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Photomanipulation Terms Explained


Photomanipulation Terms Explained - Title PostPhotomanipulation is a ferociously popular artform now, with hobbyists and professionals worldwide creating and innovating in a broad range of visual styles. To the newcomer, many of the terms may seem esoteric and foreign, so in this article we’ll break down the language used in the discussion and instruction of Photomanipulation art. Many of these phrases are universal, and some specific to the way we explain things here at SurrealPSD.



Wikipedia Definition:

Photo manipulation (also called photoshopping or—before the rise of Photoshop software—airbrushing) is the application of image editing techniques to photographs in order to create an illusion or deception (in contrast to mere enhancement or correction) after the original photographing took place.

In the creative context, Photomanipulation can often be described as ‘collage on steroids’, most often undertaken using digital image editing software such as Adobe Photoshop or Gimp. Photomanipulations are usually created by cutting out various photographic elements to create new compositions, painting over photo elements to create enhancements or effects, or combinations of the two.



The term compositing is used in many fields of editing including Live Action as well as Digital Image Manipulation. In Photomanipulation, Compositing usually refers to the act of combining visual elements from seperate sources into a single image. These elements may be cut, blended or over-laid using creative processes.

When explaining the Photoshop process of compositing, we may refer to Selections, Cutting / Pasting, Layer Masks and Move Tools.

SurrealPSD Compositing Tutorials


Masks / Masking

Masking is another term used interchangeably with other disciplines, starting as a natural media term pre-dating Photography. Within Adobe Photoshop, Layer Masks / Masking is one of the core functions of the software, allowing the user to selectively hide or show parts of visual elements, or apply transitional blends.

Masks are phenomally powerful tools for compositing, and can also be used to control the intensity of effect.

• Core Skills: Photoshop Layer Masks >> Photoshop Layer Masks explained. Use and understand masks with this jargon-free guide.



A term often used to describe an art piece created using Digital Image Editing techniques, usually referring to a Photomanipulation that uses more than one visual element.



Composition is the arrangement / placement of visual elements within a Photomanipulation art piece. The term may also refer to the scale, or ‘visual hierachy’ of elements, often employed to create visual interest, balance or harmony in a piece. Arguably the most under-rated skillset in Photomanipulation.

Compositional tools include Rule of Thirds, Lines of Direction and Scale.

• Rule of Thirds – Photoshop Video Tutorial >> Learn how to improve your composition using Rule of Thirds, with this Photoshop Video Tutorial.

• The Importance of Scale and Composition >> Learn the time-proven techniques of composition and improve your digital art.


Depth of Field (DOF)

Another term borrowed from Optics / Photography, Depth of Field (often abbreviated as DOF) refers to the focal depth of a given scene. In layman’s terms, this means areas that are sharp / blurry based on the focal range of the recording device. In landscape / nature, objects at a distance may appear softer or ‘blurry’ due to the atmosphere and the viewing capabilities of the human eye.

In Photomanipulation, we often mimic this effect to achieve a sense of realism.

• Depth of Field in Photo Manipulation >> Find out how the principles of photography and fine-art can be used to create a sense of depth in your photo manipulation work.


Comp Image

This phrase is often used in professional art / design to describe a ‘rough layout’ used to articulate an idea for further development. In the context of Photomanipulation, the term is more often used to describe the low resolution version of an image file, offered by Microstock Photography websites. This small image can be used to test a composite / layout before purchasing the file.


Focal Element

Focal Element is often used to describe the most prominent aspect of a Photomanipulation. In most cases this is usually a figurative stock image or an element / object that provides the primary focus for a piece. Without a Focal Element, composite artworks usually lack a sense of drama or visual interest.

Supporting Elements are the (less important) objects that support the focal element. In larger scenes / landscape pieces you may also have ‘midground / background’ elements as well.



These are just a few of the common phrases used in Photomanipulation. Know the definitions of a few more? Please don’t hesitate to share in the comments section below.

Did you know our full Photo Manipulation course has been unleashed into the wild? Be sure to check it out: Art System Photoshop

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2 Responses to “Photomanipulation Terms Explained”

  1. Bill Umberson says:

    I am an 83 year old guy who wants to learn photoshp CS5 and any new bit of knowledge is light a light to me. Thanks

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