Thursday, June 4, 2009
Is that Photoshopped!?
"Is that Photoshopped?"
is a question that makes me cringe sometimes whenever I hear it. It means different things to different people. The term "photoshopped" has aquired a negative connotation over the years as photographers and graphic artists use it to manipulate images, not always with good intentions. I hear the question ocassionally while meeting people at my exhibits or sometimes via an email correspondance from someone who has seen my photos on the web. It usually comes from amateur photogs or enthusiasts, professional photogs who have refused to move away from film and embrace digital, or someone who was told by someone they know that " the computer can make a photograph in photoshop and its not real". Every photographer be they professional or amateur that shoots with a digital camera uses some sort of photo editing software to edit their photos, whether it be just to crop or to resize an image for web display. "Photoshopped" does not have to be in Adobe Photoshop either but any of the many editing software that is available out there, some of them for free such as Google's Picassa. I find that usually the question means the person asking it does not believe that the photo could have looked that way straight out of the camera. They are right, usually it could not. The question I ask is, why would anyone want to show their image the way it looks straight from the camera? ( aside from photo journalists, etc where documenting the facts require no editing at all) There is no badge of honor to wear for showing an untouched image that looks the way that Canons or Nikons engineers decided should be the starting point. If one is shooting in RAW format, you certainly need to sharpen, adjust contrast, possibly tweak color correction/white balance and maybe crop. If your shooting jpegs, some of this stuff like color correction, sharpness and contrast is already done for you in-camera. So, it is already "photoshopped" before it leaves the memory card. Granted, this is not the degree of photoshopping that people mean when they ask the question, but that is the point. Everything shot digitally is photoshopped at some point. So, of course my answer would be yes, but. . .just a little. That sounds defensive which is a position I feel I need not have to be in. Further, even if a photographer does manipulate his/her images heavily. . .so what. I think the final product is what we need to consider, not the path there. Aside from common belief, not anyone with a camera and photoshop can just click a button and come up with a good photograph. Like any tools that become available to artists from the ever expanding progress of technology, one must know what they are doing and have a vision. In the days of shooting film, most pro and serious photogs would spend countless hours in the darkroom. . .manipulating the negative. I wonder if Ansel Adams ever heard the question " yeah, but is that darkroomed"? Yeah, plenty kid. A fine quote from Ansel that I like very much goes something like "No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit". Personally, most of my works are only dodged and burned with some adjustments to color correction and cropping. There are times when I go further such as building a frame around the image and give it the aesthetic of an old film or viewing through the viewfinder as its called. I will remove things in the photo that I might find distracting such as a branch or odd object not desired in the scene. I might also add a softer focus to areas that I want faded away or to appear misty, etc. I don't like to manipulate heavily, but will not shy from it if it will achieve a desired effect or vision I have.
Here is my photo of "magpie shrike" both the original and the edited version. This is one of the more heavily manipulated images of mine, but I had no reservations and make no apologies for doing so. As a matter of fact, as I'm shooting a subject I may already know what is going to come from me in post processing. If the bird is just no going to take my 20 bucks and sit in the spot I asked him to, then I know I will be removing distracting elements later on and possibly dodging a bit more light on its face. The subject still needs to be in a good spot as far as lighting goes and so forth because there really is only so much that can be done in editing later. So, mostly this is a waiting game. I do find that if I stay long enough on a day when not many visitors are around the bird will be comfortable enough to come sit where I need it to.
Most of my work is now done in LightRoom, which is geared towards photographers and offers much less editing power than photoshop. It allows me to process a large number of images such as when I shoot a dance performance and need to organize and process several hundred files. So when someone now asks if this was photoshopped I can easily say " no, just a bit of LightRoom" :)