The best way to answer ‘Do you Photoshop your pictures?’

Feb 25, 2020

Michael Comeau

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

The best way to answer ‘Do you Photoshop your pictures?’

Feb 25, 2020

Michael Comeau

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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Last night, I did an ‘Ask Me Anything’ session on Instagram Stories and someone asked the question: ‘Do You Photoshop Your Pictures?’

My reaction was the same one most photographers have:

“Yes, just like 99% of photographers out there, I do some post-production on my pictures. Even in the film days, photographers like Richard Avedon and Irving Penn edited the hell out of their photos.”

And then I realized — that would have been the dumbest possible response.

So instead, I went full snark and said “I produce a result. That’s all you need to know.”

Below, I’ll discuss how I address this question in real life.

The Two Forms This Question Takes

Sometimes, people ask ‘Is That Photoshopped?‘ just to make conversation — the same way a non-photographer might ask what kind of camera you use, or if you shoot film or digital.

And then there’s the more sinister form of this question — when it’s implied that post-production is somehow inherently bad.

This type of puritanism is what we’re attacking today, and it can come from art buyers, clients, and even your fellow photographers.

The Two Times to Discuss Your Post-Production Process

Unless you’re just talking shop, there are only two reasons to ever discuss your post-production process:

The first is to justify the cost of a job. For example, if an actor wants to know why you charge $400 for a headshot, you could say something like this:

“On average, a professional headshot that meets the standards of casting directors requires 30-40 minutes of post-processing.”

You’re turning the cost into a benefit, and presenting it as an industry norm.

And the second is if you’re shooting film or using some other analog process like wet plate. Why? Because it’s actually pretty interesting and out of the ordinary in 2020. If I was shooting film, I’d talk about it every chance I could.

Outside of that, do not take the question head on.

Because when a purist asks ‘Is That Photoshopped?,” they’re really asking ‘Is That Fake?’

The only answer that will satisfy them is ‘No. This picture is 100% natural, like a beautiful newborn baby.’

So turn the tables on them.

Here’s how.

Mental Judo For the Modern Photographer

Neediness is an unattractive quality.

That’s true in love, business, and every other area in life.

And guess how you look when you defend something that you don’t need to defend?

Needy, and desperate for approval.

So instead, do some simple mental judo and put the purist on defense — something they never see coming.

My stock response is: “I’m curious — why is that important to you?”

Now they have to verbally justify the idea that there’s one right way to do things — which is a lot harder than it sounds!

They’re forced to consider that there is no ‘correct’ opinion on post-processing.

And that’s when facts like this can penetrate their bubble:

“Photographers were retouching skin, swapping heads, manipulating color, and compositing images decades before Photoshop even existed.”

The goal is not to win an argument or make someone feel stupid.

It’s about building common ground, and getting people to focus on the result you deliver.

You can’t do this with everyone, but you will win some people over.

And by not being just another needy photographer, you’ll earn some respect.

About the Author

Michael Comeau is the Editor of OnPortraits.com, an online community dedicated to simple, classic portrait photography. You can click here to download their free eBook “37 Weird Tips for Better Portrait Photography.” This article was also published here and shared with permission.

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19 responses to “The best way to answer ‘Do you Photoshop your pictures?’”

  1. Elisabeth Titulaer Avatar
    Elisabeth Titulaer

    No. I process them.

  2. Viggo Næss Avatar
    Viggo Næss

    Why is there “you won an iPhone” crap commercial covering the page?

  3. Michael Bray Avatar
    Michael Bray

    To be a dick, reply “No I use Lightroom” or something smartass like “Why? Do you want me to edit out your double chin?”

  4. Chung Dha Lam Avatar
    Chung Dha Lam

    I use Capture One

  5. Clarence Hemeon Avatar
    Clarence Hemeon

    Simple, nope.

  6. Gareth Wild Avatar
    Gareth Wild

    Only when I want to get a reaction ?

  7. Kryn Sporry Avatar
    Kryn Sporry

    Insta-filters on my phone ????

  8. András Kühn Avatar
    András Kühn

    “no”

  9. AffiliateLabz Avatar
    AffiliateLabz

    Great content! Super high-quality! Keep it up! :)

  10. Don Barnard Avatar
    Don Barnard

    Do you put salt on your food?

    1. Alex Calder Avatar
      Alex Calder

      I like this one.

    2. Arthur_P_Dent Avatar
      Arthur_P_Dent

      You could also ask “Do you cook your food?”

  11. Glenn Giese Avatar
    Glenn Giese

    Yes.?

  12. Michael A Candee Avatar
    Michael A Candee

    The capture is just the gesso on the canvas-the processing is the art!

  13. Bruce Hughes Avatar
    Bruce Hughes

    No

  14. Andrus Chesley Avatar
    Andrus Chesley

    I generally say No, I use either LR CC or Faststone Image viewer depending on what I want to do with the raw file photo.

  15. steve simmer Avatar
    steve simmer

    As the author says, when someone asks, “Is this photoshopped?” they really mean, “It this fake?”. The best response I was given from another photographer was to ask, “Have you been to the movies lately?” I usually take a moment to explain that every digital image is processed. You can either let your camera’s algorithms generate a finished JPG photo from the RAW file, or you can take the RAW file into your computer and process it by hand. When they understand that RAW processing in Lightroom is analogous to putting a film negative through a darkroom process, they relax.

  16. A_n_S Avatar
    A_n_S

    I think that proposed answer is as pretentious as the question. A better answer is “Do you like it?”, And regardless of what they answer to that (yes or no), the follow up is: “so, then why do you care how it was made?”

  17. angrybanana Avatar
    angrybanana

    This is a naive question to ask (I presume only non-photographers would ask it this way). The proper question is “do you do post-processing” to which the answer is Yes. The answer “I produce a result” sounds evasive and pretty much gives a “Yes” answer anyway.