The art of digital photo manipulation opens up a cornucopia of creative possibilities: the camera may never lie, but with access to digital copies of photographic images and the right bits of kit, it is possible to apply a wide range of transformations, for example:
- Black and white images can transformed into colour photos.
- Damaged photos can be repaired.
- Elements within a photo can be removed, or new elements can be added in.
In order to achieve their amazing results, skilled photo manipulation artists will very rarely use a darkroom these days: instead, they tend to use the following three bits of kit:
A flatbed image scanner
The first step in manipulating any photograph digitally is to get it transferred into the digital workspace: if the file was from a digital camera, this would be as easy as transferring the data via a memory card, but for older, more traditional hard copies, a scanner will be required.
Scanners tend to resemble photocopiers, with a flat glass tray and scanning head being situated beneath: to operate, the user simply links the device up to their computer, pops the photograph inside and then closes the tray lid whilst scanning takes place.
The resulting high-resolution digital images which are generated can now be worked on using an image manipulation program without causing any damage to the original copies of the photograph.
An image manipulation program
Getting images onto the computer is one thing, but in order to manipulate them, a digital artist will typically use an advanced piece of software, such as Adobe Photoshop, Corel Paint Shop Pro, or GIMP.
Such programs are extremely flexible and powerful, allowing pretty much anything that can be imagined in the artist’s mind to be realised digitally.
A graphics tablet
Whilst a mouse and keyboard are the most popular input devices in most digital workflows, digital artists often turn to graphics tablets for photo manipulation work.
Graphics tablets are typically A4-sized slim devices which plug into a user’s computer: the tablet is usually placed on a desk like a mouse pad and is then paired with a pressure-sensitive pen-like stylus for input.
For fine control over tasks such as airbrushing, making intricate selections and cloning, a graphics tablet is often the best tool for the job, with its natural instinctive feel and its ability to control on-screen cursor activity with the precision of using a pen.
The author of this post frequently contributes articles on photo restoration, image manipulation and other creative industry topics.