How is Photo Manipulation Different or Similar to Photo Editing?

How is Photo Manipulation Different or Similar to Photo Editing?

Aug 30, 2022

The onset of digital technology has forever changed the way we process photographs. The days of processing images through films in darkrooms are over, as Digital Single-lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras have become the standard for photography. Computer programs and phone apps have also improved how quickly people can communicate, send or show pictures.

Photo manipulation and editing have also progressed with digital cameras, as most real estate post-production companies would only take a few days to accommodate your order. There are differences in how various companies treat real estate photos, whether through manipulation or editing.

When hearing about the different post-production methods, you may wonder, “Are photo editing and photo manipulation just the same?” Read on to learn more about the differences and similarities between photo editing and photo manipulation.

Photo Manipulation

First off, what is photo manipulation? Photo manipulation is the alteration or improvement of a photo by adding, replacing, and transforming various elements in the photograph. The modification could be as minor as replacing the sky or something significant, like creating new objects or features from scratch. These changes could be subtle or glaring depending on their purpose and creative vision.

The best photo professionally-done manipulations look as natural as possible, using elements that one would typically find in such environments. In real estate photography, innovative post-production techniques like creating twilight, replacing lawns, or virtual staging can be considered photo manipulations depending on the project specifics.

Let’s define photo editing before going into the similarities and differences.

Photo Editing

Photo editing is post-processing an image through software or program to enhance, improve and adjust the visual effect. Photo editing involves a wide range of tonal, brightness, contrast, shadow, spot, hue, tint, color balance, and other adjustments to help achieve your vision.

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Current technology makes photo editing so readily accessible that you can even do it on your smartphone. Most phone apps have preset hue, tint, color, or saturation filters that accomplish specific looks or moods that are impossible to set on a camera.

At this point, you may wonder, “how do you differentiate photo manipulation from photo editing?” If you want simple terms to help understand the difference, photo manipulation means creation, while photo editing implies improvement.


Most people consider any post-production treatment photo editing, especially with flawless professional photo manipulations. There’s also a taboo regarding photo manipulation since people often expect pictures to be realistic rather than stylized.

Here are some of the critical differences between photo manipulation and photo editing:

Raw image elements

If you want to know what is the difference between photo editing and photo manipulation, the first answer is straightforward: the original image elements. If the original image is an exact copy of the treated image but has a different lighting or color balance, it falls under photo editing. Photo editing doesn’t change what’s inside the photo since it only adjusts the lighting, colors, mood, or temperature.

Photo manipulation alters reality. In the case of real estate photography, you may need photo manipulation to remove trash or unwanted objects in the background that your photographer missed during the shoot. Sometimes, you may want to remove sensitive information like a house number or visible address that is in the original photo.

You know the image underwent photo manipulation when it’s missing some of the original image elements or if it has new details.

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Image layers

One subtle way to determine an edited or manipulated image is by checking the layers. An edited photo has only one layer, while a manipulated photo has several layers depending on how many added or removed elements. It’s often subtle yet still noticeable due to light and color patterns.

Here are some tips on checking the photo manipulation layers:

  • Watch out for misplaced sharp and blurred edges or cut lines. Since photo manipulation adds or removes elements, there will be cut lines. Most artists blend these out with the blurring tools, but the blur will seem out of place.
  • Check for repetitive elements like the same leaf or cloud formations since removals or subtracting elements will make it necessary for the artist to borrow some existing patterns.
  • Notice the difference in lighting behavior. Sometimes, you don’t find light where it’s supposed to be, or you find light where it’s not supposed to be.

The untrained eye won’t immediately notice the layers, but with consistent practice and exposure, you’ll be a professional at spotting the differences in no time.

Skill level and effort required

Professional photo editing and manipulation take considerable skill, practice, patience, and hard work. You need to master these post-production techniques much like other endeavors or abilities. The more you do photo edits or manipulations, the better you’ll be.

Often, graphic designers that can perform professional and flawless photo manipulation have already mastered at least basic photo editing since they have to work with different elements and make them appear as if they belong in the same picture.

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As a rule of thumb, the fewer layers in the picture, the less time you need for post-production. Photo manipulations take more time than photo edits because you need to remove or add elements to the original image.


Photo editing and photo manipulation are comparable in enhancing images through post-processing. Although the former reworks color and shade while the latter creates new elements, they both modify a photo with creative intent.

In most cases, photo editing and manipulation require the same color and exposure adjustments. The difference is that photo manipulation uses them to stylize the entire image and blend new elements. Each result creates a specific style that matches the photographer’s creative vision.


You may be wondering what are the limitations of photo manipulation compared to photo editing? The answer lies in the artist’s ability to bring images to life as realistically and as seamlessly as possible. You can rely on experienced companies like Phixer to pull off excellent real estate photo editing and manipulations without the hefty price tag.

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