Popular culture today seems to have people confused about Photoshop. I remember one time a friend of mine was telling that he knew someone who had a pretty good portfolio of photography- but- he changed his tone of voice and softly said- “…almost all of them were photoshopped.”
So, what on earth do people think Photoshop is? Why is it something to be whispered about behind someone’s back? It’s true that Photoshop has been abused by inexperienced photographers to add terrible filters and ghastly effects to pictures- but that is the minority. It’s a professional tool used by professionals.
Granted, there are plenty examples of bad uses of Photoshop like this, but that’s not even in the realm of what we’re talking about.
Yeah… that looks shopped. Anyway.
Something that people often forget is that Photoshop is a digital darkroom. Since most people probably need a primer on what the darkroom process involves, let’s jump in!
Making a print from film is a very involved process. To make a long story short, it involves a machine called an enlarger to shine light through the negative onto light sensitive paper. There are a lot of decisions involved in creating the print. You choose the aperture of the lens the light shines through, you choose how long the light is exposed, you can choose filters to add contrast, and you can also choose to dodge and burn parts of the photo to lighten and darken aspects, respectively. The paper is then processed in developer chemicals, stop bath, fixer, fixer remover, and then washed.
Some of the most old, classic photos you’ve ever seen by someone like Ansel Adams were prints that were painstakingly printed in the darkroom. They went through many drafts experimenting with the exposure of the print, whether to take away or add contrast, how to best crop the image, whether to dodge or burn an aspect of it, etc. Even in a basic photo class in college I could spend 3 hours making one print, going through sheets and sheets of photo paper just to get it perfect. Not to mention that photographers like Adams also used techniques such as the Zone System, which involves shooting at a certain exposure and then processing the film in a different ratio of chemicals to achieve the desired effect. So, to pretend that great photographers simply snap the photo and then transfer the print verbatim with no post-processing is simply silly. It would be like turning in a rough draft for a final paper.
Simply taking the picture is only half of the process. Turning the negative into a beautiful print is an art in itself. Many casual photographers who shot film in the old days don’t think about it much, because they would simply drop the film off at a store and get prints later. What you have to take into account is that person or machine that made those prints made decisions about the color balance, exposure, and contrast of those prints. Even if it’s a machine set to just do an ‘average’ exposure, ‘average’ is still a decision.
So basically, editing photos is nothing new. It’s been around as long as photography has been around. It isn’t some new fad that came along with the digital age.
That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions. Some photographers like Cartier-Bresson were morally opposed to cropping. Documentary photographers often won’t change anything but exposure to keep the moral integrity of the pictures. Some photographers who shoot positive slide film use photos exactly as they are. Some photographers are so good and choose the settings on their camera so well that they don’t need much post-processing at all- and that’s great! It’s just silly to pretend that taking the time to make the highest quality final product is somehow wrong. To be a professional, at least knowing how to develop prints in Photoshop is a necessary skill.
Alright, personal subjective rant time:
One time someone told me that there exist wedding photographers who don’t even so much as look at the histogram levels of their photos before giving them to the client. That gave me nightmares. It seems to me that at the very least, you should look at the levels and make sure the photo has true white and true black. Maybe I’m old school, or just a perfectionist, but people hire professionals for a reason. To ignore post-processing is irresponsible and in my eyes, somewhat cocky. I’m more than willing to admit that my pictures are not perfect in-camera. If the exposure turns out wrong in a photo shoot, and you have the ability to fix it, what is the point in defiantly not fixing it? Isn’t having the best product possible the goal? What matters more, your own personal pride, or the client loving their image?
Anyway, to wrap up, there is NOTHING WRONG WITH USING PHOTOSHOP! Do you feel liberated now?
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