To Photoshop or not to Photoshop

To Photoshop or not to Photoshop

This is an easy question to answer…

The answer is: yes, but….

We have all been there, you take a picture of someone or something and inevitably during the editing process the question arises as to whether something should be removed from your photo. I struggled with this quite a bit when I first got into photography. Open the pages of just about any magazine and you will be able to spot the retouching a mile away. That lady with the perfectly smooth skin, over-whitened teeth and eyes so white that they pop right off the page of the magazine. The “to photoshop or not to photoshop” argument is as old as the program itself. The advent of single click filters make this an even larger argument, now you can take pictures at a wedding and one click the portraits with that “magazine effect” all in an afternoon. My opinion on using photoshop is not as hard staunch as many photographers, I’m not one of those “I never use photoshop” people, because I certainly use the program when needed. I’m a strong believer of getting things right in the camera and doing everything I can during a shoot to accomplish that, but sometimes you miss something during the shoot (especially me – with terrible eyesight) that needs to be removed. I treat photoshop as an ingredient in the recipe that I use to make a final image. In any good recipe, you notice right away if the balance of the ingredients is off because it won’t taste right – this is the same in a photograph, the over-touched skin or overblown eyes are easy to spot even for someone who isn’t a photographer.

I strongly believe that there is nothing wrong with photoshop or the one-click photo editing filters, but learn to use them. Your fancy new program may come with some great new presets and when you bought it you may have been tempted to just one-click your way through your next shoot. Remember this though: everyone else that bought that fancy new program also got the same presets as you, and chances are they were lured into the time saving possibilities like you were. Falling into this trap reduces the uniqueness of your images.

When I attended the reception for the debut of my Landscapes of the Body project, one of the comments that I heard repeatedly was viewers applauding the lack of photoshop in my work. I most certainly use photoshop, but I practice restraint in the amount of photoshop in my images, and I never use “off the shelf” presets. In an industry where heavy photoshopping is the norm, not using photoshop, or using it lightly makes your work stand out. In my project, the model’s faces are purposely omitted, which forces the viewer to look at the body rather than focusing on the face. I treated each image in the collection as its own entity and removed only what was necessary to maintain continuity with the other images in the project. I personally love the texture of people’s skin and think it is sad that so many photographers arbitrarily throw a heavy-handed skin softening layer on their portraits first thing. While I don’t sell my work or even do contract work for weddings or anything like that, I know people that do and I also look at a lot of photography online. If you want an education in what not to do in portrait photography, just go to craigslist and search for photographer in your area. I guarantee that you will see some terrible portfolios with models who have the plastic look. These photographers are the pinnacle of one-click editing program users.

Piper example from Google images

What is the takeaway here then? The next time you do a shoot, look at your work before you edit it. Just because you always soften the skin first or always reduce the highlights in that landscape doesn’t mean that you should always do that in every image. Look at the image and decide if you need to retouch it. Some of my favorite images, especially the landscapes had no photoshop except removing a piece of garbage or other distracting objects. I love long exposure landscapes, and sometimes a person will walk in front of you causing a ghost, I have zero problems removing this sort of thing. Likewise, a wrapper or other object that takes away from the photo. You are creating something for others to enjoy, do only the things you need to do to achieve your vision, but if you are going to move signs around and remove trash cans just learn to paint. Just because photoshop lets you do something doesn’t mean you have to in every image.