Is Photoshop a Bad Word?

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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