Journal

Why we should give Photoshop a little more respect.

Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.
– Ansel Adams

Photoshop seems to be getting a lot of flak lately, so I wanted to post something in support of such an amazing tool.

To give you some background, I started using Photoshop 4 in 1997 but in those days it was mostly for web design purposes. In fact, I did a few shoddy composites at the time as part of my degree and did a miserable job  (I wish I could find the file and show you but I fear I have long since destroyed them out of embarrassment). Only in the last 4 years have I started working with Photoshop again for what it was intended (Photos rather than websites) and I have been doing more and more compositing recently. I now feel I am at a stage where I am confident to tackle whatever my imagination throws at me.

Images can be broadly categorised by those that are conveying fact and those that are opinion. Examples of factual images are those that form part of a reportage or advertising photos those that show the effect of a product.

With factual images, any photo manipulation could be considered deceitful, this is where most the controversy lies, as how much photo editing is too much. I agree in the case of L’Oreal this is clearly falsifying the ability of their product and wrong,  but is it wrong for a photo journalist to enhance the contrast and colours? For me the line is drawn at whether the post processing changes the facts conveyed by the image. So making a product appear to do things it can’t, is clearly a lie. As are photoshopped celebrities in factual publications, also a lie.

However the negative press Photoshop receives for the examples above, combined with a snobbism over whether an image was caught in camera sticks. The general view seems to suggest photoshop is the easy option, and often I see photographers / artists I admire play down Photoshop and emphasise the fact they have made models and created most of it in real life, as if Photoshop is something to be ashamed of. Doing it with models and staging in real life can be more fun granted, but it is not necessarily easier to do in Photoshop. It takes years of practice to do Photoshop well and people should be proud of their ability to use it well.

To me if an images is not factual then any post processing or manipulation is okay. Why shouldn’t a landscape painter modify the landscape and architecture in their images? Why shouldn’t a portrait photographer make their sitter appear more regal and 10 years younger? Why shouldn’t an event Photographer make the event bigger and better than is was? After all, we don’t talk down Canaletto for re-arranging Venice or John Singer Sargent for making his sitters “more glamorous, taller and thinner” (In the words of Andy Warhol) so we should look past the tools and methods used and focus more on the message conveyed by the image.

In the words of Ansel Adams “The negative is the equivalent of the composer’s score, and the print the performance.” and this still applies.