We current have separate tags for (205 questions) and (45 questions); in addition, has a synonym . I was trying to write a wiki excerpt for , but couldn't come up with anything which was significantly different in actual meaning from that of . Do we think they're synonymous, or is there a difference between the two?

It's probably also worth reading this slightly inconclusive discussion from 2011: Are photo-editing and post-processing synonymous?, and also noting that we have separate tags for (400 questions) and (83 questions).

EDIT: OK, looks like we've got a consensus here which mattdm has summarised pretty well in the first three bullets in his answer. I'll try and work up some draft text for all of , and which reflects that.

EDIT 2: I will get round to that write-up soon. Honestly :-)

4 Answers 4


Language is hard. If I were dictating the meaning of these tags, I would separate them like this:

  • post-processing is all after-the-shutter-click digital work collectively, and the analog of darkroom work in film
  • image manipulation is specifically operations where the image is... manipulated... to not just enhance the details and colors of the original scene but to become something new. Trick photography, digital art, and composite special effects would all fall under this.
  • photo editing is the process of selecting photos for a specific purpose and possibly making basic changes (chiefly, cropping) to fit that need. (See Stan's answer to the other question.)

But, it's also true that in common use "photo editing" is often used as a synonym for post-processing. It's kind of pushing a rock uphill to really enforce the distinction.

But, I think the meaning of image manipulation is more clear, and relatively-well understood. Think of what people mean when they say "was this image manipulated?", and read for example Image processing & editing: what is an "unmanipulated" image?

Oh, and also, related:

  • image processing Image processing is the computational transformation of an image signal. It's about the technical side of batch transformations, conversions, and enhancements, as distinct from post-processing (adjusting an image to achieve a desired look, probably using image processing).

(That's the existing tag wiki, which I think is pretty good, even if I do say so myself.)

  • I like the distinctions. Image manipulation, in particular, means to me more about altering the image as a part of building some thing new (e.g. composite) whereas editing seems more about curves, sharpness, etc... the basics.
    – Joanne C
    Jan 4, 2014 at 23:42

In my mind I associate image manipulation to photos that are "manipulated" so that there are elements that originally were not in the photo (adding more candles on a birthdaycake), or there is missing elements that originally were in there (removed that nasty aunt away from the birthday group photo). Often the aim in image manipulation is to create an illusion of an original photo, to fool the viewer.

Then photo editing is, in my thinking, something that you do within the photo without actually adding or removing anything. Enhancing the colors of an ordinary sunset up to dramatic levels would still be just editing, not manipulation.

Post-processing on the other hand is the whole chain of events that follows after the capturing of an image, up to and including the printing of that photo on paper. In the time of film and darkrooms you did not really have a photo until you had gone through the whole process up to a paper print. Personally I've been using the term post-processing as a synonym for RAW-conversion (to convert the digital data in a RAW-file into an image). It seems that I should change my view on that.

  • That's basically where my chain of thought started, but then that leads to the question as to how photo editing differs from post-processing.
    – Philip Kendall Mod
    Jan 4, 2014 at 22:14

manipulation does have a more severe sound to it then editing. photo and image editing seems to me as synonyms, even though image edit can be on a cartoon and as well as a photo, while photo edit is only on photo. manipulation is when you turn a photo into something nonexistant. When you do not intend to document reality, but create your own.

post processing is an umbrella term for all of the above.

  • As with Esa above, what (if anything) would you say is the difference between photo editing and post processing?
    – Philip Kendall Mod
    Jan 4, 2014 at 22:15
  • added. added. added Jan 4, 2014 at 22:52

Just to add my 2 small units of currency:

  • Post Processing - Any work on a photograph after it has been taken.
  • Editing - Removal of undesirable features this includes crops, red-eye, colour casts, etc.
  • Retouching - Enhancement of the image for things like enhanced contrast to areas of the image, might include lightening the shade of hair,
  • Manipulation - Turning the image into something that fundamentally was not present but has some relationship to the original image
  • CGI - Images created solely on the computer actual photographs might be inputs as textures, etc.

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