Photoshop - A Dirty Word

“Hilda, what do you think of this amazing photo?” “It is amazing Agnes, yes, but it looks photoshopped.”

The “photoshopped” comment is something most of us have heard, or even thought or said ourselves. Professional Bird Photographer Ron Bielefeld’s images occasionally illicit the response of “that image was photoshopped” from other photographers. Ron has talent, and after 20 years of pointing a very large lens at 4 inch long birds zipping by at 35 miles per hour, his skills have honed far beyond most of us. His images reflect his capture.

To have captured an image that is so perfect it requires no photoshopping is a wonderful achievement. But, if you think about it, there are limited venues that permit such photography. To some photographers, the value or worth of the image comes from its good capture and lack of post manipulation. To others, the final image is what is most important. The question then is: Is worth measured by the process or the final image?

The answer to the question has a lot to do with what you plan to do with your images. If they are for presentation in a photo club with rules against manipulation, then you have to place more worth on the capture and you get what you get. Although this may seem artistically limiting, there can be satisfaction in manipulating the environment and capture process so as to take an image that portrays the scene that was in your imagination. Manipulation includes moving bad or distracting elements, moving yourself and camera’s perspective, and depth of field to further hone in on your subject.

If your photos are for your own artistic creation, then you must know that there are no rules. You are more free to say or express something through your photos. In many ways, this freedom is more difficult than when your creativity is placed in a small box. It requires more thought about the end result, and it requires studying the tools to achieve the result.

Ansel Adams often took several photos of the same scene with different exposures. The negatives were then manipulated and combined so as to allow a much greater dynamic range than would have otherwise been possible. In his day, chemicals and black inks were used. Today with digital capture, we use Photoshop. The result is the same – you imagine an image and you do what you must to make it real.

Photography can be no less an artful process than painting can be. A painter starts with a blank canvas and adds the elements she wants. A painter controls the way your eye moves through the image so you can ultimately experience what was in her imagination.

Photography is the opposite. We start with an image often full of distracting elements. The distractions take the viewer’s eye away from the path intended, from the feeling or message that the photographer saw and tried to capture. The post-capture manipulation of the image in Photoshop, or whatever digital darkroom tool you use, serves to refine the image to what your imagination intended. Painters and photographers may begin at opposite ends, but with skill they can arrive at the same place.

Take time to learn your available tools and expand your imagination and photographic possibilities. Photoshop doesn’t need to be a bad word, but it does need to be done well.

Boris Robinson
Vero Beach Photography