Photoshopped: it’s profanity to me

That’s right, profanity. It’s offensive to me when I show someone a photo and the first, or maybe second question is something like; “Is that photo heavily Photoshopped?” As if to tell me that the photo looks too nice and I could not have created it myself with only my camera. This photo is a good example and one that I got that question from more than one person about.

The facts: Yes I edited the image in Photoshop. I edit all of my photos in Photoshop because I shoot in raw mode. Sometimes I use Lightroom; other times I use nothing but Camera Raw. I’m not willing to embark in a discussion explaining the difference in those apps to someone who thinks that Photoshop is a legitimate verb. It’s just become far to common for non-photographers and photographer wannabes (OK using that non-word after the jab about PS as a verb might seem a bit contradictory) to use Photoshop as a verb thinking it reveals something about their ability to detect someone cheating to get a good photo. Sometimes it seems like an attempt to belittle someone’s achievement by claiming they used some type of magical tool to turn a clump of mud into a diamond.

The photo above received very little editing though. I sharpened the leaves a bit and made a slight adjustment to the color balance. The effect on the waterfall is the result of using a 10-stop neutral density filter. I used a handheld flash to illuminate the leaves. I hiked to the falls carrying my gear, shivered in the cold – it was 40 degrees and misting. I sat for about fifteen minutes staring at the scene before I took the shot. I think it’s a nice photo. It’s nice because I make an effort to be a good photographer, not because anyone can make good photos if they have Photoshop.

Even when photographers, myself included, use Photoshop to enhance or composite photos, I think it is very legitimate. Using Photoshop well is a skill. It’s a skill that takes an investment in time to learn well. Photoshop is an incredibly complex application. Sure, you could use it forĀ  nothing more than sharpening and adjusting the exposure of your jpeg images. People who don’t understand what a raw file is and certainly have no clue why serious photographers are willing to edit photos instead of trying to get them on social media sites as fast as possible straight out of their point and shoots, phones, or (gasp) expensive DSLR set on auto mode use Photoshop or other software (maybe Photoshop Elements) to edit their photos.

Photoshop (nor any other photo editing application) can transform poorly composed, blurry, boring photos into works of art. If editing software could save bad photos, photography websites would not be filled with some many horrible images posted by people who will never take the time to understand composition, color, lighting, or even what aperture and exposure are.

Don’t be surprised if you find your face “Photoshopped” onto the neck of a jackass and posted on social media somewhere next time you ask a photographer a stupid and insulting question. And the next time you ask, the answer will be “No, you really look like that to me”.

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