What Vintage & Not-So-Vintage Techniques Were Used Before the Existence of Photoshop?

Vintage photo retouching is a widespread practice nowadays. People like to bring back life to their collection of yellowed or faded photos. Damaged photos can be brought back to life from under stains, scratches, cracks, folds, and many more types of impacts.

Adobe Photoshop is now the go-to tool for addressing all your photo retouching needs. However, the history of photo retouching goes back to the middle of the 19th century when there were no computers. Find out what kind of vintage and not-so-vintage techniques were used before the era of Photoshop began.

Blotting Technique

Historians award Calvert Richard Jones as the artist who performed the first photo retouching in 1846. He captured a photo of 5 Capuchin friars in Malta. Once he took the picture, he noticed that one of the friars hovers slightly behind the rest of the group. The author probably thought that this fifth person didn’t look good in the composition. Jones and his team blotted the fifth friar out of the paper negative with some India ink. The output was a positive print with a white sky in place of the fifth friar, completely removing him from the photo.


5 Capuchin friars in Malta by Calvert Richard Jones - 1846

Retouching & Healing

The healing brush is a widely popular tool in Photoshop. It can make scars, spots, and blisters disappear from someone’s face. Photographers and designers were able to create similar effects long before the creation of this software.
Photographers used ink, paint, and a popular tool known as an airbrush to turn models’ faces seem flawless. Interestingly, airbrushes still an integral part of fine art. Today, Photoshop provides a large selection of tools for retouching photos. It has replaced all kinds of retouches done using airbrush, paintbrushes, and ink.
The Retouching Machine
Joan Crawford’s photo of 1931 by George Hurrell is perhaps the most well-known example of glamour retouching. This picture is an excellent example of the pursuit of the perfect body image long before the conception of computer technology.


Joan Crawford by George Hurrell - 1931

James Sharp was the artist, and he used a specially designed retouching machine that used vibration on negatives to manually paint and remove fine lines, blemishes, and freckles from the actress’s face. He was successfully able to smoothen the skin to create a flawless look.

Blurring & Distortion in Fashion Photography

Fashion photography was much different and relatively mundane before Richard Avedon came up with his innovative techniques. He used the methods of dodging and burning.


Audrey Hepburn by Richard Avedon - 1967

Richard made this genre of photography more appealing and flawless by adding motion and shape. One of his most famous works is the creation of Audrey Hepburn’s portrait of 1967. These techniques helped the industry achieve greater depth and contrast in photos.
There are many more instances of the use of vintage photo retouching techniques long before the beginning of the digital era. Other sectors such as cinema, fashion and glamour later started to rely on these techniques.

Interestingly, some government representatives used these photo manipulation methods to announce or hide matters of public interest of a country for propaganda purposes. For example, political leaders used such techniques to erase their opponents from the history books or to fabricate meetings that never took place.


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