It may be said as an insult. It may be used to shame the photographer as “not a purist”. But should it be? What is wrong with an image being Photoshopped?


Photography began as a medium of realism. It is said that Impressionist painting (Monet, vanGogh, etc) was a reaction to the realism of photography. They took their art is a direction photography could not challenge – at the time.

Have you ever thought of traditional painting changing its direction because of photography?

The development of Impressionism can be considered partly as a reaction by artists to the challenge presented by photography, which seemed to devalue the artist’s skill in reproducing reality. Both portrait and landscape paintings were deemed somewhat deficient and lacking in truth as photography “produced lifelike images much more efficiently and reliably”.[31]

Because of the history, and the fact that everything the lens sees is recorded in detail, people tend to have an expectation that a photograph is “real”. A picture can’t lie.

Not only is this wrong in so many ways, but it is no longer a realistic expectation of photography.

Common practice

All photographs are altered from what the sensor recorded. Even if you just take that picture you snapped on your phone and post it to social media, it was altered a lot before you ever saw it. All sorts of distortion corrections, color enhancements, gamma correction and noise reduction was done by the phone. Their algorithms are very good at making the picture look like what you expected to see. It is not the same as the phone recorded.

All images you see in prints or any media are altered – Photoshopped. Some massively. Some just minor color correction and tone enhancements. I would never insult you by showing you an unprocessed picture. Unless it was to make a point about the kind of processing I do.

Even to do black & white these days requires a lot of image processing.

Did you know that even movies are “Photoshopped”? An obvious example is CGI. That stands for computer generated imagery. It proudly states that a lot of what you are seeing is artificially created. And we love it in big action movies.

Nearly all movies are digitally recorded now . All are processed and retouched frame by frame in addition to CGI enhancements. The overall color you see is even completely controlled. They call it color grading. The entire look and shading of each scene is digitally processed to set the mood the director wants.

Bad Photoshopping

One thing I will join people in denouncing is bad Photoshopping. Photoshop is a very complex program to master. It can take years – and they are constantly changing it. But even so, we are artists. We have no excuse for not mastering our tools.

Not knowing how to use the tools to accomplish our vision is like a painter not knowing how to use a brush or a metal sculptor not knowing how to weld. Just using some simple sliders to make the color of an image wonky is not much of an artistic statement.

Yet I have heard well-known professionals almost brag about their limited knowledge of Photoshop. But the reality is that they know enough to do what they want. The exception is Jay Maisel. Jay is one of the greats who I admire. He brags that he does not even have Photoshop on his computer. That is probably true, but he has full time assistants who do have it and can make a picture look like what he tells them he wants. So, a slight exaggeration for dramatic effect.

For the others, though, who really do not know Photoshop well: spend time learning it. It will reward you by making you more efficient and it will open up new artistic possibilities for you.

Artistic expression

My work is called “fine art”. I don’t like the term, but we are stuck with it. Fine art, among other things, means it is not literal or representational. I feel free to bend and even break pixels to any degree I want to bring you the art I see.

I guarantee that any image of mine you see has been processed in Lightroom Classic and maybe Photoshop. Both great tools are well capable of altering the reality of the original frame. And I do alter them.

It can range from basic color and tone correction to removing distracting elements to compositing several images together to create something new. Anything is fair game. The more adapt at my tools I get, the more I am able to use them to help me change my vision. It is circular: what we find out we can do helps us to see new things to do.

Accept it

I accepted it a long time ago. My Photoshopping goes back to about version 5 or 6. In the beginning, I was mostly just doing minor corrections on my very realistic landscapes. I have fond memories of the controversy in the camera club I was in at the time when I won best of show with the first digitally manipulated image ever submitted to them.

Since then I keep widening my vision and perspective. Realism was so deeply ingrained in me that I have had to work at giving myself permission to let my imagination go free.

I’m not where I want to be yet, but I take a much more liberal view of what I can do in an image. Still, I am my own limitation.

If you are seeking “truth” in images, be careful. But if it is important to you, do some research to find out if the image has been manipulated materially. It has been manipulated. but that doesn’t mean content has been added or deleted.

Finding truth is rare in our world. When you look at an image, assume it is art, not truth. At least, that will be true for my work. I may bring truth, but that does not mean it is realism. My images are photoshopped.

The future

In the 19th century, painting was mostly about realism. Then photography came along and took over realism. So painting moved to Impressionism and modernism and abstraction. Now digital art is perfectly capable of creating any abstract or impressionist images we desire. Where will painting go next to separate themselves?

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