Photo of The Shard London by Norman Young

Photoshop – So misunderstood.

Photoshop is a software tool (app) for editing and processing photographs.

Unfortunately, for many people, the term that an image ‘has been Photoshopped’ has become synonymous with fakery. What they may not realise is that ALL photographs are processed in some way simply in order for them to exist. So it’s unfortunate that Joe Public has developed this negative concept about processing/post-processing, aka Photoshop. It’s also unfortunate that anyone expressing disapproval for Photoshopping is essentially suggesting the default, vanilla, Straight-Out-Of-Camera (SOOC) settings are somehow superior or have the  ‘moral high ground’.

Of course, Photoshop has become the ‘industry standard’ for editing and processing photographs, but there are many other excellent software apps that do similar things, have significant respect and market share, albeit perhaps lesser known outside the industry.

Photographers who sanctimoniously declare they don’t use Photoshop are being disingenuous, as they are certainly using something else. Perhaps they may get away with the claim if they are using photos Straight-Out-Of-Camera (SOOC) (usually in the file format known as jpeg/jpg) but the reality is that the camera is doing the processing for them. Many cameras can produce SOOC jpegs that look great these days, but most serious photographers still prefer to retain control over how their final images look and further edit these jpeg files or shoot in a format called RAW. RAW files record the exposed image straight from a camera’s image sensor chip, without any (significant) in-camera processing. The RAW files subsequently need to be processed and converted into photographs on a computer with converter software, a bit like having a darkroom inside the computer, only instead of processing negatives and prints, it is all done digitally.

Digital technology allows the photographer much more control over how the finished photo will look, although in the days of film, many photographers had a range of tips and tricks to control the process and get the look they wanted. In the end all photographs are processed whether they are film negatives and prints, slides or digital.

Photoshop may have become the target of disparaging remarks due, in part, to some high-profile photojournalism where people or objects were removed from or added to images to present a different news story, thereby misrepresenting the truth. At least when it comes to news reportage or documentary photography, I agree that distorting the truth is wrong. For other types of photographic work where creativity is the key, that’s another matter. However, all photographic images are processed and what’s so wrong with making your shots look their best for colour, tone, exposure, spot removal, a bit of cropping, etc.? It’s just a few minor adjustments to a few sliders, what’s the harm?

Negative connotations of Photoshop have become associated with making glossy magazine models an unobtainable ideal that may encourage anorexia or other feelings of inadequacy. Personally I believe that’s not the fault of Photoshop but the people who use it in that way and publish the magazines. But they are just giving the public what they want. We all know, ‘the public gets what the public wants’. If you don’t like it, don’t buy it. Even if that issue is a genuine one, we shouldn’t tar everyone that uses Photoshop with the same brush.

Personally, I’ve had various customers over the years checking that I will use Photoshop, i.e. retouch their images. Say no more. Delighted to oblige, although in some cases there are limits to what is possible!!

Let’s accept that the vast majority of women have used some or all of the following –  makeup, hairspray, perfume, hairdos, painted nails, skin treatments, etc. at some point in their lives. Men shave, apply aftershave, use scented deodorants and shampoos, plus maybe more if they’re a modern man. The European cosmetics industry was worth EUR 72 billion at retail sales price in the year prior to writing this, and people have the nerve to ask if something has been Photoshopped.

Plus, everyone dresses their best when they want to make a good impression. And there is the wearing of jewellery. Why do they do it? Why don’t people just go out ‘natural’? Isn’t all that just fakery and cheating?

Culture is no different the world over, adorning elaborate body decorations and clothing, at least for special occasions, but not always. So too many ancient tribal cultures, on all continents, since the beginning of humankind.

The bottom line is people want to look and present themselves in the best possible way.

Why should the creators of photographs somehow be judged differently for seeking to make their photos and whoever or whatever appears in them, look the best they can be?

I think, whether photographers are pro or enthusiast, they should seek to politely re-educate any who disparage the concept of Photoshop, even if we use something else like LightRoom, DarkTable, GIMP, Raw Therapee, Photo Ninja, Capture One…..

After all, we’re just trying to make our pictures look their best.