Photoshop Isn’t a Crutch

So, there’s been a raging debate this week in the Photography forums about Photoshop. Is it a crutch or isn’t it? Does it simply suspend reality? Are you REALLY a photographer if you rely on Photoshop?

The anti-Photoshoppers say that you should only rely on your eye and your lens. If you can’t get the shot and have it perfect right out of the camera, you’re a failure.

I beg to differ.

These same traditionalists had wet darkrooms before the days of digital. A wet darkroom is just an analog version of Photoshop.

I learned photography before the digital days. I know how to create good photos with a camera and lens, and I know how to post process using the old methods in the darkroom and the retouching table. Those days were much harder than they are with Photoshop, but very similar in terms of capability.

I love Photoshop’s power to adjust contrast, exposure, color balance, hue, saturation, dodging, burning, etc. It’s no different than going into your wet darkroom and playing with combinations of polycontrast filters or dialing in Magenta, Yellow or Blue on the dichromatic enlarger. It’s no different than dodging and burning with your hands while exposing the photographic paper.

Back then, it took trial and error. You (unless you were Ansel Adams) would sometimes need 15 or 20 attempts to finally get the print you wanted using the old techniques. First you’d set your exposure (I always used the time variation technique). Then you’d adjust contrast using polycontrast filters or the Magenta dial if you were using a dichro. Once you had those dialed in, you’d probably already made 3-5 prints, and you hadn’t yet dodged and burned. That’s a process of trial an error, and you had to remember what you did the previous time. When you finally got all of that sorted out, you had to use retouching ink and a brush to remove zits, dust, scratches, etc.

When you finally got the perfect print, there was a feeling of accomplishment. Probably a bigger one than you get from doing those things in Photoshop, but that’s only because it was harder – not because the end result was any better.

Photoshop filters are tremendously tacky. Photoshop’s built in rendering tools are horrendous (i.e. their lighting effects, lens flare, etc.). The liquify tool (one that I use often) is the most exotic thing I use in Photoshop, and I use that to tuck love handles and enlarge… ahem… *cough* “shoulders.” But the photos would be fine without using liquify… the model just wouldn’t think she looked as good.

I don’t use Photoshop’s tacky tools. I use Photoshop as a digital darkroom – which I believe was Adobe’s intent right from the start.

It was the amateurs and wanna-bees who used and pushed for the gay filters and rendering tools. Professional photographers don’t use any of them.

  5 comments for “Photoshop Isn’t a Crutch

  1. Mr. B
    June 25, 2010 at 7:19 pm

    I’m proud of you still learning…. I still have the enlarger you used at school. Do you still have the 1st darkroom you used? A photographer is judged by his eye. The rest is just lab work. I can teach some one how to use a darkroom or photshop, but if you don’t have the eye your just a high tech want a be.

  2. June 26, 2010 at 5:09 pm

    i don't completely agree or disagree. i just think there are different categories of photography. there are purists (me), retouchers (also me) and then there are people who use photography as a means to another, different creative end. none is "wrong", but i definitely feel that those that are photoshoppers should at least own up to it. don't try to fool people by acting like you really took that shot.

  3. June 26, 2010 at 11:45 am

    I don’t have Photoshop, I use Adobe PhotoDeluxe — a VERY poor cousin, but it gets me where I want to be, and in the end it’s my artwork regardless of how I create it!

  4. June 26, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    I agree with you Jodie. Photography is an art and art is viewed in many different ways. I do both as well and have had success doing both. Thanks for sharing this Incredipeter.

  5. June 26, 2010 at 6:07 pm

    I agree with you Jodie. Photography is an art and art is viewed in many different ways. I do both as well and have had success doing both. Thanks for sharing this Incredipeter.

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