Photoshop: Art or Artifice?

Photoshop: Art or Artifice?

Written 13 years ago by Ruby Divine

The following guest article was contributed by Ruby Divine who writes a witty diary of her day to day disasters and ponders the annoyances and delights of the fashionable side of life at MissRubyDivine.com

According to plastic surgeon Matthew Galumbeck, cosmetic surgery is at large in the society we currently reside in and as always, there are arguments for and against. Smoothing out fine lines, nipping and tucking, enhancing and…destroying. As with everything we do in life, there is a certain risk that we undertake. You may wonder why I’m writing about cosmetic surgery on a photography blog, but the point I am trying to make is that Photoshop is, in fact, the modern day cosmetic surgery for photographs, I myself have gone through facial plastic surgery procedures before, so I feel pretty comfortable talking about this topic. Click this link https://www.sodapdf.com/pdf-editor/ for more information

Many photographers are traditional in their values – that an image should be composed fully from camera without interference from other mediums, and many photographers regard digital manipulation as ‘cheating.’ I personally see no harm in enhancing what is already there to make a mediocre foundation a remodelled upgrade of the image.

It takes a wealth of knowledge and talent to create the ‘perfect shot’ and many photographers aspire to be able to capture this effortlessly. Patrick Smith conquers amazing landscape shots in a previous post titled ‘36 Stunning Examples of Landscape Photography‘ (April 2009). These images are created without the aid of any Photoshop equipment and are truly breathtaking. By looking at pieces of work like this, it is clear to see that Photoshop is not necessarily needed in creating works of art. For the less experienced or just for the experimental types, it’s a great tool and should not be overlooked.

David LaChapelle is unmistakably one of the most celebrated photographers of our time. Taking images of well known icons such as Lady Gaga, Gene Simmons and Alexander McQueen to name just a few, he creates a surreal scene and pushes the boundaries of art. Without the tools of an image manipulation programme such as Photoshop, these images would not have the wow factor that LaChapelle creates so well. This goes to show that digital manipulation can work wonders and add the extra punch to the shot. If you ever need your art printed out, you can use this Heat Transfer Vinyl for that.

I’m definitely pro Photoshop and think it’s a fast, effective way to achieve maximum impact if used correctly. As many older photographers have displayed a profound hatred of these types of programmes, it makes me wonder if it really is the programme or the technological advancement that irks them. Is it really the fact that it’s a ‘bluff tool’ or the fact that a young whippersnapper can click a few buttons, select the Healing Brush and smooth away imperfections in one swift flourish?

I believe that the only time Photoshop should not be used is when the artist wants to portray an Honest to God representation of the exact scene they have captured. After all, without Photoshop however would we be able to masquerade ourselves under layer of perfective layer?

I find it highly interesting to listen to the arguments for and against the Photoshop beef, but each to their own. There are so amazing images out there created on all types of medium and instead of arguing the facts and figures, we should embrace our technology and resources in order to enrich our photographic experience.

Ruby is available for Freelance writing and welcomes the opportunity to speak with Publishers. Visit MissRubyDivine.com for more details.
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Matt Needham  13 years ago

“Many photographers are traditional in their values – that an image should be composed fully from camera without interference from other mediums,”

Actually, manipulation in photography is an older tradition than straight photography. Pictorialism was the ruling school of thought at the end of the 19th century. Straight photography was not considered art by most until several decades into the 20th century.

Eric  13 years ago

The ethics of Photoshop is something I grappled with early on as a photog (I’ve only been shooting for two years.) Initially I was of the mindset that Photoshop was something to be avoided as it interfered with the natural process of straight, untouched, uncropped imagery. Now, I see it divided into two realms: photojournalistic imagery and artistic imagery. One upholds the truth as its highest virtue, the other, fantasy. I love both, and use both accordingly.


Alissa  13 years ago

I tend to lean toward the anti-photoshop side because of this:

As a photographer, I took the time to learn how to use my camera as a medium to create art. I know how to use it to get the shot I want. Sure, I use photoshop to enhance the Photo or create some drama. I have no qualms about that.

What DOES bother me is that with dSLRs becoming increasingly inexpensive to the consumer – everyone is becoming a “photographer”. They use their expensive dSLRs to point-and-shoot a photo, rather than compose it with the knowledge of their camera and edit it to death to make it look like they are amazing photographers and people who don’t know photography eat it up!

I guess it’s just frustrating to me that I took the time to learn how to use a camera and enhance my images in Photoshop, and someone else comes along and manipulates the crap out of an image and calls themselves a “Photographer” rather than a Photoshop Artist.

Mayank Gupta  13 years ago

I’m definitely not a photographer. I’m much less than a newbie too. So i’m not sure if my opinion will be of much worth over here… still, I would like to add my 2 cents :P

I think that Photography is an art and if a photo has been photoshopped then it won’t be called a piece of art. A photographer these days already gets enough tools on their cameras (my D-60 has enough on it) — so if they can’t click a decent pic with these good cameras and still need photoshop then where exactly their skills come in the play?

Ruby Divine  13 years ago

That’s a good point Alissa – all too often photographers put so much time and effort into learning their craft and how to take amazing images without the aid of programmes only to be beaten to the post by an inexperienced newbie after a few filters have been applied. I am however, still pro Photoshop and like Erics take on the whole argument.

Mayank, I’m interested about the point you raised that you would not class a photograph as art if it has been photoshopped – why is this?

Matt, very fair point. However, the aid I refer directly to is Photoshop. I’m interested to know if you yourself prefer the use of Photoshop or an untouched image?

Thank you for all of your comments so far!

Shaun Raney  13 years ago

Photoshop is just another tool for creative people to use. The problem isn’t photoshop or cheap DSLR’s or using photoshop as a crutch. The problem in my opinion comes from lack of transparency. This isn’t about unsharp mask and adjusting some sliders that raises eyebrows and stigma’s the photoshopped picture, it’s the changing of someones face/body to create something unattainable and trying to pass it off as real. There is nothing wrong with photoshop, there is something wrong with lying about using it. Even on a smaller scale, editing out light poles from a Real Estate photo in order to show off the house better…It’s fine that you do that, but you should make it clear what you did. Hiding that fact is what sullies the image of photoshoppers and photographers.

And that comment about the expensive cameras being used by point and shooters and photoshopped to death to look good. There will never be a replacement for truly dedicated and talented people…even if cameras, or easels, or musical instruments were free. Writing with a pad and pen is damn near free, and not everyone is an author.

Appu Mathew  13 years ago

I don’t think anyone should complain if an amateur photographer uses photoshop to cover up his bad photography. The spectator doesn’t look at the photo to judge the photographer’s skill unless its a competition. The person who looks at the photo appreciates the photo itself, the beauty of it.Turning a bad capture into something out of this world also involves certain creativity and skill. That should be appreciated too.

Ruby Divine  13 years ago

Shaun, I agree with your point about the fact that there is a problem with lying about the use of Photoshop. I would not see a need to lie anyway as there is no shame in using a programme like this – it is in fact a great benefit.

And as Appu raises, the photograph is not usually judged on a scale as such unless in the case of a competition.

Do you believe it is fair to use a programme such as Photoshop in a competition? As I am pro photoshop I agree that it is fair, but I’m sure individuals who do not own or use the programme may disagree.

Holly  13 years ago

Just like with any tool, PS can be used to enhance photography or overwhelm it. For myself, a lot of times the photo is good but the conditions it was shot under are less than ideal so PS can help improve that. Many photographers use reflectors, or light meters, or remote control systems, is that wrong or fraudulent? Or what about the fact that digital cameras don’t use film? To say that PS is cheating is like saying that felling trees should still be done with an axe. We have better tools now, why not use them?

lopaka holmberg  13 years ago

yeah, I can’t stand all of the time it took me to learn the craft of digital photography, and to compose shots in camera only to be outdone by a wacom jockey. They should respectfully decline the help of modern instruments like exposure metering, hyper realistic picture style saturation, contrast, and sharpness settings, auto white balance options, low noise iso to increase our exposure stops, “is” lens to reduce blurring and ghosting….no wait, that would mean that technology has helped all of us in our own pursuit of art in whatever medium we so choose to display it. The crime is not the use of PS in photography, it’s the hyper elitist stance that we’ve taken to classify what our peers and ourselves consider art. If everyone is purchasing an HDR, overprocessed, noisy, grainy, high contrast image over yours, what does that say about your “art”…..the day we start telling people that their creative medium is crap, is the day I stop doing this completely.

diana  13 years ago

Alissa pretty much said what I would say, only I’ll expand on my view. I have training in graphic design and am not anti Photoshop/editing programs whatsoever. However, I’m also trained in photography and I do see a difference between the two forms of art. Many cameras, both point and shoots and DSLRs, have advanced settings that can make an image pop straight off the camera provided you learn how to use the settings. Factor in composition (and the right lenses sometimes) and you have great *photography*.

Photo corrections/enhancements in a program such as Photoshop or Lightroom is fine in photography, my beef is with people who do just use their cameras to shoot anything and then rely heavily on post-processing to get a good photo instead of learning what the camera does. Or the photo looks very fake. Those people *are* creative and talented…but at digital art, not photography. I can’t call it true photography, but I don’t sneer at it, I’ve seen some great stuff.

I have a Canon DSLR and sometimes use their picture style options to control saturation, contrast and sharpness, tone. I went out one snowy day recently with a 50mm 1.8 lens and used the “wrong” white balance setting to create a bluish glow. The photos did not require any post processing and were picked up off of Flickr by some local websites to post, people loved them. Why post process when you can just use the camera to do what you want in many instances? Being creative with the camera is different than being creative with a program, the camera is a tool beyond just grabbing snapshots, learn it.

To me, photography is about using your eye and camera to make people see what it is you saw in that moment…the slant of light, a shadow, a juxtaposition of color, etc – making people see everyday objects as interesting subjects, the beauty in our everyday world. Much of that can be done with just the camera. :)

lopaka holmberg  13 years ago

My point was that we have managed to distance our selves from the digital art community by undermining and belittle ling their concept and choice of art medium, all the while, toting that the digital features that we exploit in our cameras everyday to enhance are shots, are somehow more purist in form because we did it in the camera. There aren’t many photographers out there shooting with a leica argus or a twin reflex anymore. Our romanticized ansel adams back trekking adventure shoot are forever altered with the technology that most of us embrace. All I’m saying is that post processing can be an art form. Does that make the outcome art…that’s never for us to decide. Plus the fact that most of the digital concepts came from film postprocessing makes the entire subject a little mute. So, unless your still dodging and burning manually in your development cave (yup, that is P.P.) grab your canon g11, slap that digital neut. grad filter on, f22 club the crap out of it, and welcome to the elitist club.

diana  13 years ago

Well that is where people will have to agree to disagree. I think using even the advancements in the camera is more purist in general if you look at the traditional definition of “photography”. It’s using the camera as a tool to do the work as opposed to using a software computer program after the fact. But I’m not a person who is elitist about it, it’s just my humble personal opinion in a sea of others. :)

I still use my old Minolta X-370 and very much enjoy film *and* I still use Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom etc to create digital art. On sites like Flickr I do make a point of differentiating which items were done via camera only and which were post-processed.

Ritchie  13 years ago

I’m a newbie in photography and I love the original result of what I’ve captured in the scene, only for landscape.

I don’t like to edit the shot I got when it comes to landscape coz I think of it as a fiction if the landscape photo is edited in photoshop.

When capturing portrait; I love editing the photo to make it more lively and cool but there are times I don’t edit the photo if I really love the result of my capture.

lopaka holmberg  13 years ago

I think that the beautiful part about art, is that were are all allowed to express our opinions in are own way, through are own mediums. I’m grateful for all contributions to sites just like this one, no matter what level or format they come in; whether HDR’d to all hell or a split toned film scans. I hope that we can hold everyone up on this site as a community of artists rather than a collection of differing opinions….I’m sorry about all of the rambling, I’ve just seen so many negative comments towards the P.S. jockies pictures that I felt they needed a level playing field; heck ,if someone verbally stomped on my work I might start getting a complex…and then add a quick mask layer to it.

BlueRose  12 years ago

The question I always want to ask (and have never really received an answer) is “where does PS cross the line and become digital art”

I see nothing wrong with subtle ‘enhancements’ or cleaning up an image, tweaking colour, sharpening etc.

Its when you dont see the photograph first (or at all) its when you see the photoshopping that I have a problem with it. I recently saw an exhibition of a national photographic competition, and I would have LOVED to see the original untouched RAW image next to the ones that were on display, cos I bet hardly any of them had any resemblance to the originals.

I have no problem with digital art, but I think there is a clearly defined line that gets crossed. Trouble is, everyone seems to have their own view as to where its drawn.

Me? I use PS like I apply makeup :) to enhance the overall image ‘hopefully’

Ramsey Kent  12 years ago

I think you are crazy to believe that the landscape photos that you referenced in your article are not manipulated. And unless it’s a polaroid it has manipulation. In the darkroom many changes happened before Ansel Adams walked out with his masterpieces. Why should photoshop be any different. Generally the people that don’t like photoshop are the ones that can’t and don’t use it. Art is and will always be impossible to define. That my friends is the beauty of it.

alex  12 years ago

To me, Photoshop is nothing more than a film photographer’s darkroom.

Cherry May Monoy  11 years ago

I too are so confused if I should really use PS. I don’t claim the title photographer because I had so much to learn in photography. I honestly can’t say that I’m good in PS.

But I have been judge by some people about my pictures because I photoshopped all of them.

I love taking pictures but I don’t really have money to buy DSLR before. My bf bought me canon digi cam to take pictures that I wanted because that is all we can afford at the time. Sometimes the camera washed out the real colors of the subject and I feel so bummed because I didn’t capture it. If you haven’t learn by now, I didn’t study photography as it is too expensive of a course. So I used some help from PS.

As touching up images in PS. I learned that you can be more creative in PS with your images. I didn’t understand the issue between untouch and touched one just because I found that PS is so cool and you can play around with it.

As far as portraits go, I tend to edit more around this one because the subject always have issues including break outs and horrible eye bags. Is that so wrong?

last month, my boyfriend who is actually my fiance now bought me some DSLR. After joking around that It’s so hard to do landscape with my digicam when we went to UK. There were tons of nice places but I wasnt happy with all my shots.

Still at this time I used PS/lightroom to enhance color, crop,clarity whatver I want to do with my image. But lately I have had comments that I just photoshop my photos. So, I dunno know what he mean, But I’m pretty sure it is negative.

I never called myself a photographer or whatnot. I love taking pictures and I also love playing around in PS. Is that so bad???

I’d probably have less knowledge with photography or PS than you. But is it really that bad, If I use them together to create the image that I want??

gabreal  10 years ago

Thanks sir,really nice post and helpful.

Mike Nike  10 years ago

I shoot in Raw format. I don’t enhance my images. They are straight off the camera and remain untouched. Although I will convert to Jpeg on some for smaller files size. I leave the best shots in Raw. I refuse to use Photoshop or any other photo manipulation software. I compose the shot to the best of my ability and then take the picture. I want my pictures to show what was actually in the lens, not some trickery to make it look different somehow. Some pictures you see online they almost look cartoonish they have been altered so much. And I don’t trust a single picture from any newsprint or magazine. I also laugh when I see celebrity photographs. They don’t even look real. No one looks like that.

Claudia M.  10 years ago

first and foremost; i am not a photographer, neither have i taken any course on it but I understand photoshop to a limit, i know how to fix pictures or create something from scratch in photoshop; but i guess I’m with the old school photographs, the ones that are untouched, the ones that translates the pure image the photographer captured, i think its fantastic when a good photographer can take great pictures and know he’s way around the lighting, the colors, the space; so on. if i go to an exhibition and i find a truly amazing picture i grasp and say how wonderful the eye of this man or women is; but if you tell me its been photoshopped to enhance colors, to soften skin. etc; then i feel it takes away the point of the art and the image they captured over all, is no longer a real picture, is no longer art to me and I’m no longer amused. with a few clicks, enters, shifts,DELETES. etc, you can get a wonderful job done but would a painter be able to just simply delete something he didn’t like; would he be able to undo some of the hues he added that didn’t work well together. no he would need to start from scratch or work around his painting to make those hues look fantastic; In Pictures, the photographer takes plenty from different angles works his way around and finds the right focal point and once is done and exhibited you see he didn’t delete enhance nor edited, he simply gave us his best shot and the reality of the image. I see art in photoshop when the art is made off scratch, when the digital artisan created something with all the tools of the program off his own inspiration and not edited anything. thats my humble opinion.

Claudia M.  10 years ago

so yes I’m one of those, that think using photoshop in your pictures is cheating.

Ken Tan  9 years ago

As a film photographer, there is no photoshop. Everything is created right in camera. It’s organic, classic and timeless. That is why I shoot film. Instead of spending 3 hours in front of a camera photoshopping after a session, I spend my time working on my skills to become a photographer. I

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