Too much Photoshop? - Dreamstime

A recent article ( Too Much Photoshop) detailing how a winning photo had been disqualified because of too much post-editing made me wonder about my own post philosophy.

In this shot of a modern building, for example, I decided to create a composite and added a plane over the building to add oomph to the picture. I don't feel any compunction about doing this since the intent was not to deceive but to enhance the image.

I suppose for purists, the less retouching the better. And, in some regard, I do agree. There is a part of me that believes in simplicity: If I'm shooting at the right time of day, know that I've held the camera steady and I"ve taken the time to compose properly, I'll do no photoshopping at all save for a smidgen of sharpening. But there's also a part of me that believes in technology and progress and that these tools can and should be used to create a desired look.

Ultimately, it's about intent and motive.

'Twas a time (not even that long ago) when I was blissfully snapping pictures with my cellphone or point and shoot and I didn't even have Photoshop on my computer. I just assumed that the pictures were perfect and I happily posted them on Facebook or uploaded them to Filckr without any editing and everyone seemed to love them.

Like a kid in a playground with no supervision, I just did as I pleased and all was fine...until I happened to look through a huge book of collected photos in the library (the title escapes me at the moment) and I wondered 'Wow, how did they do that, those look better than mine!?!' There were sublime backlit portraits, stunning flora and fauna closeups and immaculate landscapes. I started looking through mine and noticed fuzziness, blotches, uneven lighting and composition...and just a general lack of precision. Mind you, I wasn't saddened, just curious as to how to take my photos up a notch. At that same libary there were a slew of books on shooting technique and gear, retouching and, of course, endless tomes on Photoshop technique: I decided to investigate.

After absorbing everything I read in those books (and in online articles and tutorials) I slowly but steadily changed my shooting habits--it is very hard to give up simplicity! Firstly, I bit the bullet and got a DSLR (there were some nice Canons on sale at Best Buy) and a nice new fast multi-processor laptop then I got Photoshop and warily decided to start shooting in RAW. After my first shooting excursion, I was convinced I had made the right decision.

It kind of boggles my mind that I don't ever take a photograph now without at least looking at it in Photoshop. Invariably, I will at minimum do a crop or adjust levels. In some cases I've gone a little farther and removed birds from skies, erased tree branches that obscured, and, of course, added planes to pictures that I thought could use a little ooomph! I don't feel as if I'm being overbearing or manipulative; I see it as artistic, like Van Gogh deciding upon further reflection to add another sunflower to a painting.

Though sometimes I get misty-eyed thinking about those free snapping days (I'll still take and keep blurry shots with my smartphone for old time's sake) I stand by my decision: It is ok to edit as much as you need to in order to achieve a desired look as long as you're not out to deceive.

Photo credits: Alphonse Leong.

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December 17, 2012


Loved your blog and all the comments. Thanks!

November 13, 2012


I remember when Macs were new and it was suddenly possible to have different fonts. So naturally everyone starting producing papers using six different fonts.

November 12, 2012


Interesting topic and food for thought. Thanks for posting. And, I agree, the image is truly stunning and a wonderfully artistic composition.

November 12, 2012


Nice article, For me it depends of what am looking, but some times less is more.

November 12, 2012


that's a nice can shot, Thanatonautii, I never would've thought it was a composite. Maybe 'don't ask, don't tell' could be one way to go!

Thanks for commenting, some nice insights and thoughts, I think post-processing is a very personal choice and the final result is probably what matters most.

November 12, 2012


Thank you for your blog and the link. Most interesting! I am not sure why they had issues with the winning photo because it is not explained what the photographer did and how far was the manipulation pushed. Also, I have no idea what was the rules of that particular competition - did they say that any photoshop manipulation was prohibited? Or how much of it? It would be interesting to know if they made clear what was allowed and what was not. But in my opinion the photo is absolutely stunning from an artistic point of view and obviously the result of deep knowledge of the camera and the software. So how is that NOT supposed to be good? An image of any kind is always created by an artist. Ansel Adams kept saying that it was not the camera that takes the photograph - it is the photographer. For years he was teaching the "visualisation" - the art of seeing "in your head" your final image before you take it - and that includes the postproduction, be it the chemistry of the dark room or the electronics of the Lightroom. Naturally, there are exceptions where manipulation is simply morally wrong - in editorials, for instance. But editorial is a very different story. Thanks again - what a food for thought :-)

November 12, 2012


Great blog, I try not to use too much Photoshop with my images.

November 12, 2012


My roots are in the film and darkroom era where you could crop, burn, dodge, control contrast by the paper you used, color correct with filters, and that was about it. Many potential great images were passed by because, say, there were telephone lines running through it. Photoshop has a multitude of effects and tricks that most serious photographers will never bother with. But the ability to remove that unwanted bird or shadow, or work with just a small part of the total image (how else will you remove those brand names and logs), are just a couple of features that we never could have dreamed of years ago. And if we would have had that ability, you can bet we would have used them. If you are a purist, fine. But in the end it is the image and what you are trying to convey that counts.

That being said, one cannot ignore the great photographic masters of the past who only had a darkroom to work with. If they had Photoshop, I wonder what they would have done. But that is like saying if they had cell phones on the Titanic….

November 12, 2012


A lot of the biggest selling pictures out here in stock world are composites made up from various elements. From business people added to bright light business backgrounds, to doctors, surgeons or nurses added to shots of operating rooms etc. If your a purist photographer that thinks there's no place for PS then that's good for you but I'm learning that if you want to compete with the best then you need to know your way around PS. It's like merging the arts of photography with your creativity and possibly even your skills as an illustrator.

November 12, 2012


That`s a very interesting blog!
Even though I use Photoshop at my daily job for a long time now, for the pictures that I upload on DT I use it just to adjust the levels.
As a matter of fact I think I have only one picture that I manipulate in Photoshop by adding another element to the original photo :

   Milk can   

The can and the background where shot in different days and in different places. I just thought they will look nicer if combined.
Despite that I gave up using too much manipulation in the photos that I upload. I feel like i`m lying to myself, it`s like I really need to get that composition that I have in mind in the real life, not in a post processing world :)

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