A relatively new word that has entered our lexicon is “photoshopping”, and it’s pretty commonly used by everybody now to describe the digital manipulation of pictures. The term is derived from the popular image editor Adobe Photoshop, although there are a lot of other programs around too.
Of course, manipulating photos has been a reality almost as long as photography itself has existed. Usually called “retouching” or “trick photography”, it has shown up in a lot of places. In fact, the picture used for Lincoln’s image on the five-dollar bill is from a Matthew Brady portrait that was actually a composite.
One of the most common manipulations was hand-tinting, and it was not only practiced by photographers but by amateurs too. I have memories from my childhood of watching my Mother and others sitting down with black and white pictures and slowly and carefully working colors into selected areas. I’m not sure if there were special tints available, but I seem to remember that they’d just use a child’s watercolor set. In any case, they’d apply some tint, then carefully and gently rub and spread it around. The key was to not overdo it — bright colors just didn’t look right.
For some, the result might look like a still from a colorized movie, but properly tinted portraits — even if washed-out looking by current standards — have a certain charm. That might be why even in today’s digitally obsessed world some folks still practice the original art.