Hey! He ‘Photoshopped’ That!

Welcome to another edition of Let’s Talk Photography!

How many times have you looked at a photo and thought “Hey! He (or She) photoshopped that!” Lately, we’ve been hearing about actresses and models speaking out about how they went for a photo shoot and when they saw the photos in print they realized that they had been photoshopped to look skinnier or something was changed in the photo that was an obvious alteration of their image. I’d like to talk a little bit about “photoshopping” and how I feel about it in the big picture of things. I also wanted to show an example of how I photoshop pictures in my workflow with these before and after images of Luke Grossman, Captain of the Southern Tier Xpress.

In 1988, brothers John and Thomas Knoll introduced their software as an Apple Macintosh program called Photoshop. It revolutionized the way graphic designers and digital photographers would edit their work. Immediately, anyone who could use the software became highly in demand and, at the same time, became highly criticized for using it to “alter” photographs. The terms “photoshopped” and “photoshopping” are used to call out the legitimacy of an image’s authenticity and purity. But, what exactly does it mean to photoshop an image?

Photoshopping has become the definitive term for making any changes to a photo that could not have been made before the image was snapped. I remember being in a photo club that focused on nature photography and we were reminded with every shooting assignment that we were not allowed to submit images that had been “photoshopped”, however minor tonal adjustments were allowed. So, in other words, if you’re great at photoshopping, then your images aren’t acceptable but if you’re not that great with your camera and you find that you must go in and fix things in post processing, then you’re the right person for the club. When I had to present some of my submissions to the group I would often start with “and I Photoshopped the hell out of this image!” just for fun.

The basic tools that are given to a photographer in editing software such as Photoshop are designed to mimic the tools and techniques that were used by photographers in the dark room to touch up and alter photographs taken on film. From changing the level of exposure to adding sharpness and clarity, blurring the background, smudging out impurities, changing the contrast, adjusting the brightness and saturation of colors, adding or removing colors, and reducing noise are all things photographers have had available to them for many years before Photoshop came along.

#21 - Luke Grossman (Glenshaw, PA) - Before editting
#21 – Luke Grossman (Glenshaw, PA) – Before editing

Let’s take two tools for example; Dodge and Burn. When I first started using Photoshop I couldn’t understand why they named these tools the way they did. The Dodge tool is a brush that you can use to increase the exposure where you place it, sort of like painting light into your photo where it’s needed. The Burn tool does the opposite by allowing you to darken the exposure or paint darkness into your photo. I couldn’t comprehend why smart software developers used such cryptic names and Dodge and Burn when they could have easily named them the Lighten and Darken tools. That is, until I became more interested in photography and learned that photographers, including the likes of Ansel Adams, used dodging and burning to alter their photographs and create a finished piece that defies the natural look of the original photograph. Adams has a famous quote, “Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.”

Portrait photographers will use techniques to soften skin and remove blemishes to enhance the beauty of the subject or add a “dreamy” or more flattering look to the portrait. In most cases, people are very happy with the end result of moderate alterations that produce beautiful or handsome pictures. The problems really come in when more advanced editing tools inside the software are used to completely change and alter the image such as changing someone’s actual dimensions or removing things from a photo that change a person’s actual appearance. But portraits aren’t the only place where these tools are used to alter the natural image. Landscape photographers will completely remove trees or structures to allow for the image to show the beauty they interpret. Some photographers have a habit of adding dramatic skies and clouds into their otherwise drab photos to create a more dynamic feel to their image. Street photographers use techniques both while they are photographing and in post processing to remove people and traffic from busy city streets. And photographers who work for fashion magazines are expected to deliver images that meet the vision that they were contracted to create.

The introduction of software editing and alteration has created many avenues for controversy over final images. But how can a photographer “Photoshop” an image without any computer software at all? If you think about it, photographers have changed the natural look of their subjects since the idea came to first shape and direct light onto a scene. Using lights, filters, gels, and different lenses you can completely change the way a person looks for your image. For example, if you take a photo of someone with a light shining directly onto their face and their face looking straight into your lens, you’ll have an image of a person that looks very flat and wide. By changing the position of the lights, you can contour the face and use the highlights and shadows to shape and add dimension to it. Also, by adding a light above with a colored gel or piece of plastic over it, you can slightly alter the color of the subject’s hair. And, by using a longer zoom lens you can make the person appear a bit thinner than if you were using a shorter and wider lens and placing the camera higher than the subject will make them appear smaller and more submissive while a lower angle makes them larger than life and invokes strength and power. While these changes are subtle at best, they are still ways in which you can make a person look totally different than they do in real life.

#21 - Luke Grossman (Glenshaw, PA) - After editting
#21 – Luke Grossman (Glenshaw, PA) – After editing

Since I don’t really do any portrait work outside of the sports photos that I take, I don’t find any reason to photoshop someone’s picture to change or enhance or alter the way they look naturally. However, I do use Photoshop and other tools as part of my post processing workflow for just about every photo that comes out of my camera. Whether it’s removing a background and replacing it with something else or changing a photo from color to black and white or just pulling every bit of detail and color out of the scene, adjustments are always a way to enhance the look of the photo and bring out the feeling that I wanted to create when I snapped it. I can see where some applications could cause great concern and I can also see where other applications can create works of art.

How much “photoshopping” do you do with your images and what are your thoughts on which tools are okay to use and which ones should be avoided? I’d love to hear your views on this subject.

Until next week, happy shooting!

Is there a topic that you’d like to learn more about? Send feedback, share your photos, or offer topic suggestions to talkphotos@ecklof.com. If you’re looking for a place to connect with local photographers in Chautauqua County, search for the group “Shoot ‘n Share Chautauqua” on Facebook.

Original article by Chad Eklof, The Post-Journal.