Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Photoshop is a Noun, not a Verb

Buckle up boys and girls, this is going to be one of my infamous deranged ramblings.

I was just reading another blog, when I came upon a decent photograph, and underneath it there was a caption that read: I used Photoshop to tweak the shadows, but other than that, I didn't manipulate it at all. (I'm not quoting, because I don't want it to be Googled and found. I'm paraphrasing to use it as an example. I have no desire to point a finger directly at someone.)

One problem, the image was black and white. So, unless you stepped through some magic door into "The Purple Rose of Cairo", the image was most certainly manipulated more than just tweaking the shadows.

The whole "Photoshop" debate has been going on since well before the popular inception of digital capture. Prior to digital capture, printed images were scanned into computers and edited with Photoshop, whose first version was released in 1990.

Scott Bulger Photography


Photoshop is a noun. It is a thing. It is a software program. "IT" doesn't "DO" anything. It is a tool. A person with this tool can "edit" images on his/her computer. The person edits (verb), using Photoshop (the tool, a noun). A person can also edit their images with a plethora of other computer programs that are also all nouns. Gimp, Picassa, etc.....all nouns.

"I don't use Photoshop" I have heard exclaimed proudly to anyone that was interested in viewing their very mediocre images. "That's why my photographs don't look as good as those over there. He/She uses Photoshop."

Oh really? Raise your hand if you have heard this before. More than likely, your image is sub-par, because your skills are sub-par. Maybe you didn't use Photoshop specifically, but if you are displaying digital images anywhere, you certainly used some sort of editing program somewhere along the line. In the hands of a craftsman, a $10 hammer will work just as well as a $100 hammer. Instead of complaining about the other guy having a $100 hammer, just learn how to use your $10 hammer. The $100 hammer will not make you a better carpenter.

"I don't like photographers that manipulate their pictures." I've heard this before too.

Explain to me "manipulate".

Let's check the 2006 American Heritage Dictionary:

ma·nip·u·late (mə-nĭp'yə-lāt') Pronunciation Key
tr.v. ma·nip·u·lat·ed, ma·nip·u·lat·ing, ma·nip·u·lates

1. To move, arrange, operate, or control by the hands or by mechanical means, especially in a skillful manner: She manipulated the lights to get just the effect she wanted.
2. To influence or manage shrewdly or deviously: He manipulated public opinion in his favor.
3. To tamper with or falsify for personal gain: tried to manipulate stock prices.
4. Medicine To handle and move in an examination or for therapeutic purposes: manipulate a joint; manipulate the position of a fetus during delivery.


You see, there are a few different definitions for "manipulate" and some of them aren't so nice, but the primary one is the key: To move, arrange, operate, or control by the hands or by mechanical means, especially in a skillful manner.

Sounds OK to me.

Everyone has a different "comfort level" with what they consider acceptable manipulation. Most photographers consider black and white film photography to be "pure", but black and white images are a far cry from reality, don't you think?

I had a "long" discussion in one of my classes when a student started to question me about Ansel Adams and his "manipulation" of his images. Well, sure, Mr. Adams manipulated his images by dodging and burning and using some filtration to alter contrast. The student felt "mislead" because he thought he was looking at reality. He neglected to mention that all of the images discussed were black and white. Also not reality, but somehow, this didn't bother him/her.

No amount of editing, with Photoshop or any other software program, is going to take a junk photograph and make it into a masterpiece. You can roll elephant dung in powdered sugar, but that doesn't make it a chocolate donut. (Thanks for the visual, Will)

My own personal line with photo editing (yes, I own and use Photoshop, as does 99% of all other professional photographer out there) is that I won't do anything that I couldn't do in the 30 years that I have been working in a darkroom. This means that I use my editing software to crop, dodge, burn, adjust contrast (by using curves) and levels, adjust color (just like I would by using different films), clean up dust spots (just like I would with Spotone), overlap negatives, and otherwise prepare an image for digital or print display.

What I won't do is take a photograph of a seagull and move it into a landscape of a beach on Hawaii and call it one of my vacation photos. First of all, I've never been to Hawaii, secondly there are no seagulls in Hawaii, and thirdly you are misrepresenting your image to the viewer. Do what you want with your editing software, just call it what it is. We have a responsibility to all who try to emulate our work by giving them the information necessary to do so. By displaying impossible to recreate images, and referring to them as actual, we do our students a disservice.

Where is your line? How do you feel about this?

36 comments:

jiggins said...

Hey Scott! I am a novice when it comes to Photoshop, but I do use it whenever I see it fit. Photography is a hobby and I am no pro - but I love what it allows me to convey (Photoshop I mean) and it helps in the actual shot while I am imagining what the finished product will be. I agree that some have used Photoshop to explain why their photos are not good - and I agree with you that it is malarky. Anyway, thanks for the post - it was fun to read the slight rant-nature of it.. and I enjoy your views. See ya on the next post!

DivaDea said...

Do what you want, but call it what it is - exactly!

fenrislorsrai said...

Usually if someone describes something as Photoshopped, it really should be described as Photo-Chopped. Verb usually means the image is going to be scary.

Admittedly there's many great people that do use digital image editors to do AMAZING things. Then there's people that slap a hand drawn image on a photographic background and add a lens flare and call it good. Curse you lens flare tool...

Jeremy Shane said...

Nice article Scott. You know I agree.

Now, there is a difference between those artists that create digital art with photoshop and turn a simple pic into something that is clearly not just a photograph. But I don't think that is what we are talking about here.

I think that almost every photo is going to need a little bit of editing. Even if it is just for basic color & contrast corrections, straightening a horizon line, etc.

When I worked in a lab processing pictures on 35mm when I was younger, we had to make those same corrections on the printer that people now need to make in a photoshop type program.

I just hope photographers, amateur or pro, realize that using photoshop (or similar editing program) is not an evil or un-pure act.

Julie Magers Soulen said...

I couldn't have said it better! Thanks for clarifying it for the people that think it's "cheating". I get so tired of explaining myself to them!

Meg said...

Hi Scott. I am a big fan of Photoshop, and use it for all of my editing. I've encountered many varying viewpoints about it - from the film-using purists who think using Photoshop is "cheating" and would never do it, even if it did improve their images; to those over-zealous types who seem to use it just for the sake of using it.

I think how one uses Photoshop really depends on the ultimate goal of the photographer. If your goal is to show the reality of something as it truly is, keeping the editing to a minimum would be advised. If, however, you intend to show the viewer a different reality... Photoshop can be a very useful tool in doing so.

Personally, my goal is not always to show reality, but to create something surreal. I don't mislead people into thinking things are unedited. I also don't think it is wrong to create something that cannot be recreated. Perhaps from a teaching aspect that wouldn't be the way to go, but from my point of view as someone who is looking at this as more of an art career, the idea of creating something that cannot be duplicated is in fact, quite appealing.

There is an epidemic of what I'd call "Photoshop Abuse" going around though. Lots and lots of people out there taking bad pictures, "Photoshopping" them to death, and then calling themselves photographers. And I'm sure that even I overdo it at times, and know I definitely overdid it when I was first starting out, but I'm at the point where this is all still one great big experiment to me.

Anyway, sorry for the looong comment here. I enjoy your blogs quite a bit.

Christina said...

Thank You Scott, I think this is a perfect way of explaining it.....I have has so many snub their noses at my work because I do use photoshop. I love reading your posts.

Scott Bulger Photography said...

Allow me to thank those that have already commented and address a few of the points they have made:

jiggins - Conveying a thought is what art is all about. Art is created with "Intent", not by accident. Keep it up!

DiveDea - Thank you

fenrislorsrai - the preset "tools" are there for a reason...everybody uses them...

Jeremy - you are right on the money sir. Thanks for stopping by.

Julie - you don't need to explain yourself to them. Just let them go on their merry way.

Meg - Even film purists that think that "Photoshop is cheating" are just being hypocritical. If they are displaying their images on the web, they are using some sort of editing software. If they are pros, it is usually Photoshop. If they shoot black and white film, they are altering and manipulating their reality to get the image they want.

Christina - If anybody snubs their nose at your work because you use Photoshop, they are ignorant. Maybe you only use Photoshop to resize or crop an image...is that a reason to snub snub it? It's all about where each individual artist draws the line and representing themselves and their work accurately.

Christina said...

Thank you Scott.

JuliaA said...

i asked a fellow jewelry-maker if she used photoshop at one point. she got a bit defensive, and made very sure to tell me that she only used photoshop to improve the quality of the pics so they would reflect the pieces that she was photographing.

that was what i meant in the first place.

photography skills take a lot of work to acquire. photo editing skills too. seems like you need to have a good combo of both to have really good pics. i'm still working on that.

JuliaA said...

i asked a fellow jewelry-maker if she used photoshop. she got a bit defensive, and made very sure to tell me that she only used photoshop to improve the quality of the pics so they would reflect the pieces that she was photographing.

that was what i meant in the first place.

photography skills take a lot of work to acquire. photo editing skills too. seems like you need to have a good combo of both to have really good pics. i'm still working on that.

Karrie Welborn said...

I've only had photoshop for a month or so, and I think it's great fun! I'm still learning how to use it, but I love experimenting with layers and textures.

kim* said...

yeah its definitly a noun or it wouldnt be the name. im ganna jump. im ganna kim. ummm no definitly not a noun

kim* said...

although i do say i photoshopped it. which is is like saying i phoned my mom today. ya see?

mkcphotography said...

Thank you, Scott! I always enjoy a good soapbox chat and this one was well worth reading - I'm in complete agreement!

Will Michael Photography said...

I love you, man.

Chocolate covered onions, anyone?

Sus said...

No amount of editing, with Photoshop or any other software program, is going to take a junk photograph and make it into a masterpiece.

WHAT? HUH? Nooooo!! Say it isn't soo!!! *snicker snicker*

I will confess to having been one of those photog's, back in my early college days, who waxed poetic about being a "pure" photographer who would "never" manipulate an image. ...yeah I eventually figured out the error of my ways. *lol*

My comfort level in terms of manipulation has greatly changed over the years, going from exactly what you speak of for yourself to doing that which you say you'd never do.

I feel it all depends on what exactly it is that you are attempting to represent and like you said we owe it to the viewer to let them know how we are representing that image. I flip flop around a lot. *lol*

Peter said...

Interesting observations, Scott - and I tend to agree. one thought I had about your first comment - about the B&W image - it could have been a scanned B&W image...or if it was a digital image it could have been taken with the camera in B7W mode, in which case strictly speaking it may not have been tweaked much in Photoshop.

I think the word "photoshop" is in danger of being regarded more widely as a verb - echoes of the word "hoover"! How many people hoover their carpets even when they use another manufacturers vacuum cleaner?! It's the way language evolves, but I tend to agree I'd rather use words like edit or tweak or adjust, rather than "I photoshopped the image"!

Unfortunately I never learned darkroom skills, and I do feel it's something I missed out on. But I've seen plenty of examples of manipulation on darkroom-produced work. I guess you could say that certain ways of composing an image when actually shooting it can be called manipulation. "Tidying up" foliage round a flower to make a neater shot; using certain angles; even when creating a still life image - you're moving objects around to get the strongest image.

I don't see anything wrong with editing an photo to give a new background for example, or to add a detail that wasn't there originally, if it creates an interesting image, but yes it shouldn't be passed off as something that it's not, it shouldn't be used to mislead people.

Anyway I seem to be rambling lol. Keep up the good work with the blogs, they're always interesting and thought-provoking!

Scott Bulger Photography said...

"one thought I had about your first comment - about the B&W image - it could have been a scanned B&W image...or if it was a digital image it could have been taken with the camera in B7W mode, in which case strictly speaking it may not have been tweaked much in Photoshop."

Exactly my point Peter. Even if it was a black and white silver print that was scanned, or it was shot in a camera's B&W mode (blech), it was manipulated from reality just by being B&W. Does HOW you manipulated it matter? Obviously, B&W is not reality, so the simple act of inserting B&W film into your camera be called "manipulation".

Christy said...

Interesting rant, I must say. I used to be one of 'those people' who would look at a super nice photograph and scoff because I felt they used PS to blatantly enhance their image and somehow felt that was 'photographic cheating'. Now that I've been into photography for a number of years I only WISH I could take photos of that quality, edited or not.

I edit pretty much all of my images. They aren't really great to begin with, but I like the idea that I can further manipulate something to make it even more unique. To me, that's art. Reality is reality and a photograph is a photograph. They aren't interchangeable. The lens will never be able to capture the exact image we behold with our own peepers. So why not use PS or any other editing software to make the image your own?

And for those who believe that the only acceptable image is one straight from the camera, are you going to scoff at the use of filters and reflectors and the like as well?

There. That's my ramble.

HandiCrafts said...

Very well articulated!

Isla Deb said...

I have to add my dos centavos to this one, too. I have read several posts as well from people proudly announcing that their pictures are not worked through any photo program. So, I'm thinking to myself, "Yeah, and it looks like it." Isn't it just natural for anyone in any skill to want their finished product or service to be as good as possible?? Seems like a no-brainer to me.

Scott Bulger Photography said...

Deb, Images that leave you "wanting" are typically due to a lack of photographic skill in the first place, not because of a misguided insinuation that they are "pure".

Haizey Grey Photography said...

I just read this and the entire time I was grinning from ear to ear. I called my Fiance' over and read it to him b/c everything you say is so spot on. I mean everything. When I was done reading it for the second time I felt like I should stand up, clap and yell "FINALLY!". lol.

Stacey Huston said...

Wonderful article. I so agree that Photoshop is a tool.. and I humbly admit that I still have ALOT to learn about using this tool. I have gotten comfortable with my "$10 hammer" that I have had for years.. lol.. Wonderful images as well. Thank you for sharing your knowledge.

Clueless in boston said...

I agree wholeheartedly with your post. I believe any image, whether photograph or any other type of art created by a human being is at best only an interpretation of reality; to believe otherwise is simply ignorance.

MoonArt Design said...

Hey Scott,

That was one hell of a rant my man! I throughly enjoyed it and I thought I might be able to shed some light on the matter.

Being a graphic designer/ Artist, I use Photoshop like so many and I have heard and fallen victim to using the name Photoshop as a Verb instead of a noun.

Now, what I think is going on here, is that the younger generations (X (early 80's like myself), Y and Z are growing up with all the technological tools at our sides and developing our own terminology amongst our peers and nobody questions a thing because it sounds proper ie: cool.

That said, the traditional rules are being tossed out the window for something that sounds cooler for example:

"I Photoshopped the "hell" out of that image"

Saying that to someone (a friend) is boosting oneself morale and ego.

We live in a "me, me, I, I" kind of world, and while not all fit into this category there are plenty of them out there to fill the void of everyone else.


I am not condoning this at by any means. I am merely lighting another candle at the table so that you can see all sides.

It was a pleasure to read and I plan on reading more.

Cheers!

Kitty said...

I agree with you completely.

I don't understand these photography purists who label these devices as 'cheating'. The product is the product. The image is what you see at the end of the day. Real artistry comes with making an image look beautiful, striking, and looking free of manipulation.

PG said...

well put.

while I am still a novice, both with camera and post processing, I use Photoshop Elements to tweak my images and help put back on track shots that went awry somewhere.

I agree with others who have made the delineation between items that have been 'chopped' - that is a different story. Adjusting color, contrast etc is more than acceptable, it's smart photography.

BMisu said...

Ansel Adams manipulated his images crazy mad. Years ago I used a photo printer that I thought was a genius. He could do anything I asked - "I need this blue to be nearly black" or "This needs to really pop". I never had any enlargements done without discussing how I needed it to look - how to manipulate the image. That's what it is after all - an image. Who doesn't try to manipulate their image?

gigi said...

okay I'm a little late to the party here but will throw my two cents in. I use Photoshop if I think it will enhance the original image, which 95% of the time it does.

My eye goes more toward "natural" versus heavily processed photos anyway. What is that saying about putting lipstick on a pig?

Nice post. :)

Pfeiffer Photos said...

This is SO well said. Call it straight. Honesty. Such a concept? LOL! Super blog, Scott...following ASAP! :-)

biz said...

nice and interesting post. I do not use photoshop because I do not have. I sometimes use paint.net which is free

Mr. J said...

Thanks for this viewpoint. I'm an amateur by all means, and until recently I claimed to be a purist in the digital realm. Whatever I took, I kept. My percentage of great shots to ok ones has improved since beginning to manipulate my images. I've enjoyed the discussion as well.

Ron St. Jean said...

Very eloquent rant, Scott. People should realize that every photograph is manipulated. Raw images are manipulated by whoever designed and manufactured the lens, the chips, and the software. Otherwise raw images from every camera would look the same, which they don't. Is it artistic to let the anonymous camera designer manipulate the image, or should we take control and do it ourselves? Should painters only use colors as they come out of the tube, or should they be allowed to mix the colors that express their vision? Photos are our interpretation of what we see, so the most honest thing is to manipulate them to match our vision. And now I know why that donut tasted weird.

Anonymous said...

A couple of hours ago I was standing in a field of wheat, making landscape images. I was using a digital camera with an 'APS-C' sized sensor. I took a custom WB reading off of a folded-up sheet of white A4 paper from my back pocket. I set my camera on JPEG and adjusted the oontrast, saturation of the color style to suit my taste. I set 'sharpness' to zero (knowing that when i resize the jpeg for web using Lancsoz2 interpolation method, it will give me just the subtle sharp i like). The lens I used was a 28mm prime. Attached to the lens was a skylight 1A filter and a (blue) gradual color filter. Using the camera's live histogram, i intentionally underexposed the shot 1/3 stop to give me the tonality/contrast/'look' i like.

I had no need for Photoshop today and i won't need it tomorrow either. This is because I know what i'm doing.