When we think of image manipulation and “Photoshopping” today, we often associate it with the powerful software tools available in the digital age. However, photographers have been using creative techniques to enhance and alter their images long before the advent of Photoshop. In this article, we’ll take a fascinating journey back to 1946 and explore how photographers applied their craft to “Photoshop” their pictures in a time when digital technology was a distant dream.

Era of Film Photography

In 1946, the world of photography was dominated by film cameras and darkrooms. Photographers had to rely on their skills, creativity, and a range of manual techniques to achieve their desired results. The process was time-consuming and required a deep understanding of photographic principles.

Techniques Used in 1946

In 1946, photo editing techniques were primarily manual and darkroom-based. Artists used methods like dodging, burning, and retouching with physical tools to enhance and manipulate images.

Hand Coloring and Tinting:

Photographers in the 1940s often added color to black-and-white images through meticulous hand coloring and tinting. This involved using fine brushes and transparent oil or watercolor paints to add color to specific areas of the photograph. This technique was commonly used for portraits, landscapes, and fashion photography.

Montage and Multiple Exposure:

Montage, or the art of combining multiple photographs into a single composition, was a popular technique. Photographers would physically cut and paste different images together to create surreal or imaginative scenes. Multiple exposure, achieved by exposing the same section of film multiple times, was also used to blend different elements into one frame.

Hand Coloring and Tinting

Hand coloring and tinting were techniques that allowed photographers to infuse their black-and-white images with vibrant colors. Here’s how it was done:

  • Materials: Photographers used specialized pencils, brushes, and transparent paints designed for use in photographs.
  • Technique: With extreme precision, artists would apply colors to specific areas of the photograph. This process required a steady hand and an acute sense of color harmony.
  • Subtlety: Skilled hand colorists aimed to create natural-looking tones, enhancing details like skin, clothing, and landscapes.

Montage and Multiple Exposure

Photographers in 1946 often used montage and multiple exposures for creative storytelling:

  • Montage: Creating a montage involves physically cutting and pasting different photographs together, often resulting in dreamlike or surreal compositions.
  • Multiple Exposure: By exposing the same section of film multiple times with different images, photographers could blend scenes or superimpose subjects, achieving imaginative effects.


The techniques used by photographers in 1946 to “Photoshop” their pictures were a testament to their creativity, patience, and craftsmanship. While digital technology has revolutionized the world of image manipulation and photo editing, it’s important to recognize and appreciate the ingenuity of photographers who paved the way for the visual storytelling we enjoy today. These vintage techniques continue to inspire contemporary photographers and artists, bridging the gap between the past and the present in the world of visual storytelling.


Were these techniques limited to professional photographers?

No, amateur photographers also experimented with these techniques, though the results often depended on their skill level.

How long did it take to hand color a single photograph?

The time required for hand coloring varied depending on the complexity of the image and the skill of the artist. It could take several hours or even days.

Are vintage photographs with these techniques valuable today?

Yes, vintage hand-colored and montage photographs are often highly collectible and can be valuable to collectors and art enthusiasts.

Did photographers in 1946 document their retouching and manipulation processes?

Some photographers did document their techniques, but many kept their methods closely guarded secrets.

How does vintage image manipulation compare to modern digital retouching?

Vintage techniques were time-consuming and required manual skill, while modern digital retouching offers greater precision and efficiency.

This page was last edited on 7 November 2023, at 12:00 pm