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.




87 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.

      2. Absolutely agree Jeff. Its all about personal thought process what one want to achieve and how.
        And post processing softwares add to all the stress of to do or not to ? and where to start ? for me Lightroom was a way complicated when I started with so many sliders and how they effect the picture. I am lil better now in handling its still difficult to master.

        And thanks a lot for agreeing to my point about bringing out our feels and emotions through post.

        1. The best part about Lightroom is that nothing you do to your photo is permanent, at least until you export a copy. This way you can experiment with all of the sliders, presets, camera profiles, etc., all without fear of ruining your original image. Don’t like what you’ve done to the photo? Simply click the “Reset” button and you’re back to the beginning. This way you get a feel for what all of those sliders do without the worry of destroying your original. The only time the editing you’ve done becomes permanent is when you export. Even then, you’re only exporting a copy of 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.

      2. Agreed 100%. It depends on the intent of the photographer. Some pics don’t need any enhancements because the information that’s being relayed might just be straightforward. However if the photographer also wants to portray their own mood or presence in that moment, then enhancing the photo’s colors and light are the only ways to do that precisely.

        1. Exactly! I just find it odd that so many of the anti Photoshop crowd go out of their way to deride those that choose to utilize image enhancing software. Especially since I’ve never read anyone having much negative to say about those who choose not to.

    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.

  12. I should start by saying that I am a beginner, but not a snob. I think the problem lies where newbies who don’t know much about photography feel “duped” when they see an amazing photo and learn it was edited to be that way, and life is not really that beautiful. This is especially true of nature and landscape photography. If the photo is seen as art, then there is no controversy. But if the photo is seen as “truth” (ie: this is what you actually saw), then it’s a grey area. But as you mention, the more people learn about photography, the more they realize how much editing is going on all the time. For example, to me ISO is fake light. Again I am a newbie, but my understanding of ISO is that you are increasing the sensitivity of the camera to light. So how is that different that Photoshop brightness?

    The more we learn, the better understanding we’ll have, and the less judgemental. I like your photos, and I like your saying “Photograph your own Photo”. At the end of the day, I think it would help if we understood we are making art, and each in our own way.

    1. Very well said! Your ISO example is spot on. Simply by boosting the ISO the camera is able
      to see much more than what we can with our own eyes. So is that fake or misleading? A photo taken in very low light while using a high ISO will show way more than the human eye alone will see, yet nothing was added, removed, or enhanced.

      Another example is from the first time I photographed the Aurora Borealis. The human eye doesn’t see color at night, so to me it looked like pillars of light off in the distance. The camera however saw and captured the brilliant green and magenta colors as they actually are.

      In the end, as long as the final images are being presented as art and not necessarily as factual representations, almost anything goes.

    1. So very true! Almost all photos are better as the result of a little enhancement. If for no other reason than the camera simply doesn’t “see” the same way our eyes do. Of course how much, or how little post processing is done on an image is subjective and up to each photographer.

  13. The title of your blog made me laugh so hard. I am just learning photoshop and its a nightmare hahahaha!!!

    1. I feel your pain! When I first started out I was terrified?overwhelmed by Photoshop. Now most of my post processing is done in Lightroom, which was designed for photographers more so than Photoshop, is much more intuitive for me. When I do need to do something in Photoshop, Google has been invaluable. Whenever I want to lear how to do something in PS, a quick Google search usually brings up a bunch of great written and Youtube video tutorials.

  14. I do not use computer editing software. I edit my photos through my camera settings. I personally like the challenge of capturing an image without having to do too much editing afterwards. I believe photography to be an art and this is just my way of uniquely doing it. I look at Photoshop as a manipulating tool rather than an enhancement tool, thus I decide not to use it. I do not frown upon editing software though, because I do believe it to be a beneficial tool to photography artists.

    1. In that case, depending on which settings you’re referring to. Other than shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, if by “settings” you’re talking about internal filters, picture styles, or scene modes, there is plenty of post processing going on with your images. That’s not to say you can’t make a good image this way, I simply prefer the control I have by not allowing the camera to make those editing decisions for me. Does that mean I’m right and you’re wrong? Hardly! How we each achieve our final image is irrelevant, all that matters is that we think it’s a good one.

  15. In the digital age post-processing belongs to photography as the darkroom to analog cameras. I also met a few of those photographers, most of them just said that because they never learned how to use editing software. If they really like ‘unedited’ looks…okay. But as you already said – The dynamic range of a camera is nowhere near those of eyes., so naturally it is nowwhere near what they saw taking those photographs.

    1. And most people don’t get that. They don’t realize how much work people such as Ansel Adams put into their photos once they got them in the darkroom. Some day maybe cameras will be able to capture what our eyes see, but even then I won’t be interested in creating a purely documentary representation of what I saw.

      1. So right! There always was post-processing! I mean…what we as photographers try to create is art. I think those people don’t really get it. When they want a documentary style in their photographs I’m all for it, this is their style and when they are comfortable with it – I’d say: Go for it. But when they start to disparage another persons art when they don’t understand how it is done or on the other hand it simply is not their style, because they like those SOOCs and say everything else isn’t photography, this is so annoying. Because they don’t understand that photography, like every kind of art, is universal.

        But a camera with the dynamic range of an eye…all those possibilities with post-processing 😁

      1. We were definitely impressed. We stayed at a Bed & Breakfast on its last night open. In the spring it will become an Airbnb. It’s called A Newfound Bed & Breakfast. A single mom renovated the whole place from redoing the house, built a barn to live in, landscaping, etc. She was an amazing cook and baker.

  16. Hi Jeff,
    Thanks for sharing.
    I find that I prefer in camera as much as I can because I’d rather be in the field than in front of my computer. So instead of using a graduated filter in LR, I’ll use my physical filters. So what is more meaningful to me than the amount of manipulation, my motivation is to be with my camera as much as possible.

    1. No question, getting it as close to the way you want it at the time of capture is the way to go. I too would rather be behind the camera and don’t like to spend a lot of time post processing an image. I’ve got my workflow down to where from original RAW file to finished image takes me less than 5 minutes(probably less than a minute in most cases) to finished photograph.

  17. Great post very informative and well explained. Photoshopping photos is something that I haven’t been doing very long because I used to just like taking a picture and leaving it as it was. Through the years I’ve realized that photoshopping doesn’t take away from the natural beauty if done right. This has definitely helped me as a photographer.

    1. In my opinion this is exactly how post processing software should be used. I’m not interested in creating something that wasn’t there in the first place, I only want to bring out the best in what was there. The camera doesn’t see what I see or the way I see it, that’s where Lightroom comes into play. If all I did was convert flat and lifeless RAW files straight to jpeg, nobody would ever want to look at one of my photos ever again, no matter how well composed, or well exposed, or how great the subject is. 🙂

  18. I take most of my shots in raw format and use Lightroom and/or Photoshop to get them to look the way I want them to look. Most of the time, the editing I do is to bring out what I saw in my mind’s eye when I snapped the shutter. Occasionally, it involves transforming the image into something completely different. Recently I was reviewing some old shots taken in North Cascades National Park on a bright, sunny afternoon, in harsh light, looking for black and white conversion candidates. At the same time, the fires in California were on my mind. One thing led to another and I ended up using the blur gallery tilt-shift option and added lens flare to create a scene completely different from the original photo. To me, photography is art and Photoshop is a tool, just like the camera is.

  19. I believe both are beautiful and neither right or wrong. It just depends on the person and what they want to portray to the world. Whether it be the lighting, the contrast, the world is their canvas and they are the artist that can make modifications in any way they like. It is about showing the beauty that they see behind it rather than just the original. On the other hand, beauty is in the insecurities or the blandness, but solely it is up to the artist’s vision.

    1. I don’t know a single serious photography who doesn’t enhance their photos. Some more than others, but they all do to some extent. It’s usually the beginner/amateurs who have the biggest issue with photo enhancement.

  20. I think the anti-editing sentiment some people have is based off of unrealistic faith in their cameras. Supposedly an unedited photo is more “honest”, but the human brain does a great deal of post processing that a camera doesn’t. Because of this, I feel that an edited photo can very well be a better representation of what an object would look like to an actual person than an unedited one.

    1. So true. I’m sure some day there will be an image sensor that is able to capture a scene as the human eye sees it. But until then almost all photos require some sort of editing or enhancement before they should be considered “finished.” News/documentary images being the exception of course.

  21. Insightful and very true. It can be frustrating when people win due to a photoshop creation they’ve compiled but hey, we do live in a digital world.

    1. That all depends. If the rules state no manipulation outside of your basic crop, saturation, contrast adjustments, then that would definitely be wrong and cheating. However, absent such rules I’m inclined to think all is fair. I never really care how the image is made, as long as the end result is a good image. I would also expect an honest photographer to be truthful when asked about the image. Don’t tell me it’s a single exposure when in fact its a sky from an entirely different image that’s been blended in. That’s why I rarely share the technical details of an image I make when sharing here or on my Facebook page. If asked though, I’m totally honest with what went into the final photo.

  22. I think everyone has their own view you like Photoshop or not it doesn’t matter you prefer photography but what a camera see or our eyes that capture it but now days gradually improvement in digital camera is on its height …photographer also use iso setting exposure many kinds of setting so we partly go always with some better results. I think Photoshop and camera has their own value at its proper place..😎

    1. My apologies, I’m not sure how I missed your comment.

      So true, but don’t you find it odd how the “I never edit my photos” crowd is so militant about it? I’ve never seen or heard of anyone who uses image enhancing software of being so vocal against people who don’t enhance their photos. But you can read the disdain in every comment from people who don’t “never photoshop” their photos.

      As far as I’m concerned, the final image is all that matters. I don’t care how you get there, all that matters at the end of the day is, is it a good image?

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