Monday, June 15, 2009

Was that Photoshopped?

I'm a bit late on this subject, but I suppose that every serious photographer gets this question. And what can I say? Well..erm.... yes...uh..I mean no! I guess the answer depends on how you define digital alteration. Every photo needs to have basic processing, but when I mention this, they say 'Aha! So these are photoshopped!' Then I have to explain that I view 'Photoshopping' as:

Hiding the fact that I:

1. Added a moon where there was not one before.
2. Cloned out significant objects because I was too lazy to be there when the object (like a car) was not there, or I was too lazy to compose it differently. For example, moving around to use a bush to hide a car.
3. Added a color that was not there. Or I cranked up the saturation to make people think I witnessed an awesome sunset when in fact I didn't.

It comes down to honesty. Art is what you make it. If I tell people that I wanted to insert a giant full moon in the middle of the sky at sunset in a wide-angle shot, just to make a surreal scene, that is fine. But if I tell people that I saw that scene, I'd be lying and therefore 'Photoshopping.'

Now, I make it a habit to carry around my camera with my most recent shots still in the camera. I show people the shots in the back so that they realize that what they see on my website and in a print is what I see in the back of the camera. And after I take a shot, I look at the back and compare it to what I see with my eyes, so when I get back to the office, I can process it correctly. Of course, sometimes the back of the camera does not look the same, so I remember the differences.

What do you tell people when they ask: 'Is this Photoshopped'

Here is a very thoughtful blog post (and some good replies) by Guy Tal on the subject.


patrick at


  1. Great Post Patrick!

  2. I just discovered your blog/Flickr/website while looking for inspiration for a photo class assignment (landscapes). You have a new fan! Your photos are amazing!! I have lived in the Bay Area my enitre life and you have shown me views that I had never seen before. Can't wait to see more!

  3. This is a great picture. Landscpaing is advancing more and more every day and the heavy machinery available is making everyone's lives much much easier.

    forestry trucks

  4. I agree with your views on "photoshopping", but I think that what many people don't realize is that the camera is "photoshopping" for you even if you get raw files. Extensive computation is used to go from the signals in the sensors to bits in the raw images to the image you get in the preview screen. PS or Lightroom or whatever just lets us do a lot of the processing in the comfort of our homes rather than having to fiddle with picture styles and stuff like that in the camera. In the not too distant future cameras may have built in Photomatix-like processing and do it for you all in the camera. It's a slippery slope. I wonder whether a photo should portray what our eyes saw (which is really what our brain saw after a lot of processing), what we think we saw once we get home (what made an impact on us), how we felt when we saw it. In flickr (szeke) I post my photoshopped image and the LIghtroom-default processing of my RAW in the first comment. People can judge for themselves.

  5. Hi Patrick,

    Of course I get the same question as well and I'm not sure if I really need to justify whether or not I photoshop photos. Its odd that no one queries an artist on whether or not they have added colour to a sunset in their oil paintings and water colours. Its just assumed they used their artistic license to produce an image the way they wanted to.

    My photography is my art so I don't see any harm in manipulating my images occasionally to create an image that is pleasing to me. I certainly never claim that I am creating factual documentary type photos.

    Great subject.


    Jamie Paterson

  6. All the great artists have done photo manipulation, sometimes to enhance, sometimes to make surreal and sometimes to make the image look like what they saw. I prefer to think that there is "good" photoshopping out there and "bad" photoshopping. We all know what the latter is. When people ask me if I have run my images through photoshop, I always answer with an enthusiastic "Yes!" and that applies to even the shots that look exactly like what I saw, because the camera very rarely sees things the way the eye does, and even sees them far prettier than the eye at times such as the blue hour. Be proud of your photoshopping I say (when you do it right). It's all a part of what the photographic process is. We are not landscape journalists… we are Landscape artists!

  7. Hi Patrick, you have provided an excellent explanation on this topic. I also appreciate the post of Guy's you linked to as well as I had not read that one. I have a particular challenge in this area as I am working to bring the work of my father, landscape photographer Philip Hyde into the digital age. As many photographers know, an archival quality drum scan does not look like the original transparency or negative because it has to pick up all the highlights and shadow detail. It must therefore be "Photoshopped" back to look like the transparency or like a black and white, Cibachrome or dye transfer original print by the artist. I get these questions all the time passed along even from the patrons of the best galleries because they are not yet familiar with digital processes and still have the mistaken belief that only printing processes directly from film have value. Besides, heirs of well-known photographers are stigmatized as neglecting quality as ambassadors of their parent's work. So I have to educate away the skepticism and your post has helped me clarify some of my ideas about my communication.