How Photographers ‘Photoshopped’ Their Pictures Back in 1946


Retouching and manipulating photographs is done with fancy photo-editing programs these days, but back in 1946, making adjustments required a lot more than a computer, some software, and some pointing-and-clicking skills. Retouching required a whole box of tools, a very sharp eye, and an extremely steady hand.

Last year, Gene Gable of CreativePro came across a retouching book from 1946, titled, “Shortcuts to Photo Retouching For Commercial Use.” In it, retoucher Raymond Wardell explains the basics of the techniques at the time–think of it as a “Photoshop 101″ book for photographers who came more than half a century before us.

Gable decided to scan a number of the illustrations for our enjoyment.


Here’s the cover of the book:


The equipment needed for retouching included pastes, rulers, brushes, cotton, palettes, rubber rollers, and more:




Want to ‘shop a product photo of a watch dial? You’ll have to put it under a magnifying glass and use a fine-tipped brush:


To crop a photo, you actually mark off the area you don’t want and cut it off:




An explanation of what “halftone” is:


The book offers some practical tips for how to best retouch photos:




Finally, here are some before and after examples showing photos that have been retouched:





Adobe Photoshop was released in 1989, 24 years ago, and 43 years after the publication of this book.

You can find more scanned illustrations from the book over on CreativePro.

The Old Way of Photo Retouching [CreativePro via Fstoppers]

  • Neoracer Xox


  • Duke Shin

    They used Gimp.

  • Melo

    Great article.

  • John Sluder

    After Adobe jacked the prices of CS might have to go back to this….

  • Adam Cross

    great post, thanks for this =D

  • Matthew K. Murphy

    The last two are far better than many photoshop jobs I see in this day and age..

  • Michael Dixon-Brooks

    Very cool, in the early nineties at the commercial studio where I worked we regularly had retouchers take out backgrounds and do changes, getting something airbrushed meant just that. Photoshop was in its infancy.

  • DebbyBruck

    These photographers were true artists. They had to discern how to make a statement, get the image to ‘pop’ with contrast, focus and tell the story. Even though the ‘chaos to order’ cleaned up the picture, it did not tell the true story.

  • John MacLean Photography

    Ya it was Scitex back then. I remember a photographer in L.A. shot the CA Lottery poster and the ad agency “digitally removed” the brand name off of the baseball catcher’s mitt, and I was ecstatic over the “how’d they do that?”!

  • Dan Paulo J. Verdad

    use gimp instead almost same powers as adobe photoshop but it is free

  • astagg

    This book is now only available on a subscription basis. Unless those paintbrushes are in contact with water once a month, they will be rendered unusable. Oh Adobe’s model existed then too!

  • Norshan Nusi

    Oh hey…looks like the origin of Vector Photography.

  • aa

    not really

  • Kaveh Moravej

    Very interesting stuff. I’d like to see more posts here on the history of photography.

  • Matt Cox

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  • Matt Cox

    Dℴ yℴu want tℴ start ℳaking sℴm℮ ℮xtra ℳℴn℮y ℮v℮ry ℳℴnth? Want tℴ ℮arn in th℮ rang℮ ℴf 5000 dℴllars ℮v℮ry mℴnth?

  • Jay Groccia

    I used to do this work every day when I worked in the oldest photo lab in the US back in the mid 80s.

  • Gio

    sorry but there is a massive differece

  • David Parker

    I remember it as if yesterday. I retouched my first photograph at the age of 16. using these methods. The last one was in 1990 just before I got Aldus Photostyler. You worked on the biggest print you could.Then rephotographed it and reduced the size just in case you had made any mistakes. They were minimumised.

  • Ada

    I love it!

  • Charles

    The key is the note about web offset printing and requiring contrast: these photographs were viewed via printed posters, magazines and newspapers, mostly low resolution.

    Also, it looks like our retoucher had a thing for the ladies as shown in dial looking woman changing from aunt Agnes to young trim hottie Agnes.

  • tfire8

    to keep the original image as it looked before touch-up, you saved the picture’s film negative from which more prints could be developed as needed

  • Travel Photography Guru

    Great article.

    Photography has never been truly documentary or reality based. At its best it allows for a personal/emotive/opinion based interpretation of that reality (as we perceive it).

    Back in the days when I used to teach black and white darkroom I remember telling a kid that he could reduce the appearance of scratches on his prints by filling in scratches on the backing (non-emulsion) side of the negative with nose grease. A few minutes later I found him in the darkroom in all sorts of trouble. I called out “No, the Other Side”. My original suggestion was to rub his finger over the outside of his nose to collect the grease. Unfortunately he misunderstood and ended up being up to his elbows in nose grease. So much for the good old days.

  • M_Wryter

    This was at one time the ” standard ” for photo retouching altering. it was tried and true and there were many who did it and became real craftsmen & women doing the good work. I recall when they had large film cameras that used a ” Gamatrol ” a light integrating device that set all the ranges you would require to create a great photo. This was done all before ” photoshop ” and did require a sharp mind and steady hand to do so. it was not perfect and a really good retoucher could tell but the general were none the wiser. It was a time when they used real glass screens that were all hand crafted and were in all respect considerably better than a film screen. They were made from glass by drawing lines at angles to create a ” half tone ” dot, so depending on the how the lines were drawn you would get a finer dot and sharper image, everywhere from 65 line screen up to 150 line screen. It was a time when people who did this took great pride in their work and it showed in the end product.

  • Harry Cunningham

    Sorry, but there really isn’t. There are a few differences, but for almost every purpose Gimp is just as good. Given the different prices I would rate Gimp well above Photoshop. It does everything I need for creating images and altering photos.

  • ads

    I didn’t realize they’d started charging for torrents.

  • Gray

    It was actually called MS Paint, albeit a very legacy version ;-D