In the early nineties, on February of 1990 to be exact a revolutionary computer program was released to the world. It was called Photoshop and it was only available for Apple Macintosh Computers. It did not take very long for Photoshop to be known around the world by photographers and designers alike; so much so that it is the only computer program name to have organically turned into a widely used verb.


Kinds of hand drawn vintage cameras Free Vector


The photoshop tools and techniques that you know and love today have grown exponentially over the year. If you did not know, most of them were inspired directly from the darkroom processes for photography developing and editing. The creators of photoshop were two brothers who loved photography, visual effects, and computers. Their creation is now pretty much the most recognizable photo editing program in the world.

But it all started in a darkroom.


The darkroom

A darkroom is a place where the film is developed. These rooms were deprived of natural light so that the only lights in the room were the one coming out of the enlargers, through the film negative and onto the photographic paper, and the safe lights that were usually red or orange to let the photo developer work without damaging the photo paper.

There was a timer that would control the amount of seconds that the light in the machine was turned on and there were lots of techniques as to what could be done with the light to manipulate the photograph to your liking. Some of these techniques are in your photoshop toolbar, and others have the same and a similar process.

Following are a few common photograph manipulation techniques that used to be done in darkrooms but now are done with Photoshop.


Double Exposure

This technique involves the exposure of two photographs on the same sheet of photographic paper. In a darkroom, this is done by first exposing one negative for a few seconds and then changing the negative on the enlarger window without changing the paper. The intensity of each exposure would depend on the amount of seconds (or the amount of light) was exposed to each film.

In Photoshop, this technique is created with layers, clipping masks, selection and transparency variations. You can use other tools in the program to create more creative effects as well. This possibility is one of the main reasons that digital photography and photoshop pretty much took over the darkrooms of the world.

Double exposure has never been a sidebar tool on photoshop but it is a technique with limitless possibilities. Just as it was when photographers used darkrooms, double exposure is a very creative process and can be manipulated to extremes. It all depends on your creativity.


Dodging and Burning

Dodging and Burning are two tools that are always paired together because they are the opposite of each other. Both are darkroom techniques that manipulate the amount of light that reaches the photography paper when the negative is exposed in the enlarger.

Dodging means that when the light is turned on, a tool that looks like a wire stick with a black rounded rectangle on the end a is used to cover areas of the photograph in a waving motion. What this does is that when the film is exposed into the print, the dodged area receives less light than the rest of the photo, making that area darker than it would have been if the exposure was done equally.

Burning is essentially the opposite of dodging in the sense that what this technique does is lighten an area of the photograph by letting light in only in the specific area. In the darkroom this is done by putting your hand on the light to prevent it from exposing at all, then with both hand in a very sly move, a small window is created and moved around in the same manner as the dodge tool.

This darkroom technique is one of the most common but it could also go so so wrong if you didn’t wave the tool enough or didn’t count the right amount of seconds. There was a lot of trial and error, and lots of developed prints to find the combination you liked best.

In Photoshop, the dodge and burn tools are found in the toolbar and the effects tab. You can choose the softness, the width, the quality of “brush”. You can control pretty much everything about dodging and burning options inside Photoshop. But like the original purpose of dodge and burn inside the darkroom, the technique in Photoshop has its limits and that is why everyone loves the undo option. Did you go too far with your burn? Just undo it!

The best part about photoshop and all its editing tools is the option to use different layers to create different effects and then be able to compare which effect suits your photograph the best.


Retouching and Healing

One of the most loved tools in Photoshop is the healing brush. That magical little tool that will make pimples and scars disappear on a model’s face, or a little bug standing on the gorgeous chocolate cake turn into nothing. We all love the healing brush. We love it so much that even some phones have it in the editing options.

What did photographers and designers use to create these healing effects before they had Photoshop? They had paint, ink and a trusty tool called an airbrush. Airbrushes are still widely used tools, in Fine Art and in the Makeup industry. It is no surprise that photographers also used to use this tool to retouch their photos and if you are a Photoshop user you will know that the airbrush tool is also widely available as an option in the program.


Photographer infographic template Free Vector


The tools for retouching photographs on Photoshop are pretty extensive, all things that used to be done with ink, an airbrush and sometimes paintbrushes can now be done on the computer. It has been over 25 years since Photoshop was born, some photographers embraced the change, others fell by the wayside.

If you are a new/young photographer or designer it is good to know the story of how these things were done before computers. It can even help you understand them better.  There are much more tools used in the darkroom that are part of the Photoshop toolbox? Can you tell us which ones?


About Orana Velarde

Orana is an artist of many trades currently working as a Graphic Designer for bloggers and small businesses. Her love of art and travel create the perfect artist nomad combination. Orana founded Orana Creative to help freelancers, solopreneurs and bloggers master a better visual strategy. She is passionate about eye happiness and loves constructive criticism.

To learn more, visit

  • Hi, nice post, very interesting. May I translate it to brazillian portuguese and publish at my blog? (with credits and link, obviously)
    We teach Photoshop and photography at some courses and I think your text will be important for our students.

    • One of the most loved tools in Photoshop is the healing brush. That magical little tool that will make pimples and scars disappear on a model’s face, or a little bug standing on the gorgeous chocolate cake turn into nothing

    • i think it should be fine, just send Freepik an email about it to make sure. 🙂

      • Following are a few common photograph manipulation techniques that used to be done in darkrooms but now are done with Photoshop.

      • I gave up on Beck long ago.

  • This is such a informative post. I remember the analog days when getting a good photo was something so uncertain. Glad to know how it has evolved over time. These antique cameras are so precious.




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