This is a topic that I see posted on social media every single day. It’s usually not a discussion of the actual topic, though. More often than not, it’s bundled up in a comment like “This isn’t photography!” or “Fake! You’ve Photoshopped this!”. Yeah, it’s a pretty one-sided conversation a lot of the time. But photographer and educator Blake Rudis explores the topic quite in-depth in this video.
The criticisms of the use of Photoshop in photography often come from the self-proclaimed “purists” who believe that every image has to look how it looks right out of the camera (which still has digital post-processing applied, btw) and there’s very little that seems to dissuade them from their beliefs. But ultimately, does it really matter what other people think about your use (or lack) of Photoshop?
Blake obviously uses Photoshop. His channel is primarily about teaching people how they can use Photoshop to enhance their imagery. But there’s this thing called “context”, which Blake alludes to quite often in the video. If you’re creating images for yourself, under no instruction or direction from an employer or a client and you’re not shooting documentary work or press images where capturing accurate real-life events is important, whatever anybody else thinks about your use of Photoshop doesn’t really apply.
It’s the big difference between a photographer as an artist and a photographer as a camera technician. Of course, you want to be proficient in the tools you’re using either way, but the artist is using the camera and whatever other tools are at his disposal in order to create a vision that they can share with others. That vision doesn’t always look like reality. They want to recreate that image they saw in their head or that feeling of what it was like to be at that place at that moment.
If you’re press, shooting images for news or documentation, then you absolutely want to record what you see in front of you as accurately as possible and modifying images is very frowned upon – and potentially illegal in some parts of the world. Passing off manipulated images as a factual record of something that happened in the real world is definitely not cool, wherever you live.
It’s that context that a lot of the “purists” don’t understand. They think that every photograph has to be documentary. I’ve been hearing them for over two decades now saying that “digital has destroyed photography!” while also praising the likes of Ansel Adams who did more to their images in the darkroom than the vast majority of people will ever do to their images in Photoshop. And Blake points that out in the video, too.
Whichever side of the fence you fall on, it’s well worth a watch to try to at least better understand those on the other side of the argument, even if you don’t agree with them and you’ll never be able to change their mind!
Personally, I’m with Blake. I don’t see anything wrong with Photoshop when used in context. If you see photography as an art and your goal is to reproduce a vision or a feeling in image form for the benefit of the viewer, then use whatever tools are at your disposal in order to make that happen. Take out those distractions. Swap out those ugly skies. If you’re shooting for your local newspaper, though, probably don’t do that.
How about you? Are you in favour of Photoshop or should the image be as it is the instant you hit the shutter and that’s that?