I sometimes get the response "Photoshopped?" when I post watch photos, or people will ask me if I use image editing software to achieve my results. Below are my thoughts on this matter.

The term "Photoshopped" carries the implication of altering the image away from the real, usually in some gimmicky manner. That's not unwarranted as it is indeed often used for such purpose. However, I feel the use of photo editing software seems to be misunderstood by many people, particularly those who do not have a background in photography. Very few photographers, now, or in the past, would think of offering up their raw images. Some level of processing, however minimal or extensive, was involved in reaching the finished image. Family happysnaps are probably the closest you'll see to raw images but even these are manipulated by the 1-hour developer/printer without people realising it.

Photographers use whatever is at hand, be that a chemical or digital darkroom, to process their images. Photoshop, Paint Shop Pro, or any of the other capable editing suites are the equivalent of a darkroom, albeit possessing capabilities beyond that of most darkrooms of the past.

I never present a raw image. I wouldn't think of it. I shoot with a finished image in mind and part of the whole package to achieve that is the editing. I use Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro to process my images. Standard processing may include gamma correction, colour correction, contrast, sharpening, and other basic editing tools. These are much the same as a photographer/printer would have used in the darkroom of the past. If I wish to further manipulate the image I have the option of a slew of tools and filters to use.

Using post-processing software is as natural to a photographer as shooting the image. I've been doing this for about 25 years, with or without Photoshop. The digital darkroom is basically an extension of what I did in the past. Then, I would use different chemicals to enhance or inhibit contrast in developing of the film, different grades of paper in printing to achieve various effects, and dodging and burning during exposure of the print to darken or lighten areas, to name just a few techniques. The major difference in the digital darkroom is that I can now control the process much more and experiment without having to invest in expensive equipment or darkroom/lab time.

I also get the distinct impression that many people think "Photoshopping" will somehow magically produce a good image. Not so. Photographers still need to strive to capture the best raw image possible, as they always have. Image editing will rarely save a poor image, and the photographer will likely never be happy with it. The editing process should be considered as part & parcel of the whole deal, of creating an image from the idea in the mind to the final picture.


CLICK HERE to return to Photographic Basics.

Copyright 2005 Paul Delury