That’s PHOTOSHOPPED!

HDR Porsche - by Jim Harmer

Snore!  I've heard it before… people turn up their noses at my photography because I Photoshop my images.  The ignorant remarks lack an understanding that there are extremely few professional photographers who don't use digital image editing techniques.  If you're ever faced with these whiners, consider arming yourself with the following arguments.

First, no photograph is realistic.  Was that sunset really that vibrant?  No, the photographer changed the white balance in the camera to make it look more colorful.  Was that lion really 3 feet away from the camera?  No, the photographer used an extremely long lens to make the lion seem close to the camera.  Was that football really frozen in mid-air while making that catch?  No, the photographer used a fast shutter speed to freeze the action.  You get the idea… everything photographers do is about creativity–not reality.

The natural response you will receive from this argument is “Well, those changes are made in the camera, not the computer!”  How do you answer that?  Repeat after me: “So what!”  What difference does it make whether the photographer makes them in the camera (which really IS a computer) or on a desktop?  None, really. What your opponent really means by saying you made the changes in camera instead of the computer is that it takes skill to make them in the camera, but not the computer.  This is a good time to educate your foe about Photoshop.  It takes several years for anyone to really master this program and is arguably just as difficult or more difficult than making in-camera changes.

No one would fault Leonardo da Vinci for making the painting of Mona Lisa more beautiful than she was in reality.  Why then is it such a big deal for a photographer to do the same?  No one would fault a painter for making up a landscape instead of painting an exact replica of a real landscape, but for some reason, people fault landscape photographers for doing the same thing.  A photo frame is a photographer's canvas.  Put in it whatever you choose.

Obviously, there are some types of photography that should not include image editing.  For example, photojournalism.  The key here is not to deceive the viewer because the photo is a part of a fact-dissemination effort.  In this case, the antidote is transparency.  If a news image is manipulated, the news organization is responsible for reporting the manipulation to viewers.

What do you think?  Comment below and let me know if you think I'm wrong (or right).

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65 thoughts on “That’s PHOTOSHOPPED!”

  1. I attended the Rocky Mountain School of Photography last summer. In one of our classes in Photoshop we were shown 3 versions of a photograph of Yosemite by Ansel Adams. The first was right out of his camera, the second was overwritten with numerous notations on changes he wanted to make in the darkroom and the third was the final image, and it looked NOTHING like the first one. Even Ansel Adams “cheated” and the lesson I took away from it is that photography is the expression of an artistic vision, from stark reality to the wildest HDR or Topazed fantasy. There’s plenty of room in the world of photography and art for all of it.

  2. If you are shooting in raw format you pretty much have to “photoshop” the image – correct? Photoshop is a digital darkroom. Different tools that is all. I agree with others when they say that as long as you are not documenting (ie photojournalist) then have at it.

    Not to be presumptuous, but it is possible that Ansel Adams would have loved Photoshop.

  3. For those moaners that always whinge about any form of pp being ‘cheating’, I always fire this little question to them…

    “Do they like music and movies ? If so, I wonder how they would feel listening to their favourite band’s latest track in it’s raw state without any fx, eq, compression, pitch correction etc.

    Or how about watching the latest blockbuster movie in it’s original format without any processing ? It’d be like watching an amateur home movie. ”

    Great site btw. 🙂

  4. Before anyone makes a snap judgement on this, I suggest taking a look at Ansel Adams’ “Monnrise, Hernandez, NM” image- his best selling of all time. The do a google search for the contact print of the original negative and note the differences. How is what Adams did any different than what one can do in Photoshop? It’s all about the artist’s intent. What mood or feeling does he want to convey? Honestly, when I take a photo, capturing reality is about the last thing on my mind.

  5. My opinion is whether its photoshopped or SOC, its still art. Not everyone enjoys all forms of art. Photography have many different styles. I dont think it matters what you perfer personally, you will have a fan base and you will have nay sayers.
    I prefer doing natural, maybe minor adjustments, but thats only because I dont know how to create an artistic photo with photoshop. I tried it once and holy cow it looked like an infant got a hold of my camera…I am ignorant to photo manipulation, but I can also admit it.
    I enjoy seeing all styles of art…but I cant create all styles of art.

  6. This is an interesting set of comments…

    I don’t mind ‘photoshopped’ images…I have my likes and dislikes on images produced…so saying that I may or may not like HDR photos is not that important. It is all personal preference at the end of the day.

    There are a couple of things I would like to point out. The first thing is that most photographs published in the media today have been ‘processed’ in someway or other…if not via changing colours, brightness, sharpening, cropping, straightening etc…then they have been manipulated to portray something that didn’t exist (e.g. like changing the shape of a model’s face, removing ‘imperfections’ in the skin, removing reflections in a product shot, putting in new backgrounds, selective blurring/softening of the final image etc.). In fact, pick up any magazine off the rack and I would challenge you to find an image that hasn’t been manipulated (I prefer to use this term rather than ‘photoshopped’). Is this right or wrong? To each their own.

    The second thing that I wanted to say…and it is to the ‘purists’ who use film as an example…already some of the comments above have cited Ansel Adam’s photographs as having been manipulated. But a huge amount of film-based photographs were manipulated for publication, distribution and/or sale. Cropping the photos, dodging and burning the prints, double exposing, pushing or pulling the film, even the choice (make/speed) of film to use…you get the point.

    I agree that photojournalism images shouldn’t be manipulated (and in fact famously a couple of years ago a photojournalist was caught out when he amended a photo that showed the results of a bombing raid – he had added extra smoke if memory serves me correctly)…but again, photos are selectively cropped to ‘tell a story’, flipped horizontally…even the process of taking the photo can be done in such a way to portray ‘a’ reality…not necessarily the correct one.

    I have one foot in the camp that photography is an art…and also photography should portray reality. They way I look at it…if the photograph makes me stop and admire it or wonder how it was done…or just stop and say wow…I don’t care how it was produced…I just enjoy it for what it is – someone’s vision that I admire.

    Just my 2 cents worth!

  7. Excellent article. Technology is advancing and Photoshop is apart of that. I use to scoff at the idea of using Photo editing software until a friend showed me how I could enhance my photos with clarity and vibrancy. We live in a fallen world but that doesn’t mean our pictures have to reflect how bad it is here on earth.

    I’m not interested in limiting the possibilities of my photos because of the “if it’s too loud then you’re too old” crowd are convinced it’s wrong.

  8. Didn’t Ansel Adams say “The negative is the score, the print is the performance “?
    I’m constantly in this argument with my girlfriend, as I will show her a photograph she likes, but then her smile falters when I tell her I’ve retouched it slightly in PS. Great site BTW…

  9. As an old graphic designer, selling advertising through manipulated images has always been the norm (and one constantly debated over). After all, we are selling the ideal, not the reality. But if you want to get technical, a camera NEVER captures a scene as we see it. Neither film nor sensor has the dynamic range to capture all the detail in both light and shadow areas as our eye does. So by default due to technical limitations, straight out of the camera is a lie. Even in the old ‘film’ days, all professional photos were manipulated, albeit in a darkroom using chemicals and light. Otherwise they would just be amateur snapshots. All Photoshop does is package the tools used in a darkroom into a digital format. However, with technical advancements we have better, more complex tools than 20 or 30 years ago. Photo retouching is photo manipulation, wether it be in a darkroom or in a computer. The means justify the end and that is dictated by final use and that is a very broad field.

  10. Look, we note that you takes short time shooting. Not so long ago, before the digital age, for many photographers it was important to capture the moment, or reflect reality as closely as possible. On the other hand there were also artistic photographers took pictures. Today it is sometimes indistinguishable from photos that reflect the reality of retouched photos, which can have an artistic look, but no photographic value. I think a photographer should make clear its intentions and whether the picture was retoucheded or not. Nor did for so many slides, magnificent. Which you abuse of Photoshop you change the reality when images are sometimes minim.

  11. Whilst I do agree that each of us have individual ideas on this subject . I am not so sure of the argument.I do agree that anyone should be allowed to manipulate a picture to their own desire for personal or
    even commercial use. I do find it totally disgusting that today’s “photographic society”, not only permits, but actively encourages photographers to utilise photo “enhancing software” in photography competitions ! Is this really a fair and just way to find the “best” photographers ?
    I’m sorry but I, personally think not !!!
    To put this into perspective ………
    “What happens to an athlete using performance enhancing drugs” ?
    Do they win the competition ?
    or do they get disqualified ?
    All photography competitions should be decided upon “photographic skills”….. not “computer editing skills”.
    I often wonder how many of these “competitions” have been awarded to “professional editors” who don’t even “understand” the concept of photography !

    Also (in my opinion) these programs tend to breed many “sloppy” and “lazy” so called “professional photographers” that rely to heavily on usage of the software.

    This certainly is not a significant help to the Industry as a whole but thankfully there are also a great many “professional photographers” that utilise the software appropriately and within proportion.

    Another thing is “photography” is a time relative “art” form ( unlike sculpture, painting etc ). Changing the image (duller, brighter) sometimes takes away the “time factor” thereby taking away the very fabric of what this “art” is to achieve.

    Well that is my “bitch”…
    And just for the record I have never entered a photo “contest” …. so No I am not just a sore loser ….hehe.

  12. You can rub on a turd all you want – It’s NEVER going to turn into a diamond. If you’re not making something decent in the camera, then all the post processing in the world isn’t going to save you.

    I suggest people learn how to use their cameras BEFORE they learn how to ruin photos in post processing.

  13. I’m just wondering…. Is everybody that are so against enhancing a photo also against women wearing makeup. That is basically the same thing in my book.

  14. Ok for a start. Enhancing/changing a photo is not wrong. In the late 1800’s photography in general was considered NOT to be a legitimate art form as any one could buy a camera and take a photo if they had the patience for it.

    Also Ansell Adams in his series of books, shows how one can make an equivalent HDR shot with black and white film in a darkroom. I use both film and digital in my works and can assure you that a HELL of a lot can be done to an image with a little creativity and some black ink thinned out with water.

    If people would just get over the fact that technology has changed the idea of WHAT a photo is then we could all move on happily. This idea of ‘cheating’ in computer was completely wiped out of me when I learned how to ‘cheat’ in a darkroom.

  15. I have to say that I’m impressed with how civil (and sometimes funny) the above comments are considering how strong some opinions can be.

    I completely agree with the original article. What’s the definition of reality? How granular are we willing to get about it? What are ‘white lies’, deception, or eloquence? Should there be a law that indicates what’s acceptable in art?

    Visions are like beauty: in the eye of the beholder, sometimes debatable, sometimes controversial – just don’t make them unremarkable. We are simply talking about tools that help us express our unique point of view, of a very specific moment in time, a moment not experienced by anyone else. Am I supposed restrict my ‘reality’ by limiting myself to some tools (camera) and not use others (dark room or Photoshop)?

    When you consider post-processing ‘impure’ you’re basically taking away other options and possibilities. Why would you be so religious about results straight out of the camera? Is that somehow the absolute tool? What makes it so? Its imperfections or limitations created by manufacturers of specific brands? Cameras can generate the same crap as tasteless alterations in Photoshop, just move the camera while shooting at slow speeds, overexpose the shot, or shoot at night with the fastest exposure! But if your aim is produce a pure abstract of a ‘black night’ who am I to say that your work is wrong regardless if I like it or not?!? Same with post-processing – something overdone will probably not be appreciated by most viewers. The ‘beholders’ are the great equalizer

    I’ve seen a couple of comments referring to post processing as drug-enhancements for athletes. Same premise, why wouldn’t you consider post processing as intense training? You need significant knowledge, sensibility, and experience gained over quite some time

    My preference: express yourself the best way you can, with whatever is available to you

  16. I remember when it was argued that a musician was cheating when they used samples of other music to make new music.
    People eventually began to realize it still takes a talented artist to make a good song, even if he/she isn’t striking each note with his/her own fingers.
    Digital manipulation, regardless if it is performed in audio or visual, is all the same as far as artistic ethics go.
    People are just resistant to change. They’ll come around.

  17. Though you must admit, it’s a rich feeling when you pull up a shot to see what needs to be adjusted and you can’t find anything. It doesn’t even need to be cropped.
    You’re like, “That’s right. I’m bad.” 8)

  18. Photo manipulation goes as far back as photography does, most people don’t realize that. Some of the worlds most famous photographs and portraits were “airbrushed”. It doesn’t matter weather it comes from a airbrush or a computer. There is such a thing as SOOC photography, it’s a unique style of photography that some people love and I don’t judge them. I don’t have any negative criticism about your style of photography saying that it’s not “good” photography so don’t knock ours. Just open your minds a little people, or better yet buy a copy a Elements and give it a chance.
    And Jim, your wrong, several years? I have been using Photoshop for 15 years and I still haven’t mastered it…how can you, they come out with a new version every few years…lol

  19. Oh I have been here and done that. First there was a cave man and he took a lump of burnt wood and drew a picture of a bison. A short time latter at a cave down the way another caveman while fixing a dinner of berries find his finger stained. Ah he says and takes the berries and draws a picture of a bison. One day the first caveman visit the second who has invited him to see his discover. They enter the cave and the second caveman says “Look at my art.” The second caveman says “thats not art it in berries and bison ain’t that color. Real artist draw in burnt wood.” What I think I am trying to say is that we are all artists and what we give is our emotions and feeling in what we present. “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it” Michelangelo. I take a photo and sometime don’t know why. Something just caught my eye. As I look at the image that is there I try to see what it’s trying to reveal. Sometime its just print me let me live.

    1. I just like playing around with the photos and seeing peoples reactions at the end result. Also a good hobby to keep your imagination going and your brain active. 🙂 There is so much to learn in so little time 🙂

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