Is Photoshop a Bad Word?

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How many times have you posted or shared a dramatic image only to have someone ask, “Did you Photoshop that?” First of all, let’s get one thing straight – Photoshop is not a verb! Photoshop hall of famer Vincent Versace put it this way:

“Photoshop is not a verb. It’s a noun. It is the means to an end, not the end itself.”

Photoshop has been taking a lot of heat lately with all the retouched tabloid images of models, who with the help of some clever manipulation, look unbelievably perfect. But Photoshop is not to blame for these exaggerated images. Yes, it is the tool used to create them, but it’s not the culprit.

Just because a photographer post-processes images with software such as Photoshop doesn’t mean that the image isn’t showing what the photographer actually saw or felt when they released the shutter. There are many image processing software products available today to post-process your images, but these are considered means of retouching  images. In this article we will refer to Photoshop, but any software being used for post-processing could be included as well.

Composite image of fireworks. Several images were layered together in Photoshop changing the blending mode of the layers to lighten allows the images to blend into what appears to be one image.

Composite image of fireworks. Several images were layered together in Photoshop, and changing the blending mode of the layers from Normal  to Lighten allows the images to blend into what appears to be a single image.

Get it right in-camera!

Have you ever heard or even said, “Oh, I will fix that later in Photoshop.”? While sometimes it is a necessity to post-process an image, you never want to rely on Photoshop to be the fix-all for every image you shoot. It is still a good practice to get it right in-camera as much as possible. Still, almost every image can benefit from a few adjustments.

Is Photoshop a necessity?

Maybe not, but many photographers say, “I don’t use Photoshop. I prefer my images straight out of the camera.” But guess what? If you are one of these photographers, you may not realize that if you are shooting in JPG straight out of your camera, your images are being processed by your camera. Your camera will sharpen, add saturation and contrast, and remove noise. A JPG shot straight out of the camera is also a compressed file, which means digital information about your image is lost and can’t be recovered.

If you are shooting in RAW mode, post-processing is almost always a must. None of the camera adjustments mentioned above are applied to your image, with the exception of white balance (which can also be adjusted in post-processing). If you ask almost any professional photographer whether or not they post-process their images, you will find that nearly 100 percent of them use Photoshop for various amounts of processing.

Original

Original

DSC_0456_Edit_new

Final image, after cropping and adding contrast and sharpening.

DSC_8861_ORG

BW_silo

Black and white conversion can also be done using Photoshop. Capture your original image in full color, which will provide more image data to use during the conversion process.

Is Photoshop cheating?

Is using Photoshop cheating, or is it just a method of finishing an image? It is very true that Photoshop can be used to manipulate images in a negative or false way.

Sharing images Straight Out Of Camera is great for photographers who are mainly into taking snap shots of family and friends, but is that the only acceptable method for all photographers? No, many camera-savvy shooters want to perfect their images to create works of art, and Photoshop is the tool to make this happen. Is there really such a thing as a perfect image SOOC? It’s safe to say that almost every image can use some sort of enhancing, and programs such as Photoshop are a great tool to perfect your photos.

Original

Original

Final image, color correction made to bring out more of the color of the scene, Removed tire tracks in the sand and also dark spot that was coming out of the head of the surfer.

Final image, color corrected to bring out more of the color tones of the actual scene. Tire tracks in the sand were removed, as well as the distracting dark spot close to the head of the surfer.

Photoshop is not magic!

I once heard the story about a person who stopped by a print shop with a photo of a dairy farmer working behind his cow. Upon showing the picture to the proprietor, she explained that it was the only picture she had of her grandfather. Then she asked, “Could you Photoshop this image and remove the cow so I can see what my grandfather looked like?”. This story is a funny example of how Photoshop can be misunderstood, and how its powers seems to be magical.

Why use Photoshop?

When you shoot in RAW mode, your camera saves only the information of the image, no adjustments are made in camera. So why not shoot in RAW and use Photoshop to take control of the processing of your image yourself? Some great uses for Photoshop include, but are not limited to:

Photoshop is the new darkroom

Retouching images is not something new to photography. In the early days of photography all adjustment to photos had to be performed in the darkroom, via the processing of film and the exposures of the prints.

The famous photographer Ansel Adams was a master of the darkroom. If you’ve ever seen a straight print of one of his images, (no darkroom adjustments made) you might be surprised to realize the level of manipulation Adams applied to create the final image as he had pre-visualized it. Many of the processes available in Photoshop have their origins from processes performed in the early darkrooms.

Original image

Original image

Here the final image is cropped and the corners of the image were darken in true Ansel Adams style to keep the views eye from wander out of the image.

The final image shown here is cropped, with the corners of the image darkened (in true Ansel Adams style) to keep the viewer’s eye from wandering out of the image.

Don’t be afraid of Photoshop

So why do some photographers have such a fear or dislike of Photoshop?

  • It costs too much – True, for years the cost of Photoshop could’ve been a major deterrent for some photographers. However, now with Photoshop Creative Cloud ($9.99/month), the cost is not nearly the issue it once was.
  • Photoshop is too hard to learn – There is a lot to learn with Photoshop, but there are many online sources (like here on dPS) to help you use and master it. Challenge yourself!
  • What if I ruin my photo?  If you shoot in RAW mode you will always have your RAW file to go back to. Any changes made to RAW files are only attached, not applied.

Writing off the use of Photoshop for any of these reasons could be limiting your potential as a photographer.

Conclusion

Is Photoshop for everyone? Probably not, but is Photoshop detrimental to the craft of photography? Most definitely not! Can Photoshop be used to falsify images? Yes, and this article is in no way the complete answer to its basic usages. Is Photoshop a bad word? Is Photoshop a form of digital trickery, or is it a tool that helps photographers create better images?

What do you think? Comment below. (Please be respectful of other’s opinions and keep it friendly!)

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Bruce Wunderlich is a photographer from Marietta, Ohio. He became interested in photography as a teenager in the 1970s, and has been a passionate student of the art ever since. Bruce recently won Photographer’s Choice award at the 2014 Shoot the Hills Photography Competition in the Hocking Hills near Logan, Ohio. He has also instructed local classes in basic digital photography. Check out Bruce’s photos at Flickr

  • I prefer the Linux / Darktable / Gimp combination, but the same principles apply. I want to present a picture which will make someone say “Wow – i like that”. Though I am not into making massive changes to photos, I am also not trying to present absolute documentary proof of anything. Whatever tools are used and whatever changes are made the issue is not the tools, but the honesty with which the picture is presented. If it is a journalistic or documentary image changes must still retain the truth, or the picture is a lie. If it is intended as an artwork, changes which enhance the art are not intended to deliver any form of truth.
    Almost all photos need some form of processing, so Photoshop and similar tools are vital to photography.

  • Great article Bruce. I too get tired of the SOOC crowd. Any tool that helps me better realize the vision I had when I shot the image is fair game. I want my picture to be what my mind’s eye saw. If Photoshop helps me do that, so be it.

  • Bruce Wunderlich

    The SOOC people are entitled to their opinions and I think we all want to get it as close to right in camera, but I agree with you about realizing your vision for the image, Thanks Roman

  • Amy Baker

    I enjoyed this article. There is nothing wrong with creating art with whatever tools the artist would like to use.

  • Great article. It annoys me so much to hear people refer to Photoshop as ‘cheating’ or ‘cutting corners.’ That’s just crap from the crowd that was too slow to embrace digital or hasn’t learned how to improve on their photography.

    It’s no different to the people that claim digital is cheating, or burst mode, or auto modes, or any form of auto compensation, or chimping. When I shoot a band, I have auto ISO compensation, burst 5-10 shots at once and pick out the best, use Photoshop to resolve a lot of the issues in post, and rely on my high megapixels to allow for zooming from a 28 or 50mm lens. The result are great shots I can be proud of.

  • bicker

    Each unto his own. I shoot Jpg full Frame. my friend shoots a cropped camera (Same make) in Raw. We both attended a wedding as official photographers. My work was with the client within 24 hours, orders made & delivered within 3 days. My friend produced his magnificent photos from RAW in three weeks . Guess who had the most orders. RAW is brilliant as is Photoshop. I don’t use either I get it right “in camera” if necessary a little colour balancing & cropping. I am happy with my work and so is my friend with his. Our clients prefer my speed of turnaround but there is absolutely nothing to complain about other than waiting with my friends work. Each unto his own. By The Way we have been friends for over thirty years & remain so to this day. Never had an argument over methods either. EACH UNTO HIS OWN.

  • Aankhen

    Good points. I personally use Lightroom most of the time because of time constraints but whenever I get the chance I love to go into Photoshop and really work on the image.

    What if I ruin my photo? If you shoot in RAW mode you
    will always have your RAW file to go back to. Any changes made to RAW
    files are only attached, not applied.

    Just wanted to add that you can edit any image non-destructively, not just RAW files. And that’s without even taking backups into account.

  • Maisy

    I have no issue with the correct use of photoshop, enhance and improving an image, but I also seems that the use of Photoshop has become it’s own art form. I see a lot of what I call over processed images wining many photo contest.

  • Blake Lewis

    Photoshop is a tool. There is no ‘correct; or ‘incorrect’ use of it. You use it to manipulate an image. If the end result meets the terms of a competition or contest, and is chosen by the voters or panel, who are you to determine if Photoshop was used ‘correctly’ or ‘incorrectly’?

  • Bradley

    “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Art is not defined by the creator, as you suggest Blake, but by those that are moved by it (or not as the case may be). Maisy is exactly the person to say if an image looks mechanical and/or over processed – as are we all when we are the viewer. The viewer is the authority Blake… get over it.

  • JvW

    No Bradley, I disagree. Does Maisy’s opinion count for more than the judges of those contests she mentions? No it doesn’t, so Maisy should get over it too.

    Art is defined by the creator and by the beholder. When their opinions diverge one person sees art and the other doesn’t. It’s that simple. There’s no “correct” in art and no “incorrect”; there’s just “I think it’s art” and “I don’t think it’s art”. And then there’s “it may be art but I don’t like it”.

    Art is not science, art is only opinions.

  • Alan Elwell

    For me, the capture is the beginning of the process of producing an image, the first phase. How I go on to process that image depends upon the vision I had when I was weighing up the scene in my mind’s eye. We are fortunate to be living in an age when we have tools at our disposal for realising our vision that are unprecedented in photography, such that it’s practice can come closer than ever before to the essence of its name. Writing with Light. Each to their own I say, but I, for one, refuse to be limited by other people’s vision.

  • lbrilliant

    Well, before digital photography, we used filters or selected films to meet the requirements of the picture. Then we used the darkroom to crop, dodge, burn, do multi-image fakes, use poly contrast paper, push negatives to speed up film, etc. So, there never was the myth of ‘straight out of the camera.’ Even the great Ansel Adams wasn’t above some of this chicanery.

  • George Johnson

    My favourite photographic fallacy is “No one did this Photoshop type stuff before Photoshop was invented!”, absolute and utter c**p! Jerry Uelsman was an absolute master of image manipulation with negs and printing in the darkroom, back in the 60’s and 70’s. Ansel Adams would sometimes take 20-30 attempts to edit his images in the darkroom, he was the master of the dodge’n’burn contrast editing technique we still use today in digital form. Now here’s a real kicker, OG Rejlander produced “Two Ways of Life” in 1857 which is reckoned to be constructed from over 30 separate negatives to make the final print!

    Photoshop is nothing new, computers and software have simply made it easier, cleaner and available to everyone.

  • Bruce Wunderlich

    That might be true, but I have also seen recently where a photographer was stripped of his award after judges discovered that the image was heavily manipulated.

  • blackripleydog

    Photoshop is a fabulous tool which helps bring out the best in the image. But what first must happen is the inspiration.
    There will always be fakers who will subvert PS for their own ends but for those of us recognize it for it is, it is a god-send.
    No digital camera can rely entirely on the sensor to produce an image. Expeed in Nikon and Digic in Canon are image processors pure and simple. A jpeg is a compressed data file with a host of corrections already applied even before it appears on the screen of your basic point and shoot camera. The silicon sensor in the camera cannot see the world as the human eye sees it and every frame needs some correction applied at some level.
    If purity of spirit were the end-all to be-all, then film is the way to go. But that is subject to manipulation as well even when developing the negatives.
    I, quite frankly, like the results I get after working in PS.

  • Caryn Hill

    Personally I think those that claim an image is “photoshopped”, are ones without the ability to accept an image for what it really is in the first place. There are many natural occurrences out there that many don’t have the mental or vision capabilities of allowing their minds to accept what is in front of them. Lightning in front of a rainbow….a super-cell so big that many felt it was “government induced”. IMO if it’s something most can’t even fathom it can happen, then it must be PS!!! NOT.

  • Sorin Ovidiu Bîrdac

    “Photoshop is not magic!” story: she was blonde?

  • I could not agree with you more Bruce. Great article. As a professional photoshopper (a noun I think?) there is an ethical line in the use of photoshop which is dependent on the type of photography. Editorial, Stock, Portrait, Commercial, Science or just for fun. http://jason.bennee.com/blog/tag/photoshop/

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7583a98cbafb8092ea932c2d0a353da924eb13931d41c20b87a6373c35da4fb9.jpg

  • The only time you can conceivably break any ‘ethical line’ with Photoshop is if you use it to perform manipulation, and lie about it.

  • Kathie Caplain

    Excellent article and comments. As blackripleydog said the sensor cannot see what the human eye sees. Perhaps that is where the difference of opinion about printing SOOC and post processing began. In a traditional darkroom, a photographer with good command of their skill would only need to make minor adjustments, having already captured an excellent image on film using the settings on their camera. Photography changed with the advent of digital sensors and post processing became more important than ever, due to the sensor issue. As a photographer, I appreciate how editors are tools for making the necessary adjustments. As a fine artist, I can also appreciate how editors are tools for bringing forth an image that captures my vision, whether others would consider that over processed or not. Impressionist painters created works of art based on their impressions of their subject, just as photographers may during post processing using Photoshop and other editors. Regarding photo contests, there are often rules in place outlining which type of adjustments can be made in the editing process, and it is necessary to respect those guidelines. After all, the contests are not just for judging the photographer’s vision/composition but their skill with using the settings on their camera effectively, as well.

  • BobD

    Aside from altering journalistic facts, people who whine about photoshop are sore losers who don’t know how to use photoshop.

  • joelluth

    Amen. I’m happy to see people like you and the author calling out this oft-repeated fallacy. I would go a step further than the author’s statement that “post-processing is almost always a must” for raw images. It is ALWAYS a must, by definition. A raw file is not an image, to turn it into an image requires interpretation. Just because you don’t change WB, exposure, sharpening etc doesn’t mean those settings aren’t being applied. They have to be to make a visible image.

    “Getting it straight from the camera” does not mean no post-processing. It just means you’ve left the post-processing to someone else.

  • Bruce Wunderlich

    Good point, while we all try to get it right in the camera, almost all raw images are going to need a little help.

  • Bruce Wunderlich

    While the human eye has a dynamic range of about 24 f-stops, the typical camera only has between 10-14. Photographers can use Photoshop to help fill in that gap.

  • Bruce Wunderlich

    Good Point Jason, the trick for some is to know where to draw the line.

  • Jay Brass

    Two of my heroes, Jerry Uelsmann and Ansel Adams. I let everyone know I use Photoshop for every one of my pictures. Believe the image or not I don’t care, the question should be “do you like the picture?”

  • Joe Quinn

    Is using Photoshop cheating? The answer is, “It depends.” If one is creating art, the answer is “No.” Photoshop is just another tool (albeit, easy to use and very powerful) for an artist to create her/his final product. Before digital photography and computers, I did a lot of “image manipulation” in the darkroom; that seemed to be an accepted practice 25 years ago. Photojournalism is another story all together. In this case photojournalists has a responsibility to ensure that the final image portrays the truth, and not their interpretation of the truth.

    By the way, Google is a noun that is commonly accepted as a verb; and now so is Photoshop (although I think Photoshop has been around longer than Google).

  • joelluth

    That’s just it – even if you choose not to “help” the image you still have to perform some sort of post. It’s really no different than choosing developer chemicals, times, temps, photo paper, etc in the analog era. To get an image, you need to do some sort of processing. No way around it.

    What “get it right in camera” means to me – don’t incur shooting errors just because you think you can fix them in post. That’s good advice. Unfortunately that phrase has been twisted by some to mean “don’t do post”, and then on into a point of pride in “I never do post”. Sure you do, you are just unaware of it. Not necessarily something to be proud of IMO.

    A bigger problem than Photoshop, I think, is the proliferation of one-click filters found in smartphone apps. Much like PS, you can do great things with these but they are also easy to abuse.

  • joelluth

    Great article BTW 🙂

  • Mark Woehrle

    As mentioned Photoshop is the darkroom. Ansel Adams, Paul Caponigro, one of the greatest photo Journalist ever Eugene Smith, and many other great photographers all did extensive darkroom work to realize their photograph vision. That is exactly what many digital photographers do with Photoshop. Sure you can create “Star Wars” type images in Photoshop if you wish. Jerry Uelsman created heavily manipulated images in traditional (film & wet darkroom) techniques. As in film days, all photographic techniques to create images are valid. The use of Photoshop, as was the use of a darkroom,are just a means to a end,,,,,,, a great image !
    Mark

  • Yeaboy

    It’s impossible for anyone to pre-visualize.

  • I’m mostly a wildlife photographer, with birds being my main subject. And, I’m an artist, not a documentarian, so I use Photoshop (Elements) to manipulate the image so that it still looks ‘real’, but it’s more of my vision of an ‘idealized reality’. And, ‘artistically minded’, and a perfectionist (as all true artists are!), I’m not satisfied with what comes straight out of the camera; anyone can look through a viewfinder, focus, then push a shutter button…I want my pictures to be unique!

  • I completely agree! Another annoying thing I get asked a lot when posting my photos to Facebook, is ‘what settings did you use?”…this is a pointless question, and just reveals the ignorance of the asker. The settings are specific to the lighting conditions at the time, so my settings info. is irrelevant since their lighting will be completely different! Plus, if I did get the exposure wrong, I correct it in Photoshop, so that info is even more useless!!

  • Plus, it’s not art unless you bring something to it that’s uniquely ‘you’!! I’m not fully satisfied with a photo unless I feel that nobody else could or would have been able to end up with the same photo!

  • Mel Harrison

    No unprocessed image exists, and is never likely to either, as it would only be a blank piece of paper, and that was originally a Tree…… Processsed!

  • freeopinions

    Why are we still having this discussion?

  • Great article Bruce, I share your sentiments exactly.

  • Gabriele Cripezzi

    Very good! Compliments. No, photoshop is not for everyone, as much as prosumer/professional camera shouldn’t be for everyone. Too many don’t know and will never learn photoshop. It’s a tool that very few can properly use.

  • Lorri A

    I can honestly, hand on my heart say “I have NEVER used PS on any of my images.” It’s true, I use GIMP, haha. I have fun with my work, especially the photos I take for personal projects, those are mine to play with as I like. As for SOOC – in the days of Ansel Adams, um, that would have been the negatives, wouldn’t it. Of course they ALL had to do some post processing.

  • KC

    I spotted the title and had an “oh no” moment. Photoshop is a “digital darkroom”. One of many. That cliche makes sense if you’ve been in a real darkroom, processing film and making prints. I’ve done a lot of darkroom work.

    Is “Photoshop” a bad word? It can be. It’s not fair to Adobe to call it out like that. There are other pixel level editors. This is like asking “are effects filters bad?”, or “are scene modes on cameras bad?” There’s no answer.

    There’s two “schools” here. The “straight out of camera” school, and the “modified” school”. It’s not quite that cut and dried. In film days there was a period of “show the edges of the emulsion to prove this is not cropped and straight out of the camera”. Nice, but it discounted that I could manipulate the film during processing and printing. In digital “straight out of camera” is often manipulated in-camera.

    Yes, we went through a period of very obviously manipulated images. The problem was it was implied that they weren’t. Human proportions were impossibly distorted and/or enhanced. There was the “photojournalism scandal”. Things were edited in and out, that changed the context. Reality was skewed.

    There’s a time and place for skewing realty. In photojournalism reality matters. Not so much in portraits, and far less in fashion. I’ve seen some truly over the top portrait retouching, where the final image is more of a caricature, than a character study. A bit too much “digital botox”. There’s a fine line between photojournalism and a photo essay. One wrong move can change the context of the image. Fashion is always a distortion. Models are very real (thank you!) but unless you’re a model, you don’t look like them. They work hard to be a living art form. It’s when you start tweaking them to look inhuman. The reverse is you can manipulate the average person to look like a model,

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