#35 in a series of background briefs

The “digital” effect on photography

The digital era has greatly expanded three major categories of undetectable manipulations:

1. “Light”-related aspects
2. Non-“light”-related aspects
3. Combining exposures
More on these three categories

Because such extensive manipulations can now be executed without detection by the viewer, the result of these changes has been increased public skepticism about unlabeled photographs.

Compared to film-era technology, doctoring photos in the digital era is done. . .

• much more quickly
• much more easily
• much more convincingly
• much more substantively
• much more inexpensively


When digital photography made its way to millions of home computers, suddenly an amateur photographer could, with little practice or training, perform on a photograph in a matter of seconds undetectable manipulations that the 20th-century masters of the darkroom — Ansel Adams, Edward Weston, etc. — could not have accomplished in several days.

Pages and pages could be written about how much easier every kind of manipulation is to perform with digital than with film.

Digital technology is even used to simulate the flaws and grain of film photographs!

But there’s no need to write (or read) those pages, because the photographic world has spoken loudly and clearly: for making substantive but undetectable manipulations, “digital,” not film, is the tool of choice.

(On this website, a photograph is considered “digital” if it is composed of pixels at any stage of the process.)

Is it really that easy to alter things in a digital photograph without detection by viewers?