Monday, September 16, 2019

Is It Real or Is It Photoshop? Does It Matter? Part I

Note: This is the first installment in a three-part series titled, “Is It Real or Is It Photoshop? Does It Matter?” In each post I will present an image with the question, "Real or Photoshop?" The answers will come in the last installment.

The Argument

Is it okay to "Photoshop" your images or is it the ultimate photographic sin?

If you have been around the photography world for any length of time you have undoubtedly heard people "discussing" the use of Photoshop. I'm sure this argument is as old as photography itself but under various guises, such as photo-manipulation, darkroom manipulation, etc.... There are those who consider themselves "purists" and frown upon any editing - many of these photographers brag about "getting it right in the camera" and label their images as "straight from the camera" or some variation. There are others who fall on the side of "anything goes" and all is fair. I believe most people fall somewhere in the middle - I tend to be one. I will discuss each of these schools of thought in a series of posts.

I will begin the discussion with someone I call, The Purist.

The Purist

It has been my experience that The Purist is the most vocal in this group and, to be fair, counted me as a member at one time. They believe that photography is a representational medium and should only show things as they were at the time the image was made. You can't remove something that you wished wasn't there and, *gasp*, you can never add something that wasn't there. Changing colors, changing hues, adding clouds, removing garbage cans, etc... make veins stick out of the sides of their neck. They don't consider that to be photography. These are also the souls who will argue that you cannot call yourself a photographer unless you shoot manual, but that argument is for another day.

My Thoughts on The Purist

As I mentioned, I used to be a purist. When I first started with digital photography I shunned the idea of processing an image and lived with the jpeg given to me by my camera. To be fair to myself, my first digital camera only allowed for jpeg and my editing suite consisted of whatever Canon gave me with the camera. That said, I was still on the side of only "minor" tweaking such as exposure compensation like you would get from a one-hour photo printer. When I hear someone say, "I like to get it right in the camera." and describe their images as "Straight from the camera." I tend to chuckle a bit. Don't get me wrong - the former is quite important while the latter is not.

It is important to get it right when you squeeze the shutter, if only to reduce the amount of post-processing time. However, it isn't always possible to do that with a single image due to dynamic range and your camera, among other factors. What I take issue with is the "straight from the camera" guy who thinks post-processing is a sin. I argue that you are relinquishing part of your responsibility to the image by allowing the camera to decide what the scene looks like. The jpeg is just an image that was processed based upon the algorithm developed for your particular camera. You let a programmer decide what is important in your image and what it should look like. Imagine that you painstakingly composed your image, manually focused, many set your exposure and then let some software decide what it should look like!

Your Thoughts

Are you a Purist? If so, I would love to hear from you and know why. If not, what are your thoughts on the subject?

I will take on the "Anything Goes" photographer in my next blog post.

Except as noted, all photos are copyright Joseph S. Valencia All Rights Reserved They may not be used in any way without express written permission of the photographer. If you wish to use any of the photos you may contact the photographer at

Image by Alexas_Fotos from Pixabay