In Defence of Photoshop

I have a complaint. When did Photoshop become a dirty word? Lately it seems that everywhere I look people are hating on Photoshop. I see groups on Flikr and Redbubble that proclaim “No Photoshop allowed.” I notice people boasting in their comments – “I didn’t touch this image in Photoshop.” I have to ask… Why the heck not?
Perhaps I’m being a bit extreme. What I’m actually defending is post-processing, not specifically Photoshop. But like Kleenex is for tissue, Photoshop has become a common as well as a proper noun. My real question is, with the advent of digital photography, why do people think we don’t need to post-process our images anymore?

Maybe it’s because I learned photography in a darkroom, but I just can’t imagine putting any image out into the world without first processing it. With film, there’s no way around it, unless you’re only ever showing slides projected on a wall. Whether you send it to a lab or you mix the chemicals yourself, someone is processing that image. It could be that you spent hours in the dark, dodging and burning to get that one perfect print, or you sent it to the lab at Wal-Mart and someone pushed a couple of buttons on a printer, but that film is being post-processed. Ansel Adams spent his whole career perfecting his processing techniques and if it’s good enough for Ansel…

You see, your camera just doesn’t see a scene in the same way your eyes do. Your eyes have a secret weapon called your brain. Your brain processes those images way better than the tiny little computer in your digital camera, no matter how may megapixels it has. Your brain can even out all of those highlights and shadows and give you vivid colours. The auto white-balance in your brain works a heck of a lot better than your camera does too.

before_keukenhof_0122 091604_keukenhof_0122 As a photographer, my goal is to show you the world the way I saw it, not how my camera saw it. Sometimes that means a few little tweaks in Photoshop and sometimes that means 12 different adjustment layers. The irony is that many of the people who are so upset about technology (i.e. Photoshop) ‘controlling’ their images, are the same people who set their digital cameras on auto and just push the button. Just like your camera, Photoshop is a tool for the photographer. It is the vision of the photographer that should create the images. The tools are just there to help.

Now before you jump all over me in the comments section let me say this – Yes, of course we should try to get as much right in the frame before we push the shutter button. And yes, I have seen a lot of bad, over-done, fake looking Photoshop wok too. But just as it takes practice to become a good photographer, it takes practice to become a good post-processor. If we approach Photoshop with the same sensitivity that we approach our photography subjects it can enhance rather than harm a great image.

So let’s all cut Photoshop a break. Recognise it as the tool that it is and allow it to be part of your arsenal of tools to create great images.

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