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" :)


Brayton Homestead Interiors said...

really agree with you- love the Ansel Adams quote -who is to say what is creativity? the bird photograph is beautiful, as always.

Jill Berry said...

All so true. Most people just don't realize that every image they see has been adjusted.
Your LightRoom work is very nice by the way. On with the creative spirit...

Jill Berry said...

As soon as I read your post, I found two photographers that I follow having the same discussion. If you are interested - See and then Mark Alan Meaders comment...

Gary Heller said...

Thanks for your comments Karen and Jill. Jill, I will be checking out your lead on the other photog discussions. Thanks for that.

dana said...

I really enjoyed that read Gary...especially seeing the before and after shots.

WolfeWoman said...


I enjoyed your hypothetical comment to Ansel- "was that darkroomed?" PShop, or anything similar, is a great tool for your medium; I can't see why anyone would expect you not to use them! All we amateurs certainly do!

Mary Anne Gruen said...

Beautiful work! If you can get an outcome like that, it would be silly not to work on your photos. The art begins in the ability to see the finished product in your mind's eye. And it continues in the ability to carry it out.

UrbanJunkies/zuppaartista said...

great post gary, well said. :)

have a great weekend!

Alexa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
drollgirl said...

photoshop is such a loaded topic, and i hear what you were saying. i still think there is a huge difference between darkroom work and the manipulation of photoshop. nevertheless, both are products of artists that are trying to achieve their vision via photography.

Gary Heller said...

Thanks all for your comments.
DG, I'm not sure what huge differences you see other than the amount of time one would have to spend in the darkroom to get the same results as with photoshop.
In both cases, the starting point (RAW file or Negative) must be good and the darkroom or digital edit guy must have the skills to accomplish the end result with a certain level of quality.
I have a few friends that have come from the darkroom days and they are so thankful to put it away and work in the digital medium. Then I know others that won't switch mostly because they are older and are afraid of learning a whole new game, but even they tell me they are amazed at how the quality of digital has equaled or even surpassed film (which I absolutely believe having shot film for a few years and scanned the negs at high resolution i had the unique opportunity to compare both mediums side by side)
There certainly is a sentimental value for the photographer and feeling of accomplishment after spending the long hours working by hand in the darkroom and seeing the print appear in the tray as it swishes around in the chemicals. Much like someone who goes fishing and gets that wonderful tug on the line. . .a beautiful feeling as opposed to another who may go out with a net on a boat and scoop up a few hundred.
In the end they both got fish, the same fish but one got more with perhaps not the same feeling of satisfaction as the one that caught one on the line. . .
I truly appreciate your comments and point of view.
btw, I highly recommend anyone here to visit Drollgirls blog. . one of the most entertaining I have come across yet.

Delwyn said...

Hello Gary
I have dropped in on you via Aleks' place.
Your discussion is interesting to a novice and I have noticed that some amateurs make a special note of saying this is SOOC (I had to ask what the acronym meant when I first saw it) as if it is a meritable attribute.

Strangely enough I prefer your first bird image. The foliage gives it a feeling of balance to my untrained eye!

Thanks for the interesting post.

Happy Days

Gary Heller said...

Delwyn, thanks for dropping by and adding to the mix.
Thats a great point. SOOC (straight out of camera)is a shady term because it means that the image being shown has not been given any editing. That is misleading. There are groups on Flickr and other places that are dedicated to displaying only SOOC images, but the thing is that they allow users to have camera settings of "vibrant" super sharpness","white balance" etc. They are fine as long as its done in camera HUH? So, basically you have what can be a highly adjusted image being shown as SOOC but having the inferior software in ones camera do what can be done with great result and accuracy in say photoshop makes no sense.
The bottom line is that people want to be certain that no one is "adding" subjects later on in a program such as photoshop.
When I was shooting film, I loved to shoot night scenes with the moon out. I would double expose a single frame of film, one exposure for the scene and another exposure with a telephoto lens attached to place the moon. You could say it was an in-camera composite although the technical name is double exposure. This could be called straight out of camera. . .no
Anyway, I respect others choices and opinions but just see no badge of honor in showing SOOC.

Brayton Homestead Interiors said...

Hi Gary,
Thank you for continuing comments!
I am passing you the ONE LOVELY BLOG AWARD- congrats -love your blog and appreciate the support you have shown me!
Brayton Homestead Interiors

Ian Bines Design-Photography said...

great shot, love the silhouette.

Victoria Bennett Beyer said...

This is such an interesting topic and one that won't be going away for decades, I'm sure.

I find my age brings up a whole new set of problems in trying to find the right balance for what I feel is enough/too much editing for an image. I always wanted to take a darkroom class and could never get in, so I have no idea just how much manipulating is 'normal' or possible in the darkroom. I'm always curious if what I do in Photoshop is within a similar set of parameters.

That said, I'm a bit skittish of doing much, though that's just because I come from journalism where you can get fired for changing the reds in a sunset shot to appear more like they did to the photog's eye.

I think perhaps folks get defensive when they see images where technical skill could preempt 'heavy' photoshopping. I always kick myself when I see a shot could have been better by changing camera settings, lighting, etc. But if I can get it there after the fact, I will. Honestly, though, there is only so much you can do in Photoshop. I think some folks don't realize how delicate a photo really is. You can't really make a blurry image clear. You can't take a heavy shadow off someone's face. When I see a blurry image or one that's got too much shadow, and someone manipulates it not to look like it came straight out of the camera, but to be a beautiful image nonetheless, I think that's creative and economic.

But the beautiful art being made by doing more manip - well, I can't believe folks would ever dash any of it. It's art, after all. Only the artist can say what is right.

Anonymous said...

Well said. Completely agree with your point of view.

Beholden-To-Nature (Kenna) said...

Comment is waaay delayed here, as sometimes is the case, but saw this as a link from one of your current posts and had to read. Not that it matters (to each his/her own), but I think my view on the subject is best expressed by the composite of two quotes by Ansel Adams (everyone always likes to refer to him as some "acceptable photography standard" like it's ok if he would approve and not if he wouldn't-- funny how, mid-career, he switched what he considered acceptable w/ the whole f22 group, etc...). Anyway, he WAS an amazing giant in the field whom I, too, have a great deal of respect for and I think he expresses the "art and rendering" of photography well:

"Some photographers take reality... and impose the domination of their own thought and spirit. Others come before reality more tenderly and a photograph to them is an instrument of love and revelation.

...The negative is comparable to the composer's score and the print to its performance. Each performance differs in subtle ways."
-Ansel Adams