yes,” replied the soldier. “Do you have a picture of her?” The soldier pulled from his wallet a photograph of the girl. Picasso looked at it in mock astonishment and asked, “Is she so small?



The thought behind this article was to make our readers aware of the possibilities with which they can ‘play’ with the digital images, after they have successfully captured the images in the camera. However, even after the numerous ways in which we can enhance or manipulate images in post-production, the aim of any serious photographer should be to get the shot right in the camera.

To expand more on ‘which software is the right one’, one must decide before hand on what they envision their ‘final’ digital image to look like. As most of photographers will be pleased with the basic editing of contrast, brightness, colour enhancements, they might want to invest in a simple but effective editing software like Adobe Lightroom or Capture One Pro by Phase one. However, if the photographer plans to embark on a journey of manipulating his/her photograph, by adding and subtracting key elements in their digital images, a powerful software like Adobe Photoshop will prove to the right tool to own.

– Chanakya Wable

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