Image Enhancement or Image Manipulation…Your Thoughts???

Written by: Glyn Dewis

Published: July 18, 2012

Category: General

Hi Folks,

Following on from the Live Debate on Adobe Creative Week last Friday where the subject of Image Enhancement and Image Manipulation was well and truly thrashed out, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

How far and what retouching is done on images is always a topic of conversation and more so when it relates to pictures that appear in glossy magazines…but is it a bad thing?

As a Photographer & Retoucher when I’m working on portraits and physiques my intention is to make people look their very best BUT not to the point where they wouldn’t recognise themselves unless of course the deliberate intention of the retouching was to go beyond the realms of reality [Link]

I was recently commissioned to shoot some Headshots of a woman…a Therapist requiring up to date images for her website. Having finished the shoot I went home and emailed her and within the email included a sample of one of her images. Her reply was exactly the response I would have hoped for. You see she asked if I had done anything to the picture because she said…in her own words “I think I look great“.

Now the fact that she had to ask if the picture had been retouched, to me said that I’d done my job because to her there was nothing glaringly obvious suggesting the picture had been enhanced/manipulated.

Anyway some great points were raised during Friday’s Adobe Creative Week session and I’d love to pose the same to you, so…

  1. How would you define Image Enhancement? 
  2. How would you define Image Manipulation?
  3. What would you NOT do when it comes to retouching an image?
  4. At what point does an image from being a Photo and start becoming an Illustration?
  5. It’s 2012…Do you think everyone now knows that pictures in magazines are retouched/edited?

Photoshop has become a verb these days; I’d suggest it’s a term that most people have heard of but one that most outside of the creative industry don’t really understand. There was one point we didn’t get chance to discuss last Friday and that is: Photoshop is so much more than learning how tools works and learning techniques; the REAL skill is knowing When and How to use those tools and techniques on any given image.

So what are your thoughts on the 5 questions above? Sure, retouching will always be a topic of conversation but I’d love to get your views/thoughts so feel free to make use of the comments section below or on my Facebook page [Link] and hey who knows…I may ask the same questions in a few years time to see if those views/thoughts have changed.

Have a great Wednesday folks and whatever you’re doing having a good one and I’ll catch you back here tomorrow,
Glyn 🙂

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  1. Tigzy // Tigz Rice Studios

    How would you define Image Enhancement?
    When a retoucher works within the constraints of the body to make it look its natural best. Removing spots and bruises that aren’t normally there, giving hair a little more volume, making eyes look brighter and a little less tired…

    How would you define Image Manipulation?
    When a retoucher uses the body as a base for creating a new figure or scene, including reshaping the body and changing the shape and size of body parts..

    What would you NOT do when it comes to retouching an image?
    My studio has a strict over 18’s policy. I will not retouch minors.

    At what point does an image from being a Photo and start becoming an Illustration?
    Do the two necessarily have to exist as two separate entities? Photography has been used for years as a tool for illustrating historical documents. In my opinion, illustration is a tool for expressing the images (real on fantasy) that can’t be documented on film.

    It’s 2012…Do you think everyone now knows that pictures in magazines are retouched/edited?
    I’d love to say yes, but I don’t think everyone knows exactly to what extent these images in some magazines are retouched.

  2. Neil Attard

    How would you define Image Enhancement?
    Making what is already there look its best.

    How would you define Image Manipulation?
    Changing a picture by adjusting the shape and relationship of the existing elements in the picture or by adding / removing elements. I guess also making significant local adjustments in tone (exposure, colour) such that picture elements are significantly boosted or diminished in their significance in the picture.

    What would you NOT do when it comes to retouching an image?
    For me, this all depends upon the intended use of the picture, as agreed with the model beforehand and sometimes in terms of how
    the picture might be presented to a wider audience.

    In some scenarios, I think it is important to keep the enhancements to a bare minimum – for example when providing a paid family portrait. Nobody wants a picture where they can’t recognise grandma because she has been made to look 20 years younger! And of course in the press, I feel that there is an expectation that a picture has not been manipulated in a way which changes the meaning of the picture or the relationship of the elements in it.

    However, at the other extreme, if I pay a model and want to provide a picture for my own portfolio, then I’d have no problem in getting pretty wild with the manipulation if that leads to the image I am aiming for. I’ve paid for the model’s time, so they shouldn’t have a problem with it and I certainly wouldn’t be representing the final image as a “true likeness” to a wider audience.

    At what point does an image from being a Photo and start becoming an Illustration?
    For me, if it no longer looks like a photograph that could have been taken directly.

    It’s 2012…Do you think everyone now knows that pictures in magazines are retouched/edited?
    No, I think the public’s perception varies hugely and there are certainly some people who remain naive. Pictures in magazines also covers both news / adverts and ad agencies habit of presenting ads as “articles” makes it more difficult to perceive the distinction.

  3. Brian Worley

    Image enhancement
    To me this tends to be using simple tools that affect the picture globally, and ‘limited’ corrective local adjustments. Whitening eyes, darkening eyebrows, even tidying up stray strands of hair and loose threads on clothes.

    Image manipulation
    This is reshaping, compositing and selective colour changing for me. If a portrait of a person has the eyes reshaped, neck lengthened etc then it’s not the person who stood in front of the camera anymore. Same goes for landscapes, removing bits of buildings and trees, adding duplicated elements in wildlife pictures to portray more animals than were actually there is manipulation for me. If a scene has a red phone box in when captured but it’s shown as blue in the picture then it’s clearly manipulation for me. Odd that selectively changing Hue feels so different to me compared to selectively changing brightness / contrast.

    I avoid manipulation of pictures of kids. Even simple enhancement (lighten / darken / contrast) of facial features feels wrong to me. The only possible exception is family groups where you need all the kids posed and interacting with the camera at the same time. Here the taking of one kid from another picture I will do to create a better group shot, but only as a last resort.

    I saw an exhibition of Chinese press agency images in Arles a few years back, it showed the original and retouched images (pen and ink retouch). To me these were illustrations – damn fine ones – in that the pictures no longer portrayed the reality. I don’t think we need to categorise images and illustrations differently, except where the final work is identified as being a true representation of what was in front of the camera when the shutter was pressed – the journalistic integrity element.

    I think that people are aware that images are retouched but often aren’t aware how much is done. Pictures of celebs falling out of night clubs printed in some magazines look very different to their photo shoot images in the same magazines sometimes.

    I think this is an open debate, since at the end the client gets what they want / need. If they want factual (photojournalistic) then it’s global adjustments only, lighten, darken, boost contrast or sharpening. If it’s features for magazines then much more freedom becomes an option. Clearly there is a market for both

    Also let’s not forget that the camera can portray a different image to what was in front of the lens in the first place. Use a light to brighten up a section of the image when taking the picture and you did what you could have done in photoshop later – which is the correct portrayal of the scene, neither?

  4. David Kelly

    Here’s my attempt at answering the questions Glyn…

    How would you define Image Enhancement?
    From a retouching perspective I would this as minor work undertaken to improve / enhance the beauty of the subject. Like Tigz says removing minor spots, brightening / whitening eyes, selective sharpening. To use an analogy I see as the Photoshop equivalent of being a make-up artist and trying to touch-up and enhance the natural looks of the subject.

    How would you define Image Manipulation?
    Were the image begins to be falsified more extensively such as resculping or resizing body parts e.g. making neck longer, reducing or increase the size of limbs (the former probably for females, the later more likely on male models)

    What would you NOT do when it comes to retouching an image?
    Removing details which would be considered part of the physical appearance of the client / model (unless they so request!) e.g. scars, birthmarks etc.

    At what point does an image from being a Photo and start becoming an Illustration?
    I think a photo moves to a photo illustration when image moves away from being acceptable reality. What I mean here is that manipulation of the image is such that when viewed, the content of the image (be it model, props, situation, enviroment) is percieved as something that couldn’t have been taken directly at the time or not a possible real life situation.

    Do you think everyone now knows that pictures in magazines are retouched/edited?
    Many do (be they photographers or otherwise) but not all the masses. Many people are cogniscant that when they see an image of a model in a magazine, the model has been enhanced through good make-up, good lighting and some retouching. I think the real issue though is that it’s an unknown quantity as to how much Photoshop enhancing has occurred. My perception is that there’s too much manipulation instead of just retouching in a lot of advertised / commercial work.

    Out of interest what did you say to the client in this scenario? Had you done some retouching or does that answer to that question need to be covered by a non-disclosure agreement? 😉


  5. david rogers

    1. Take an “original image”. Do something to it. You have now enhanced an image. Whether or not is looks better is irrelevant as that is the sole interpretation of the viewer anyway. In the darkroom we would dodge and burn for creative effect. Often it was necessary because of the constraints of the media we were working with. Its still enhancement. Now in the digital darkroom we do exactly the same thing, but somehow its considered surreptitious or akin to manipulation.

    2. Take an “original image”. Do something to it. You have now manipulated an image. Although I guess strictly speaking to make a distinction from question 1 I would go so far as to say, take part A and put it where part B was. A physical change to the object or person in the image that changes the meaning or context.

    3. Nothing. We do whatever the client asks us to do. Well I do anyway. Despite how ridiculous it may be or how I can predict they will change their mind later.

    4. Take an “original image”. Do something to it. You have now created an illustration. How much of an illustration, again, is the question. So we should really make a distinction although most people in this field could agree on a certain range if presented with a set of images. I think the term “real” would come up a lot, so at the point it does not look real could be the answer, but as a product retoucher I have come across a combination of client requests and crap photography that Ive had no option but to replace ALL the photographic pixels with computer generated ones. The client doesn’t say anything about how “real” it is but they never say “great illustration” either. Wrap your head around this one: If I took one of your images and replaced all the pixels with the same color from a color palette, would it be an illustration or a photograph? Think about it, and reexamine your definition of an illustration.

    5. No, but those that care to know do. Older generations will still use the term “airbrushed” (because kiddies – thats what we used to do!) Younger generations probably don’t care. Its very much a case of show me the baby, don’t tell me about the labor. We just want results. Clients want results that show their product in a favorable light, photographers want results that will get them hired again, artists don’t ask. I think the average person may not realize it but I also believe they don’t really care.

    I find it somewhat amusing that there are moves to stop the practice of manipulation of images in magazines, specifically by girls, about girls:

    They’re concerned about being misrepresented? Hmmn. In these expose videos it seems to take longer to put the makeup and hair in place than it does to make the “manipulations” they are concerned about. Ladies (and gents) if the images in the magazines make you feel inferior, don’t worry, they’re fake. Don’t buy them. Of course, just because they’re fake, doesn’t mean you’re not fat or ugly anyway.

    • Glyn

      Fantastic comments here folks…thanks so much for taking the time to write so much and share your thoughts 🙂
      I guess we could expect to have the same conversation in 5, 10, 15 and more years time…such is the feeling of retouching.

      Thanks again,
      Glyn 🙂

  6. Sharon Rosa

    Nice image manipulation article. Thanks for sharing for us.



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