Members' articles > Photoshop by Erik Neilson

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Photoshop by Erik Neilson (6 responses)
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eye4BW Admin
2010-06-23 12:57:31

Avoiding Excessive Use of Photoshop

Photoshop is one of the greatest tools to ever be introduced to the world of photography. With its robust interface and irreplaceable tools, many modern photographers would be lost without it. While the benefits surely outweigh the costs, many photographers rely too heavily on Photoshop for finalizing their work. Just about every commercial photographer these days uses the program to boost their results, but how much is too much?

Purists believe that it doesn't take much at all. In its heyday, black and white photography was all about the personal touch - everyone's prints looked different depending upon their individual style. The tools and tricks of analog manipulation were more art than science, and interesting results relied not on computer algorithms but instead on experimentation and the careful use of the human hand. While many photographers still use these techniques to this day, Photoshop and other types of augmentation software have all but replaced traditional techniques.

To be fair, the program is incredibly versatile. Most of the time, a raw image needs a little help to reach the point of being all that it can be, and Photoshop is a user-friendly, versatile program that can more than do the job. Some of the most beautiful printed images in photography have been subject to various degrees of alteration via Photoshop, and to great effect. The problem arises when photographers use Photoshop not to enhance their work but instead to cover\ flaws and make up for isn't there. When used as security, Photoshop can be a dangerous tool.

We've all been witness to prints that have been so overly "Photoshopped" that they look more like cartoons than photos, and no one wants to claim ownership to these prints. Yet, so many people are victim to the same crime, whether they want to admit it or not. Anyone who is concerned with the quality of their works has likely used Photoshop as a band-aid, and more often than not this results in ruining the photograph altogether. Photoshop is a great enhancement tool, but it is not a magic solution to an already dead photograph.

So next time you fire up Photoshop and start playing around with your images, remember that restraint will yield quality results. Overusing Photoshop is like putting on way too much makeup; do what you can to avoid it at all costs.



Brad S. Walden
2010-06-23 13:35:58
Yeah, Its a real fine line between helping a picture and killing it. Once too much manipulation goes on its hard to consider it photography so much as art.

For me photography is about capturing a moment and photoshop can enhance the image a little with contrast etc.
Still some of the best pictures (B&W) I have ever seen are half out of focus and badly lit but the subject is so clear the rest seems immaterial.

That said I do like to overuse photoshop sometimes...


Scott Allen
2010-07-08 05:05:09
the over use of photoshop is so subjective that it is hard to wrap an opinion around. while i agree with most of your points, i would make a few comments. first, i have seen photoshop used in heavy handed ways to create works of art that are photo based at least. not classic photography i would agree, however, still photography from a painters point of view. times and methods change. in this case jerry uelsmann and his wife, maggie taylor come to mind. would one say to maggie taylor "avoid heavy handed photoshop at all cost"? there are probably those around that would still say to mr. uelsmann, " don't use double exposures". at any rate, there is enough on just this one point to have meaningful discussion for quite some time. second, most of the photographers that i deal with on a day to day basis will say something has been photoshoped to much when they can easily tell it has been photoshoped. this is just simply bad work. i get paid to do very detailed photoshop work on on a range of mediums. from digital files to 4x5 negatives that have been scanned on drum scanners with the end results to be printed at large sizes. when i am done, if you can pick out any of my work, then i have failed my client. some of my clients are 4x5 film photographers with reputations they have to be concerned with amongst there fellow "master photographers". i have seen photographs with my work all over them hanging in museum shows with master photographers studying them intently and never a word or complaint. the irony is that i also do work for most of the other photographers that my clients are concerned with. old school photographers like to complain about photoshop, but most will come to me in the dark of night when traditional dark room techniques fail them. in the past there were very skilled retouchers that worked on negatives and prints. photoshop, when used correctly, is a much better tool than any they had at there disposal. again, there could be much meaningful discussion on this topic alone. third, i have seen a growing phenomenon where most lay people at photography shows will say things like " these have obviously been worked on" or "these photographs obviously have been digitally altered" when in truth the images are as untouched as can be for machine prints. this happens for many reasons, i believe. some, i think, have never seen high quality prints in person from large format or medium format photographers. in other words there is a shock factor at just how good the prints are when their knowledge of prints is from books that are printed offset or gravure. some of this comes from so much negative talk, most from old school darkroom photographers, about digital alterations. in the end, i rarely sell prints to other photographers. this fear based concern that the consumer now seems to have is only going to hurt photographers in the long run. at least the ones that are selling fine art prints. the irony is that much of the concern and fear is generated by the photography world. we could discuss this in more detail as well. i have written this response hastily in a hotel room this morning. i hope my comments will open up some good discussion. i have echoed some of your points. photoshop is in the end a tool. how to use it will always be open for interpretation. i hope to comment further when i get back home to the studio. at any rate, Erik, i have enjoyed your commentary and hope others will join in a robust discussion of the points you have made.


Melor Dot Com
2010-10-23 18:19:34
Personally I don't believe it is the "quantity" of work done in Photoshop that is the issue, but rather the appearance of a lot of Photoshop work that is the problem. For my money, Photoshop as much as you want, but do it well enough to keep your viewer guessing if you even used Photoshop. Long after I began to appreciate the work of Ansel Adams, I learned that he spent an extensive amount of time in the darkroom "editing" his images. I hold this as an example of work the images like crazy, but don't make them look "worked." I believe that if Adams were around today he would embrace the digital darkroom and of course Photoshop. Paul Jaruszewski www.melor.com


Brad S. Walden
2010-11-02 09:13:21
I would definitely agree with that, Adams would use Photoshop because just about every pro photographer does. And like you say its the end result looking natural or real, I guess, that would be the important factor.


dean balosie
2011-03-07 20:03:42
Not so sure about Ansael but who can say for sure. I suppose it comes down to how one defines photography and the masters or pros. I would bet my life on the fact that Sally Mann nevers goes near a computer when working on her wet plate process. Kudos to her for keeping an art form pure. At least that's my opinion when approaching the topic as an art form. Photo editing software is a cottage industry of the digital camera anyway. Aha! I just gave myself away... he has a bug up his ass about digital. Not really, and don't tell anyone but I use PS to clone artifacts from negative scans and to adjust levels... Sometimes. The point I'll make regarding any photo editing program is that even when done skillfully it can have the tendency to take on a "smoke and mirror" approach to achieving good results.

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