Your Photoshop Comfort Level

I think each photographer has to decide for themselves how heavy they want to be when it comes to editing their photos in Photoshop. It would be silly to think that there is an absolute “right” and “wrong” when it comes to this decision, but hopefully we can all agree that we should at least be honest about how much manipulation was involved in the final image. With that being said, I would like to recommend that if you have a photo blog you take a little time to explain to people how you use Photoshop. I will go first:

For photos that come from my digital camera, I try to do as little Photoshop as possible. The first manipulation comes when I convert the photo from Raw format. Ideally, I would be able to get the perfect shot right after that conversion, but that is rarely the case. Usually I tweak the curves and sometimes so some minor dodging and burning.

When I get a photo from scanning a negative, I usually do a little more work due to the scratches and dust that inevitably gets introduced. Below you will see a typical example of the extent of my digital correction. The before and after shows the raw scan and the corrected final. You can see the curve tweaks, some burning and dodging, dust removal, scratch correction, and the ever so slight sepia introduction.

EL_Before_After.gif

If I were to make the rules, I would put it this way: Digital manipulation should never introduce anything that isn’t in the original image. The goal should always be towards enhancing what is already there without destroying the integrity of the raw image. Without this basic commitment to truthful representation a photographer is little more than a liar, and that hurts all of us.

5 Responses to “Your Photoshop Comfort Level”

  1. Brian Auer Says:

    I do agree (sort of) with the statement that you should try to enhance what is already there. But… I DON’T see anything wrong with enhancing it to the point that you create a new work of art beyond what the camera produced — or even what your eyes could see at the time.

    Some of my images get the “standard” treatment so that the output is very natural looking. And that works for some photos.

    Lately, more of my images are getting extra enhancement that produces an image that is not natural looking. I’m not talking about adding or removing things from the photo — but basically over-enhancing them in various ways to create more of an artistic look.

    I don’t think photographers should be tied down to keeping the images “real”. Some of my favorite pro photographers do much more than just standard enhancements. Take a look at Jerry Uelsmann, for example. I think his stuff is great, and I wouldn’t call him a liar of any sort.

    Just my two cents — There is a blurry line between photography and art. I have a great deal of respect for those who can walk that blurry line, and do it well.

  2. Adrian Says:

    Brian,

    That’s a good comment. I meant my post to be an explanation about how I approach my photography, but it is hard not to project that onto how I would like other people to create their own work. I should also say that my desire to keep things “real” comes from my day job where I heavily manipulate photography for an ad agency. When you spend all day combining 5 photos into an imaginary scene, the last thing I want to do is fake my own personal work. I do respect the people who can do it well – unless they are trying to hide the fact that it is fake. As long as we are all transparent about how are images are created, I have no problem with heavy handed Photoshop work.

  3. Brian Auer Says:

    I can see where you’re coming from, and it all makes a little more sense now. I was just trying to get across that “keeping it real” is fine, but so is being creative… of course, being creative is a very broad term.

    To each his own. This is why I love photography.

  4. Bruce Peters Says:

    “If I were to make the rules, I would put it this way: Digital manipulation should never introduce anything that isn’t in the original image. The goal should always be towards enhancing what is already there without destroying the integrity of the raw image. Without this basic commitment to truthful representation a photographer is little more than a liar, and that hurts all of us.”

    I’d just like to comment on this statement. I understand the ethical motivation behind trying to “keep it real” but if we’re realistic and honest about the process of photography, it must be acknowledged that no picture represents “reality”. You alter said reality by deciding what you will include in the frame and what you will exclude. Reality is defied again when you set a wide aperature, causing the background to fall out of focus. And if you are using a flash in a dark scene, how much reality is being conveyed?

    Unless you are a photojournalist, your focus really needs to be on creating an interesting photo. If this means a tweak to the exposure in Lightroom or cloning in a person to an otherwise bland landscape, so be it. Viewers will thank you for it.

    In the digital age, we seem to equate using available tools to alter photos as somehow cheating or, as you said, lying. This is ridiculous. In most cases it takes more skill to modify the picture so that it remains “believable” than it did to compose the shot and release the shutter.

    And don’t think that the pre-digital photographic community was above modifying photos. Where do you think “dodging” and “burning” and “double exposure” come from? Ansel Adams was an expert at making the perfect crop or vingetting the corners to give just the right emotional impact. When was the last time you saw a naturally-occurring vignette?

    Sorry for the rant. It just concerns me that photographers continue to slag options that they might use to better their own work. All it does is shrink the market for selling photos by creating the perception that modified pictures, while beautiful, are somehow worth less.

  5. Adrian Hanft Says:

    Bruce,

    Photography absolutely has a point of view and I wouldn’t argue that a photo represents reality. You might enjoy my essay about "reality" as it relates to news photography.

    I think photographers need to be honest with their viewers. If you are putting things in your photo that weren’t actually there you need to disclose that to the viewer. Otherwise you are misleading people. In the case of photography for advertising, I think people usually know that what they are seeing is fake. Does that make it acceptable? Obviously there is a lot of gray area…

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