That's a Photoshop!

‘That’s a Photoshop!’ she cried, and left the group.

Well, I didn’t really know what to say. The photograph in question had been popped, but that was all. I mean, every photographer on the planet uses photo editing software, even the Martin Baileys and the Jim Brandenburgs. Had a wee think about this and called in a few photographer friends for a chat.

I’m a writer, so I know that if a writer simply churned out first drafts and considered them finished, no one would print his work because it would be rubbish. Dancers, musicians and actors rehearse before they submit a final effort. All art is refined.

The word photography derives from the Greek φωτός (phōtos), light, and γραφή (graphé), to represent by means of lines or to draw. So photography is to draw, or paint with light. Photography is art by definition.

Photographs require post processing. What use are RAW files without processing? If you shoot jpgs, your camera has processed your images for you inside your camera. They have been post processed. Every photograph requires something, even if it’s just sharpening and removing specks that would ruin a print. All photographers post process their work.

Yes, there are arguments regarding the overuse of Photoshop, which it is claimed can turn photographs into digital art. However, this argument makes no sense, because by definition, digital photography is digital art. You may strive to capture the perfect photograph, true to what you see in every detail, but what you produce is still digital art.

There is no such thing as an untouched photograph. Changing the settings on your camera alters the way an image is presented. We use flash to add light, reflectors to bounce light, doors and umbrellas to direct light; we introduce light which was not there in the original image, we manipulate the image to make it better. Does it really matter then if we manipulate images on location, or do it afterwards in Photoshop?

What comes out of a camera can never look like what your eyes experience, because your eyes see with a much higher dynamic range than a camera. The eyes see in HDR, and cameras do not. However, software now allows us to bring a higher dynamic range to photographs so they are more realistic and true to life than any ‘untouched’ photograph can ever be.

Yet, some say HDR isn’t photography. Well, just about all cameras these days take HDR shots in camera. Are we saying then that the new generation of cameras are not cameras and that they are not taking photographs? That is absurd. If we are working with light captured by a digital camera then we are photographic digital artists.

Can Photoshop turn photographs into paintings? Painting is usually done with paint and a brush. How then can a photograph become a painting? A digital photograph, by definition, can never become a painting, any more than a painting could ever become a photograph.

Take this photo of a snowy owl for example. It was a perfect capture, a once in a lifetime opportunity perhaps for many. Although the owl and the foreground was perfectly captured in camera, with no processing required whatsoever other than simple contrast and colour adjustments, the background was absolutely terrible. Should I just throw the image away then? Not me, I’m not that stupid. It only took a few minutes to put a new background behind the owl and turn it into a stunning image. Does this mean then that I’m not a photographer? Be careful with your answer.

Personally, I wouldn’t hang a Picasso on my wall. I’d enjoy the proceeds from a sale of his work, I guess, but there is no way I would hang his stuff around my house. However, just because he didn’t paint things as they were in real life and I don’t like his work, does that mean he is not an artist?

The same is true in music. No matter the amount of post processing that goes into raw music tracks, the final piece is still music even though it doesn’t remotely resemble the original sounds that came from the instruments. For classical musicians to claim that rock isn’t music and jazz musicians to claim that heavy metal isn’t music would be ridiculous.

Taking all this into consideration, the question we should be asking then is when does photographic digital art cease to be photographic digital art? Answer? As long as you’re working with light captured by a digital camera, it doesn’t. Once you start incorporating things like clip art into images, okay, perhaps now you can claim an image is no longer pure photographic digital art as it has been mixed with graphic art drawn by an artist.

This next image was produced from 4 photos taken on a tripod within a minute or so and then blended together. To all intents and purposes, it's simply a time lapse. So what if all the salmon didn't jump at the same time? Most music albums record instruments and voices which weren't all played and sung at the same time so is that cheating? Is it not music then?

Of course, as with any field in life, there are those who would defraud us, in this case by presenting manipulated images and claiming they are genuine representations. Yes, this is wrong. Fraud goes on in the art world all the time, but is a copy of a Picasso not art? Art isn’t the issue, it’s fraud, which is a criminal offence. Manipulated photographic images which are fraudulently sold as genuine, which the newspapers do all the time, is fraud, but those images are still photographs, they are still digital art.

Post production adjustments by whatever branded software you enjoy, is in essence, the digital darkroom. Tools such as toning, contrast adjustment, dodging and burning, are all replicated darkroom techniques. We may not personally enjoy some aspects of photography, just as we may not enjoy some styles of music, but it is all digital art. Photography means painting or drawing with light, so there are no rules on what can or what cannot be used to draw or paint with that light.

The bottom line is that people will decide for themselves if they like a particular genre of photography or not, but for someone to claim a genre is not photography because they don’t like it is just snobbery. Photographers should be encouraged to pursue their passions without all this nonsense about being frauds because they use Photoshop. How many of those who frown at post processing do so only because they don’t know how to do it themselves?

Let your talents shine folks! Indulge your passions. Let your artistic natures flare, have fun with whatever photo editing software you enjoy, and flaunt your genius to the world. Show us your Photoshops and be proud of them! ~ George, Jan 2015

Credits -  All photos copyright George Maciver - all rights reserved.