Photo Editing History – Life Before Photoshop

In honor of April Fool’s Day, let’s take a look at the history of people modifying images. The history of photo editing dates back to the beginning of photography, and photo editing is now standard in today’s photography industry. Advanced technology is allowing more artistic power and voice than ever before, but what did professional photographers use before the days of Photoshop? Photo editing certainly was more difficult, but they managed to create some of the first photography techniques that we still use today.

Some of the common photo editing techniques before photoshop were multiple exposures, combination printing, photomontage, and basic retouching on the negative or print. A photographer wanting to edit photos would use simple opaque paints as well as airbrushes and charcoals. Photo editing was used for the same things we use today. Artistic viewpoint, political satire, and adding missing family members into portraits were all practices started in the late 1800s. Some of the best examples of photo editing history are:

Ghost/Spirit Photos

This particular example is a photograph of Abraham Lincoln’s wife after his death. This photo was edited as early as 1870, and at first, the photographer convinced people it was a real ghost.

history of photo editing

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Satire

Like today, many photographers also used photo editing to voice their opinions on political issues. John Heartfield was one famous photographer  using his prints for political awareness pre World War II. Living in Germany, he risked his life exposing Hitler and the Nazis in print media. The below photo is Hitler preparing to butcher a French Cockerel, the French national symbol. Even though the quality isn’t up to today’s standards, this was very advanced for the time.

history of photo editing

photo via

Humor

There was also photo editing for humor or tall tales such as giant, man-eating fish. This postcard from Canada was a great tool for tourism and laughs.

history of photo editing

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Team Photos

Another simple technique performed was adding or removing people from photos. Some were innocent additions like the US Hockey team, but others were a bit more controversial. The second photograph shows Mao Tse-tung, a Chinese Communist, removing someone after they had fallen out of favor.

history of photo editing

history of photo editing

photos via

Photo editing and manipulation has certainly come a long way since the age of photoshop and other digital software. Today, we can look back and respect the time and creativity it took to edit these photos without photoshop.

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