Research: Digital Manipulation

Screen Shot 2015-04-17 at 11.54.10 PM In early photography, photo manipulation meant hours spent in a dark room, cutting, splicing and attacking negatives with various chemicals. Today, digital photo manipulation is much easier and less time-consuming using digital software.

Digital manipulation is often confused with editing. Editing is generally used to make smaller changes that do not affect the interpretation of the image, but simply enhance it aesthetically. Digital manipulation, on the other hand, is usually used to create an illusion or deception that changes the image in a fundamental way. Often photo manipulation can involve seamlessly merging multiple photos, applying filters and layering images, to craft a unique and creative image, sometimes with a message or meaning.

A quick Google search generates hundreds of examples of fine art created through digital manipulation. The saying ‘pictures speak louder than words’ certainly can be true when digital manipulation is used in a skillful and ethical way. The result can be beautiful, disturbing, atmospheric, thought provoking and intriguing:

incredible_photo_manipulation_examples_by_photoomanipulation-d4k90un 0ffe59ac58649a04196966fd07656dd5 photomanipulations3kim-kardashian-photoshop-complex-magazine

There is, however, controversy surrounding the ethics of digital manipulation. Alongside the invention of photography came the idea that it recorded the truth or reality. Before digital manipulation, this was true. However digital manipulation now allows photographic images to be deceitful. The airbrushing and photoshopping of human bodies in magazines and online is a perfect example of digital manipulation causing controversy. The idea is to deceive viewers into thinking the subjects actually look like that. More serious issues such as the forging of evidence images in court and use of digital manipulation for a political agenda are also controversial.

To me, the difference lies in the intention behind manipulating an image. It is important not to exploit or undermine the art that is digital manipulation.


BBC. Art and design using ICT: Manipulating images. Retrieved from:

MacDonnald, J., &  MacDonnald, M.A. (2004). Digital ethics? Can digital manipulation produce a benign shooting environment. Retrieved from:

J. Lodriguss, J. (nd). The ethics of digital manipulation. Retrieved from:

Little, J.D. (2013, April 16). What are the ethics of digital manipulation in photography? Retrieved from:


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