dramatic sunset sky over fort foster 1269-Edit-Edit
Is that photoshopped?

Not a week goes by that the topic of “Photoshopping” doesn’t come up in one of the photography groups I belong to on Facebook.

No matter how often it’s brought up, or how the comment or question is phrased, there’s no mistaking the negative connotation behind it. “Photoshopping” is bad, or dishonest when it comes to photography.

Some would have you believe that editing or as I prefer, enhancing, your photos is the work of Satan himself. It seems that if you need to perform any enhancements to your photos you’re at best cheating, at worst not a very good photographer in the first place.

“I Never Edit My Photos.”

Sunset light on fort foster bunker 5978
How about this one?

Leaving the documentary and news photographers out of it (where any photo manipulation is rightly frowned upon), the most common of the “anti-photoshop” photographers are those who “never edit their photos.”

The “I never edit my photos” group predominantly seems to consist of photographers, quite often but not always beginners, who shoot in jpeg (possibly with their camera set to full auto as well), who are perfectly happy with the way their photos look straight out of the camera (SOOC).

However, what these jpeg shooters don’t seem to understand, as they look down their collective noses at those of us who do use image editing software, is that the editing they “never do” was done for them by the camera. There are plenty of saturation adjustments, contrast, and sharpening (to name a few) decisions made for them with each and every picture they take.

Whether it’s the wonderful film simulations in the Fujifilm X-Series cameras, or Canon’s Picture Styles, for those shooting in jpeg, like it or not there’s is plenty of “Photoshopping” going on inside your camera with every press of the shutter.

And there’s nothing wrong with that. If you’re happy with your photos just the way the camera sees them, and you’re happy with the editing decisions the camera has mad for you, that’s perfectly okay.

But does that mean those who choose to edit their photos are wrong, or cheating?

Why I Do Edit My Photos.

winding river sunset 9848

What the camera sees and what our eyes see are two entirely different things. Especially when it comes to scenes with a lot of dynamic range, like the one above captured in the Pondicherry National Wildlife Refuge in northern New Hampshire.

What you see is how my Fuji X-T2 saw this particular scene. This is a straight out of camera Fuji RAF file, converted to jpeg in Lightroom, with nothing but a quick resize for the web and my watermark added to it.

The problem is that’s far from how my eyes actually saw the very same scene. If I saw it the way the camera did I certainly wouldn’t have bothered taking my camera out of the bag.

Which is where software comes into play, and why I do in fact “edit my photos.”

Here’s what I was able to accomplish in Lightroom with that original RAF file.

Johns River, Sunset Blue and Gold
Photoshop (or in this case Lightroom) to the rescue.

The biggest change I made was to give the shadow slider in Lightroom a great big shove to the right. All the way to 100*. Just look at all the detail that was hidden in those dark shadows in the original. This is much closer to how the scene looked and what inspired me to take the picture in the first place.

*Have I mentioned how amazed I am with my Fuji X-Series cameras, and how much detail I’m able to recover from apparently black shadows? 

Once done with a few more adjustments in Lightroom, contrast, white balance, etc., it was off to Color Efex Pro 4 for some of my own secret sauce, and here you have it, the final image.

Without the use of image enhancing software, instead of a photo I’m quite happy with I would have sent it on a one way trip to the trash bin.

So yes, I most certainly do edit enhance my photos.

Who’s Right?

The short answer is, neither.

If you’re happy with the photos you take and don’t feel the need to invest in or learn how to use image editing software, I’m happy for you.

And if you want to Photoshop the heck out of your photos, that’s fine too.

Where I take issue is when one side, which more often than not (but not always) is the “I never edit my photos” side, has a negative attitude about how the other side chooses to make photographs.

In the hiking community we have a saying, “Hike your own hike” which means you should hike a trail in whatever way makes you happy, not how someone else thinks you should.

So maybe the photography community should adopt a “Photograph your own photograph,” way of making pictures?

As far as I’m concerned, it’s the end result that matters, not how it was achieved. A good photograph is a good photograph, whether or not the photographer chooses to edit or enhance their photos is irrelevant.




42 thoughts on “Photoshop, The Dirtiest Word In Photography.

  1. Amen. When I started on my photography journey, I felt much the same way as you described others in the non-editing camp. I felt like I was a bad photographer if I couldn’t get the shot to look the way I wanted straight out of camera, and I assumed that all great photographs that I saw were straight out of camera!

    That’s exaggerating a bit… I knew that you could do some adjustments and things like that, but I never knew just how much some photographers will do. Fast forward several years, and now I do all sorts of post work because I see the value in it (and I’m not scared of the software anymore). I really think that 80% of photographers who distaste editing are simply scared of it, or don’t want to learn new software/techniques.

    I just took a handful of landscape photographs while up in Rhode Island (I had some free time around my day job which took me up there). Over half of them are multiple exposure blends… that would REALLY piss off some non-editing purists!

    1. same here. i too used to think myself as bad photographer cause i saw my images out of camera were either underexposed on shadows (while i concerned about the the sky to now to blow out)…. and much more.
      Glad to know i was not alone in feeling that way.

      1. Until someone makes a camera sensor with the dynamic range of the human eye, I’m sticking with Lightroom and a few creative plugins, the Nik Collection by DxO in particular.

    2. It is a bit of a rude awakening to realize that pressing the shutter is just one step on the way to a great photo.

      I make no secret that I enhance my photos most of the time. When doing so I strive for what I call “artisticly believable.” I want the viewers first reaction to be “Wow!” and not, “that can’t possibly be real.” Which in all honesty can be a very fine line between the two. On the other end of that I’ve photographed sunrises that I felt I had to tone down because the color was so over the top I didn’t think anyone would believe it.

      1. I’m in the same camp: striving for believability. In my opinion, over-saturation, excessive sharpening, and liberal usage of the clarity slider are the main editing culprits in many beginner landscape images. I was once guilty!

        1. I think we all have. The human eye is a funny thing. If you make a small adjustment it looks good, then your eyes get used to it, so you add a little more. Next thing you know you’ve got one oversaturated, halos out the wazoo, mess. One thing I found that works really well is to take what ever adjustment you’re working with, saturation, clarity, etc., and instead of slowly adding a little more until you’ve overdone it, take that slider and give it a great big shove to the right and then slowly walk it back until you have the look you’re after. Works every time.

  2. Thats so deep analysis of Post Processing Jeff. And thank you much for explaining it.

    I was the same “i never edit my photos” couple of years back when i had my old camera and even intial days with my DSLR. I used to think “its so wrong to edit your photo if you are clicking with a dslr. And whats the need to use a DSLR if someone has to edit image to make it look better” . i was may immature then to understand edit is not simply “just editing”

    Then i explored more about it and figured out the real meaning behind post processing and how its so in parallel with Negative print of all non-digital cameras. Our digital camera just collect light and its in post processing when we actually make it a Photo of that light as jpeg image.

    and now i dont dare to export my images without making necessary adjustments to make it look how i exactly felt about the scene while clicking it… so i can relate to your post so much… thanks for sharing it.

    1. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with people not wanting to enhance their photos, though I do think they are missing out by letting the camera make all of those decisions for them. I think there’s a learning curve that comes with photography the more serious you take it. First you need to learn the camera, so editing software is one more headache you don’t want right now. Then comes the rude slap in the face of “how come my pictures don’t look like that?” Then you decide to force yourself to get over the fear, and believe me since I’m NOT a techy kind of guy there was a lot of fear of learning some complicated piece of software. Which is where the magic happens, when you’re able to bring out the feeling and emotion that made you want to take the picture in the first place.

      I also think you hit on a very important part that I left out. How you feel about the scene and how you want to photo to come out can be equally as important as how it actually looked.

      1. I was super apprehensive about editing when I first got my digital camera. But my secret was to duplicate the image and then learn the steps involved. That way I still have the original to go back to. So I edit/enhance all of my images. And I am still learning! Haze removal and contrast are my favorite enhancers. Thanks for your article/blog!

        1. That’s the beauty of Lightroom. All edits are totally non-destructive. You can revert back to the original at any time. The only time any edits you’ve made get baked in are when you export the photo. Even then, you’re only exporting a copy, never the original.

  3. I also considered editing “cheating” — and still wonder at it when I see a friend (who takes really lovely photos) aim her phone at her target, and pre-edit even before she clicks that button. What she often selects is not what the sky (or whatever she is taking a photo of) looks like to my eyes. Yet the results are often great.

    But I’ve also been really frustrated by my attempts to take photos and have the lighting nowhere close to what it should be, for example.

    I love it when my photos show themselves well right away. And it does occasionally happen. But I’d also really really love to know how to enhance the ones that don’t show well, to the point that they look the way my eyes see them — or in some cases even better.

    Photos are like memories. And if the photo doesn’t represent the moment well, it’s not doing its job. Being able to make the memory more accurate is actually a good thing.

    1. It all comes down to the artists vision for the photo. Plain and simple. There are also many situations where it is indeed possible to capture a great photo straight out of the camera. Quite often during the golden hours though the dynamic range of the scene is just too great for the camera to capture accurately.

      You hit on the dilemma of all photographers. What’s more important, not blowing out the highlights(most important to me), or getting detail in every last dark nook and cranny in the scene?

      1. and I keep forgetting “the artist’s vision” — in part because I think the original artist does such a great job. However, this is a really good reminder (one voiced in several of the comments) to enjoy the photo as art, as well.

    1. I do the same thing! I always expose for whatever highlights I want to preserve, let the shadows fall where they may, and bring back what I can in post.

      In the end, a photographer should make photos for themselves and not with an eye towards what other people may like.

  4. Ansel Adams’ photographs would not look like they do if he did not process his negatives. Photoshop is today’s darkroom for digital images. Straight out of camera is for reporting accurate news. Photoshop is for creating art photography. Both methods require well shot images. The camera does not see what I see. So I am in the artist’s camp.

    1. So very true. While I have no problem with the use of Photoshop, or any other image editing software, you still need to start off with a well exposed, well composed photo. Photoshop should not be the tool used to fix what should have been addressed at the time of capture.

  5. I’ve been doing photography for a long time but it is just now I’ve gotten more artsy with my images. I use filters. Some photographers are OH no way! Cheating! No! I like to experiment and that is my right! I also use PS to enhance my images in order to bring across exactly the “emotions” or “message” that is my intention to bring across. It is an artist’s right, and yes photographers are artists, to do what they wish with their own work. For those who do not even use a camera, they have no idea what even goes on behind the scenes in order to capture what you do. It is personal preference what an individual does post capture. Geesh! What next will people fight about? This is all about beauty, about creating, and having FUN! And for me it is to share the immense privilege I have that Mother gives to me as I walk into a world that not many people even see. This world needs beauty! You keep on creating the way you want to and never mind the nay-sayers! 🦋

    1. Truer words were never spoken! I’m a huge fan of filters, plugins, and presets. Anything that makes the end result I’m after easier to achieve, and has me spending less time in front of the computer.

  6. Excellent post, Jeff. I’m with you all the way and have always enjoyed post- processing – much like dodging and burning in the old darkroom days. So many photos you see “out there” would be so much better with some post. Of course, there are some that like post-processing a little too much! 😃

  7. There is great truth in this post. I wish the camera could accurately capture what my eyes see. But because it doesn’t, I instead use programs to correct and enhance. And I make that picture my truth

  8. Great write up by the way. For publication purposes I understand why it is frowned upon. If everything is photoshopped, then people will not know what is real or fake. People are starting to live in a fantasy world through Instagram and social media and are not going out to experience mother nature and all the glory she has to offer. We are living in a scary world when it comes to social media. I however enjoy a nice edit. I edit many of my photos but mostly color correction and little touch up here and there. I did read something that made great sense to me though. When artist are painting a scene that is off in the background, they don’t included everything they are seeing. Sometimes they may leave out a tree or some shrubs off in the distance. So it is OK to alter images for artistic purposes. Lets just stay away from snobby people and enjoy photography and all the aspects it has to offer. It’s 2018! Not 1967 and 35mm is all fuss. Keep up the great write ups.

    1. You couldn’t be more right. When every picture posted to social media has some unrealistic filter added to it, how is one to know what’s real? I try to go only so far as to correct what Mother Nature may have left out at the time 🙂

      1. I checked out your portfolio. Your photos are wonderful. Just the right balance. Great composition and skill. Keep up the great work and hopefully one day our journeys will cross paths.

  9. Well reasoned! Ansel Adams said “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.” Post production is part of the process, inside or out of the camera. I also agree that each photographer has to take their own journey to realize their art. Good food for thought. Thanks for putting this out here!

    1. Thanks for the great comment. I don’t think most people realize how much Ansel Adams manipulated his images. All someone needs to do is google his iconic “Moonrise Over Hernandez.” The difference between the original negative and the final print, of which there were many versions, is astounding. He was most definitely not one who was satisfied with “straight out of camera.”

  10. I am not a photographer – but I know what I like and your photography is always, stunning, interesting and captivating. I love the work you share, so keep doing what you so clearly do brilliantly 💜

  11. I was lucky enough to have started out with film and darkroom techniques. If people only knew what decisions went into choosing film, how it is developed, what chemicals were used and how it was printed, they would never talk about the evils of Photoshop! Every single decision changes the outcome. Photoshop is my studio and darkroom now and I love it.

    1. So true! As I mention in my reply to Peter’s comment, Ansel Adams’ “Moonlight Over Hernandez” is a perfect example of just how extensive a film negative can be manipulated in the darkroom.

Comments and thoughtful critiques are always welcome.

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