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The Great Photoshop Debate

Updated: May 4, 2020

amazing photoshop techniques

Well, this one promises to throw up a few interesting views.

Photoshop, you either love it or you hate it, Nothing in landscape photography circles seems to provoke so much heated debate as this with the possible exception of Nikon v Canon !

With the modern era of digital photography being in its prime the way people shoot has changed and lightroom & photoshop are now the normal tools for pretty much everyone prapticing digital photography.

But lets be clear, theres Photoshopping and then theres Photoshopping... Confused ? You will be.

How many times have you seen an image in the regular press and then read the comments underneath to see non photography people exclaiming in horror, "Thats a photoshop" like it was the biggest crime ever committed and they have caught the photographer out red handed.

As we all know, half the time when people say its a photoshop they are refering to the fact that its been manipulated to such an extent that it cant be real, very often this isnt the case but people just wont accept that as they have never seen or managed to capture somthing like whats in the image.

So is Photoshopping an image acceptable ? Is it a bad thing ? Does it discredit the image taken and indeed the photographer ?

All points that will cause endless debate depending on your point of view.

Expressed below are MY views only, I don't say they are the right view, they are merely my own ones and its how I personally see it, they will probably differ to others and thats just fine cause were all individuals and we all have our choices and styles that we stick too.

So where do I stand on it ? Well yes I use photoshop on every photograph on my site and I've never felt like thats a bad thing or a problem ?

All of my photographs will have a few minor adjustments to them, a few curves adjustments, some sharpening and some saturation adjustments as a rule and anyone who has taken my post processing workshops will be able to testify that I use very few adjustments to get my Images ready.

One thing I NEVER do is too add things to the images that wernt there in the first place, we've all seen the images of the huge moons rising above the oceans etc that the general public seem to lap up and believe they are real while the majority of landscape photographers are holding their heads in their hands or maybe even letting out a chuckle or two.

This in my mind is a step too far, adding things that wernt there by its very definition cant be classed as a photograph, a digital blend yes, but not a photograph.

Now there are some incredibly talented digital artists out there who produce wonderful images with heavy manipulation and they make no secret of it, to these people I applaud you as its a fantastic skill that takes a lifetime to master and if you can do it well then more power to you, the ones who deny it however, well thats a different matter.

Photoshop should never ever be considered a substitute for getting it right 'in camera' in the first place, no matter how much you choose to manipulate a bad image it will still always be a bad image.

To coin an old phrase, you cant polish a turd, but you see a lot of them getting rolled in glitter.

Photoshop when used sparingly and well can really bring out elements in your pictures that were perhaps not showing so well on a raw file but you could see them there on the day, for this style im all for.

If your shooting in RAW and you should be then Photoshop or Lightroom etc are essential tools to process your image, if you were to just shoot in JPEG then your camera would actually be already adding contrast, saturation and sharpening to your image but as a global adjustment rather than selectively which is what post processing software allows you to do.

Adding the elements to the areas you see fit allowing you to show the image how you feel it should be seen.

Landscape photography is such a personal thing and the vision you have for your shot is your own so no one can tell you its right or wrong, it is YOUR vision.

Of course you can over do it and make your picture look the equivalent of one of these ladies who has had a bath in fake tan followed by so much make up it's a wonder her face hasn't fallen off, and don't even get me started on skin smoothing and dog ears !

Once again in my opinion the best use of Photoshop programs is to enhance what is already a well taken picture with all the elements in place, good composition, good light, good lines etc...

When the basic shot is there and looking good and you can bring out some details and colours then great, its as vauble tool as a tripod or lens, essential in fact.

So why does it have such a stigma attached to it ? When someone says its a "Photoshop" its almost hurled as a criticism by people who claim it wasnt what the camera saw and you dont have the same skill set as a film photographer ?

Well its an opinion but one which i would take offence too, There is no doubt that the great film landscape photographers are indeed and amazing talent and the timeless images they have captured on slides getting it right takes years of knowledge and fine tuning of the craft, is digital landscape photography so different ?

You still need to get it right in the first place, sure you get instant feedback from the display and you can make instant changes to the exposure to get it bang on so from that point of view it takes out some guess work but at the same time its still a skill to get it right in the first place, to know where you got it wrong and to make the changed to get it right.

Many of the most renound landscape photographers were manipulating images in their darkrooms long before digital photography was even dreamed possible.

Dodging and burning was a technique used to great effect by the godfather of landscape photography, Ansel Adams.

He shaped his images the way HE wanted in the dark room, was it exactly as the camera had taken it ? No.

No one would doubt his skill or integrity and rightly so. He made his visions come to life and his visions became more than just a photograph, it became art and for that we should all admire the great man and his work.

So why today is photoshop still looked down upon by many ? Its the same thing after all ? maybe more advance but the basic pricipals remain the same.

The bottom line is this, If you enjoy your photography and you enjoy your finished work all be it on film, a digital image or a "photoshop" then thats all that matters.

You dont need to have your work validated by anyone else as its personal to you so if something works then great, keep on doing it.

On the flip side i honestly feel the more your persue landscape photography then the more pure you become, you go from making lots of adjustments and rescues on pictures to doing far less.

You hone your technique in camera and in the digital dark room, No longer do you need to make as many adjustments, a few small tweaks here and there to define your vision is all it takes.

Now that in my opinion is not a photoshop, even though it is.

Separating the word photoshop from the meaning of highly manipulated is the key here, if joe public understood that then there would be far less stigma around the subject.

Photoshop is not a crime, even if some may have you believe it is.

Im really keen to hear everyones views on this so please do leave a comment down below and see what the general opinion is.

Thanks for reading and as always, Happy shooting.

Daniel Wretham

Landscape photography blog

Landscape Photography Blog

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