A lot of photography conversations revolve around the question of how much editing has been done to a picture.  Terms like “sooc” (for straight out of camera) or raw, or “minimal editing” are involved.   I also have been known to encourage capturing the best pictures you can in camera.  But does that mean editing in post process is a bad thing?  No, definitely not.  For some, it has become a bad thing though, and phrases where “photoshop” has become a verb have been bandied about a lot.  I’ve heard everyone from amateurs to pros say things like “We’ll just photoshop that out later” or “Can you photoshop my eyes?”.

Purists may scorn such activities, and while there are some situations where editing a photo significantly can have moral, ethical, and professional consequences (such as photo journalism), I can’t help but wonder how Photoshop came to have such a bad association.  Clearly, there are differences of opinion across the spectrum on what lines shouldn’t be crossed (or “photoshopped”).  Overall though, I would say that Photoshop is not innately a bad thing (whether you think of it as a software application or a verb).

I said just a moment ago that I always try to get the picture right when in camera.  It’s not that I am opposed to pixel editing, but I’d rather avoid it if I can.  There are times (for me) though when some things cannot be avoided.  Take for instance a ballgame we went to just last weekend.  The Milwaukee Brewers were in town and it made for a great birthday present and combination Father’s day gift for Tracy and the visiting in-laws.

Being one to always take a camera in tow, I did.  A beautiful sunset ensued at the game and of course, I had to take a few shots.  When I got to skim through things the other day, noticed something in the scene that I wished wasn’t there – power lines! So, the decision had to be made – will it significantly help the composition to remove those lines?  For me, the answer was yes.  So, into Photoshop I went, and after a few minutes of editing, produced the results (click on the picture for a larger view).

Before Photoshop:

Before Photoshop

And after:

After Photoshop

It may not seem like much to others, but to me, the shot looks a lot better without the power line.  So, what’s your take on this?  Is Photoshop a bad word?  Does the picture look better, the same or worse?  Sound off in the comments!  Keep on shooting too and we’ll see you back here again tomorrow!

13 thoughts on “Photoshop is not a bad word

  1. Photoshop has become an essential artistic tool for photographers, much like oil paints and brushes were for the Great Masters. These types of editing programs help us to create a more accurate depiction of our conscious or unconscious ideas in the images we choose to produce.

    All art is manipulation, including those images we refer to as “photo-journalism”. The latter should always be viewed with that in mind. Read Susan’s Sontag’s essay, “Regarding the Pain of Others”, she’s right on target.

  2. There are times when stunning colors come SOOC and I like people to know it is not enhanced or photoshopped.
    As an old timer (non-auto film camera, wet darkroom) I tend to keep my PP to enhancements similar to what I could’ve done in a darkroom. Though I have removed an offensive power cable or annoying bird or fixed red-eye..
    Surreal images are a style I don’t like, but as with all style of art in all the different media it comes in – to each his or her own.
    I have Photoshop cs2, but rarely use it. Acd Pro3 fulfills my day to day corrections n enhancements needs.

  3. The problem with purists is that I can’t seem to find two that agree 100% on what is the true way. Photographers have always had to struggle to be recognized as artists. It’s frustrating to be told by some photographers that I am limited to a set of technical characteristics defined by the device, and that being creative and stepping outside the common box is cheating. So be it. Anyone can be a photographer. Apparently all it requires is a camera. I long to be an artist, which requires imagination.

    1. I am also frustrated with the lack of knowledge of the history of photography. Most photogs seem to think photography started with film and the straight photography school of thought of the traditional western landscape photographers. Study what came before such as the Pictorialists. The debate about “manipulation” has been around since the beginning.

      “It is rather amusing, this tendency of the wise to regard a print which has been locally manipulated as irrational photography – this tendency which finds an aesthetic tone of expression in the word faked. A manipulated print may be not a photograph. The personal intervention between the action of the light and the print itself may be a blemish on the purity of photography. But, whether this intervention consists merely of marking, shading and tinting in a direct print, or of stippling, painting and scratching on the negative, or of using glycerin, brush and mop on a print, faking has set in, and the results must always depend upon the photographer, upon his personality, his technical ability and his feeling. But long before this stage of conscious manipulation has been begun, faking has already set in. In the very beginning, when the operator controls and regulates his time of exposure, when in dark-room the developer is mixed for detail, breadth, flatness or contrast, faking has been resorted to. In fact, every photograph is a fake from start to finish, a purely impersonal, unmanipulated photograph being practically impossible. When all is said, it still remains entirely a matter of degree and ability.” -Edward Steichen, Camera Work 1, 1903 from photoquotes.com

  4. Thanks for the input – and an excellent article!

  5. In many art forms there are purists and those looking to use new tools to advance the medium. In my opinion, photoshop is merely a new tool. I find the argument against new digital technology and its relationship to photography to fall into a similar realm when looking at electric instruments in music. Did it “kill” the purity of music? Maybe from a ‘purist’ point of view, but now, what we know of music has incorporated many electric (and even electronic) instruments. I wrote an article on this debate after I’d read someone comment that “anything done to a picture after it has been captured is not photography” which I found to be ludicrous.

    my article: http://tysonrobichaudphotography.wordpress.com/2010/04/16/photography-vs-art/

  6. I always thing it’s funny when you hear the digital photography “purists” who think that a photo should be un-touched out of camera. When I shot print film there was no way to avoid any type of “post-processing”. Out-of-camera meant the film still had to be processed with chemicals (which could vary the results depending on the temperature, age, etc. of the chemicals) and then developed in a darkroom. You have to choose exposure time, paper, aperture, filters, how long to soak each sheet, etc. when using a darkroom. Shooting slide-film is really the closest thing I can think of to SOOC images with film. Other than that, with digital, it’s silly IMO. 🙂

    1. Excellent point – even the best ooc digital needs sharpening, so the purist mentality really doesnt fit anymore! 🙂

  7. I consider photography as art. An artist can do what ever he wants to achieve the result he is looking for. All that counts in art is the final image, not how it was achieved.

    Of course, photo-journalism is another story. There should be nothing done that changes the reporting accuracy of the presented image.

    1. As some are known for saying – pixels are born to be punished! 🙂

  8. I used to be a SOOC guy, and was extremely offended if people thought I doctored up my photos. Over time, I got bored and wanted more, so I would make slight adjustments in Photoshop.

    Fast forward to today, and I am a huge fan of PP. With things like HDR and Topaz plug-ins, how could you not? I wanted more from my pictures. The rich colors, the incredible details. I couldn’t help but try out new things.

    So, in my humble opinion, No. Photoshop is not a bad word. It is a very good word. I think this applies to a lot of things in life – it’s the 2000s. It’s not the 80s or 90s anymore. Get with the times!

    1. Just goes to show you – the only thing that remains the same is change! 🙂

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