I Use Photoshop. Sue Me.


Hey there folks!  I’m back.  It’s been a LONG while, I know.  I moved to Florida, changed my business model, my teenager got a boyfriend, I got a puppy and, well, life has been BUSY. But it’s 2016 and one of my new year’s resolutions, along with eating whole foods and cutting out/down on alcohol and sugar, is to blog more.  Let’s hope the blog thing lasts longer than the eating/drinking thing.  (Hey, cut me some slack – you did catch the part where I said my teenager has a boyfriend, right?  Mama needs some wine every now and then.)

Anyway, so I mentioned a new business model.  I have closed my portrait studio and, while I am still accepting portrait sessions on location, I am focusing more on landscape photography.  The reasons for this require an entirely separate blog post but for now let’s just say that this beautiful beach town in which I live inspires me to get outside and shoot more of Mother Nature.  So I photograph sunrises, sunsets, moon rises, moon sets, rain, fog, waves, stars and even a little wildlife (and I don’t mean the high school seniors).  And to show this work I have joined several photography groups on Facebook where local people post their images of the area.  Some of the contributors are pros.  Most are amateurs and/or hobbyists or just people who take cool pics with their phones and want to share.  It’s fun and the people are great and supportive.  One difference in these local groups compared to the all-pro groups I am in is that the majority of folks in these groups talk about Photoshop like it’s an evil stepmonster.   I am constantly being asked if my images have been “altered” in Photoshop and I see others comment things like “If you use Photoshop, it’s cheating” or “You should post images straight from the camera” and “If you have to fake it, don’t make it.”   Um, no, no, no, no.  Or, maybe sometimes but mostly, no.  My images all go through either Lightroom or Photoshop or both.  Every. Single. One.  And I don’t cheat.

Images Need to be “Developed”

A camera – even a $10,000 one – can only do so much.  Do you remember film and darkroom days?  Maybe you are too young or you didn’t do much photography back then because it wasn’t as, yes, I am saying it – “easy” – as it is now.   But, I do.  I used 35 mm film.  Film that had to be loaded into my camera and when I finished the roll it was tucked all safely inside that dark little yellow and black or green and white canister waiting to be developed.  There was no such thing as “straight out of camera” (SOOC) unless you were looking for a black square.  Film had to be processed.  And how it was processed determined how the images would look.  We had options.  We could decide how long to expose those negatives.  We had filters we could use both on the camera and in the darkroom to get different effects.  We could decide what paper to use.  Did we want high contrast or low?  Did we want muted colors, saturated colors or black and white?  We could expose one frame several times directly in camera to get cool effects.  We could dodge and burn to make one part of the image lighter or darker.  We could even get crazy and merge two or more images into a single image.  I could go on and on about the creative options available to develop a single image.  There were hundreds of ways to create an image back then.  Today, Photoshop gives us millions more options but it’s the same concept.  When a digital photographer takes an image with her camera, that image still needs to be processed.

I majored in photojournalism.  I know how to shoot.  So, I use my manual camera settings to get as close as possible to perfect in-camera.  But I still must develop my image so that it looks like what I saw and what I want to portray.  First, like with a negative, I can’t post my images SOOC.  They are shot in a format that isn’t supported by most computers or web pages.  I shoot in RAW – a format that has so much information that the image is far too large and complicated to be posted directly.  So it is absolutely necessary to put every image I shoot through photo editing software.  Further, RAW is also a format that is meant to be “developed.” When I load my RAW image into Camera Raw (Photoshop) or Adobe Lightroom (another photo editing software that works with PS) it typically doesn’t look anything like it did on the back of my camera.  It is flat and dull.  It is simply a “negative” and it needs developing. I then choose the correct exposure, desired contrast, the right amount of highlights and shadowing, I choose the white balance and color balance, much like I would in a darkroom with my filters, papers and chemicals.   Once I get the adjustments just the way I want them, I can then export the image in jpeg format so that it can be printed or uploaded to web pages and “posted.”  Most of the time this developing is all that is needed.  Sometimes, however, a little more adjustment in Photoshop is required to give the image the professional touch my clients have come to expect.  I always try to make sure my image looks like the actual scene looked when I photographed it.

You may be asking,  “why not just shoot in jpeg?”  I don’t for the same reasons I didn’t use polaroids for my pro work back in my film days.  I’m sort of kidding, as shooting in jpeg can give you a wonderful images.  But I’m a pro – why wouldn’t I shoot the best quality image I can shoot and why would I give up the chance to develop my own images?

Digital Manipulation isn’t “Cheating” (with honesty caveat)

There are, of course, some images where a little more Photoshopping (surely this is an acceptable verb now, right?) is desired.  For example, I recently photographed the full moon rising over the beach and there were some boys surfing in the moonlight.  With my naked eye, I could see the sand, the dunes, the waves, the moonlight sparkling off the water, the clouds on the horizon and the full details in the giant full moon that had popped out of the ocean like a jack-in-the-box.  But, alas, as good as technology is nowadays, my camera just couldn’t capture that entire scene properly.  I could either choose to expose the foreground properly to see everything but then the moon was a blown out circle.  If I then exposed the moon properly to see all of its glorious detail then the rest of the scene was pitch black.  So, what’s a girl to do?  Post the SOOC image that looks nothing like the real scene looked?  Yeah, no thanks.  Or do I create a composite in Photoshop using two images merged together?  “CHEATER, CHEATER PUMPKIN EATER!!” Really?  If my image depicts the actual scene as it looked to the naked eye is that really cheating?  Should we all just accept that our night landscape shots including moons have a big blown out circle in the middle of the image?  Ugh – how boring.   Would it have been cheating to create the same image using a film camera and darkroom techniques or is it just Photoshop that is cheating?  Cuz, frankly, it’s really no different.  I DO think all photographers need to be honest about the alterations they make in this regard. Nobody likes a liar.

Okay, so what about more extreme Photoshopping?  For instance, dropping in a gorgeous sky where there wasn’t one?  Or moving objects, placing objects that weren’t really there, enlarging moons so they are like something out of E.T. or other extreme digital manipulations that aren’t “real?”   This type of editing is most certainly not acceptable in certain genres such as photojournalism where the need to depict a scene accurately is of utmost importance.  However, there is a place for this type of digital art so long as the artist is honest about it.  Again, it’s not cheating so long as the artist acknowledges the manipulation and isn’t trying to fool someone into thinking that they possess mad skills allowing them to perform the impossible.

So you see, Photoshop (or other digital editing software) is not a bad thing.  It is simply a necessary tool.  A tool used by pretty much every professional digital photographer in the world.  Even some of the old school film photogs are putting their images in digital format and applying adjustments in PS.   Used conservatively, it simply helps the photographer depict the scene as she saw it.  Used creatively, it can help an artist create some pretty fantastic stuff.   When you see my work, please know that it has been through some sort of editing software.  Sometimes my adjustments are minor.  Sometimes they are more extreme.  I always make a note when I do a composite or other “extreme” manipulation.

If you are an amateur or hobbyist and would like to learn how to take your images to the next level, do your research on editing software.  There is a lot to choose from.  You can find tutorials online and most local colleges offer classes to learn how to use Photoshop.  It is a very powerful program.  I learn something new every day.  The key is to have fun and make art.  Your way.

Happy shooting.