Photo manipulation, to put it simply, is the creative process that involves transforming a photograph using various methods and techniques to achieve unique results.

Ansel Adams, an American landscape photographer who began his career in the 1920s, is widely credited as being one of the first to flirt with the technique of photo manipulation. His black and white images used common manipulation techniques such as using darkroom exposure techniques to play with light. Now, however, modern photographers have the luxury of using Photoshop and other photo editing tools to take this art form to a mind boggling new level.

In today’s climate, photographs are usually taken with a digital camera and input directly into a computer. When it comes to digital editing, the term photo manipulation expanded into aspects way beyond the natural art form. Such has been the growth, digital editing has allowed the photographer to play with more than just colour balance, contrast or lighting and has opened the door to new effects to warp an image into any desired effect.

While many different online editing software is available, the emergence of Adobe Photoshop and the continuing development of that platform has led to becoming the “go to” piece of kit for most photographers looking to play around with the style of their work.

The endless possibilities to online editing tend to split between ‘technical retouching’ and ‘creative retouching’ and, in the most part, both use similar techniques to acquire the results they’re searching for. Unsurprisingly, Photoshop’s stature has grown to lengths as the software expands and, at times, can appear a daunting platform to get to grips with. That said, there’s plenty of online guides to handling the system which cover everything from a basic cutting tutorial, to a fully blown insight into each feature.

With all that in mind, let’s explore some artists who have used photoshop to its maximum to achieve an outlook that bends and plays with reality.

Ed Freeman

Ed Freeman, a fine art photographer focusing on exploring identity and architecture, has spent countless days on the road to push his digital editing skills to the max.

Freeman describes this work as a “lie”, but a lie about the truth. He compares this to lie that parents tell to their children about Santa Clause. He believes that generations of Americans have been fed some lie regarding the dream of a better future.

What makes his images a ‘lie’ is that they have been digitally altered to remove ‘daily life’, blue skies and the addition of clouds and mountains where there might have been none. Freeman takes the colour from his images and replaces them with computer-generated gradients.

While on the road exploring the somewhat eerie forgotten places of the Californian desert, Freeman turned his attention to the abandoned buildings that had been left to decay in the hot sun, describing them as ‘polluted land’.

“How many KFCs have you seen? How many freeway overpasses have you seen? You just get barraged with all these visual pieces every second,” Freeman once said of his work in an interview with Curbed. “You see the building, but you see a thousand other things at the same time,” he added.

“The minute there’s a human in the picture, you look at the human. The minute there’s any action in the picture, you look at the action. But I wanted you to look at the building.”

He added: “I really love the desert: it’s a place of independence and freedom, and during the winter the weather is beautiful. It’s incredibly peaceful and quiet: you can drive a hundred miles and not see a single person.”

Pelle Cass

Pelle Cass, an award-winning photographer from Boston whose work has been widely exhibited around the globe, challenges people to look at real life in an entirely new way.

Tackling both the streets and the sports fields, Cass turns a random sequence of events into a quite extraordinary piece of work. “I can say about all my pictures that what you see really happened, just not at the same time,” Cass said in an interview with Featureshoot. “There are so many visual rhymes and coincidences, and they always surprise me. Sometimes I’ll find two different players in the exact same spot at different times but in the exact same pose. It’s a little spooky,” he added.

Cass describes his work as ‘still time-lapse photographs’ and explains how, after finding himself in the perfect position, can take a series of different images that allows him to later blend the sequences.

At times they can appear manic, hundreds of moving parts stuck together in a chaotic freezeframe. In other sequences, Cass is able to combine the moving parts and carefully arrange them into an almost symmetrical beauty.  

“The decision can result in a couple of weeks’ worth of work in Photoshop,” he explained when discussing his recent project Crowded Fields. “I think that it’s more interesting to be forced to compromise the image I imagined and accept the real patterns,” he adds.

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