Did you Photoshop that? – October, 2014

I would like to discuss something that has been on my mind for quite some time now. It is the question that I believe all photographers in this day-and-age get: "did you Photoshop that?"

My answer is a resounding YES!!! I do not "take" a photograph, I "capture" an image and "portray" a vision. It amazes me to no end that when we, as photographers, would spend hours on end in the chemical darkroom doing basically the same thing as we do today with Photoshop, it was never questioned. I believe that with the advent of digital photography and software such as Photoshop, that photo manipulation has somehow, on some occasions become frowned upon. ALL photos need some sort of massaging in order for the artist to promote what it was that he or she was feeling when the image was captured in the first place (what their vision was, their motivation to press the shutter release button, and so on). As Alan Briot of Beautiful-Landscape (http://www.beautiful-landscape.com) said, "an image is complete only after I have modified what the camera captured so that it shows what I experienced."

I would like to further that notion by saying my camera is merely a tool to carry my vision from the field to the darkroom, or digital darkroom these days. Nothing more and nothing less. I'm not saying that art can't happen "in-camera," because it can and it does. Things such as shutter speed and aperture are the most common of these in-camera artistic choices. However, the camera is not the end-all to the work. Far from it, in fact. Just like a skilled carpenter using a specific saw for a specific cut, we use specific lenses and specific apertures and shutter speeds for a specific shot. But just because the carpenter made the cut does not mean the furniture has been built; we "cut" our image in the camera and then build it in the darkroom. It just so happens that the darkroom is Photoshop, Lightroom, Silver Efex Pro (for my work anyway), and so on. I suppose the reason that Photoshop is sometimes frowned upon by some is because it is so readily available to everyone, including those that don't know what it is they are trying to achieve. So, those users of Photoshop end up doing silly things such as placing someone's head on someone else's body. Now, that can be, and in fact is, an art of another type. I have seen some really great Photoshop art that combines imagery, graphic design, and a vast imagination. It is truly remarkable art actually. BUT... it is not what a fine-art photographer does. However, fine-art photographers do indeed use these tools to portray the vision they had when the image was captured. And I'm here to tell you that all RAW images need processing even if it is only a saturation adjustment. This is due to the fact that in capturing RAW we have removed the camera's ability to make any development choices on our behalf. However, we have gained the maximum ability to make those choices ourselves later in the digital darkroom. These are intentional artistic choices. I say it again... these are intentional artistic choices. 

I think the term "did you Photoshop that" is wrongly confused with creating false elements in an image that did not otherwise exist. Such things as mentioned above like placing someone's head on someone else's body, or placing a car on a road where there was not a car. What fine-art photographers do use Photoshop (or other such tools) for is to enhance the things that are already in existence within the image, not add things to the image that are without. Increasing or decreasing brightness, texture, saturation, clarity, overall depth and lastly some cropping when needed. In doing so, we are simply guiding our viewers eye to certain areas of the image in an effort to portray the vision we had upon capture. The things that we use Photoshop to remove are also basic and remain true to the image. These are things such as dust, lens flare, and perhaps a stray plane in the sky or something similar to that. Again, these things are done while still remaining true to our overall vision as artists, and more importantly, remaining true to the integrity of the relationship between the artist and the viewer. 

To make an assumption (and we aren't supposed to make assumptions, right...), but it would be my guess that if Ansel Adams were alive today, he would embrace the digital darkroom. He spent hours upon hours developing his images. In fact, from what I have learned in my readings on the great Ansel Adams, one of his most famous images titled "Moonrise over Hernandez" was continuously being updated. The out-of-camera and darkroom-edited versions of this image are vastly different. It goes to show just how much photo "massaging" he himself did on his fine-art work. And, I bet not a single person questioned it either. 

"Moonrise Over Hernandez" - out of camera Ansel Adams

"Moonrise Over Hernandez" - out of camera

Ansel Adams

"Moonrise Over Hernandez" - darkroom edited Ansel Adams

"Moonrise Over Hernandez" - darkroom edited

Ansel Adams

SO, back to the original question... "did you Photoshop that?"

YES, yes I did!

Case in point...