All Photos Are Manipulated

“Has that been Photoshopped a lot?”

I sometimes hear that question when showing one of my photos to someone, and I have to confess that it bugs me. Not because it’s prying into my photographic process, or because it’s a technical remark rather than a response to the actual image, but because it reveals how little the viewer understands about the medium of photography.

In that question, “Photoshop” is being used to mean “edited” or “manipulated” or “altered,” and the subtext of the question is, “Has this image been edited or manipulated? I need to know because I want to know if the image is true.”

The answer to the question is always “yes” because all photos are edited and manipulated. They always have been. Even photos that are very realistic are no more an objective, “real” representation of reality than is a watercolor painting. Photography is an abstract medium, and the more you understand that, the better your shooting will be.

Manipulation Starts in the Viewfinder
“Image editing” starts as soon as you lift your eye to the viewfinder. What you choose to include in the frame is a massive edit of the scene before you, and it’s important to understand just how powerful this “cropping” of the real world can be.

A few years ago, I was in a township in South Africa. I was there to help a friend shoot a project on grandmothers. With their towns and villages ravaged by HIV/AIDS, it’s left to the grandmothers in Africa to raise the young children, and they do this in the face of their adult children being taken by the disease.

At one point, I took this picture of a grandmother:

From the image, it’s easy to see the weight she bears and the sadness that must pervade her life.

On the other hand, five minutes before, I saw this as I walked into her house:

She was an incredibly kind, welcoming woman with a joyous attitude around her grandchildren. So which image carries the “truth” of the situation? Neither does completely, and therein lays your work as a photographer.

When you find a scene you want to capture, part of your task is to determine the crop of that scene that conveys either what you were experiencing emotionally, or what you found visually interesting. If you’re aiming for some sort of editorial “truth,” then you need to think very carefully about what information the crop might convey to the viewer.

It’s also critical, as a viewer, to understand the power of the crop. The photographer is choosing to focus your attention in a particular direction. Long before any image-manipulation technology comes into play, you might already be swayed by photographic sleight of hand.

What’s Wrong with Your Camera?
The modern digital camera is a technological achievement capable of capturing amazing imagery. However, it still pales in comparison to the imaging power of your eye.

For example, you eyes can adapt to the color of any light. Cameras can’t do this automatically, which is why you have to hassle with white balance. In addition, your eye has a much greater dynamic range than a camera. Dynamic range is a measure of how big a range from dark to light you can perceive. Photographers measure light in terms of stops, with each stop being either a doubling or halving of light. By this measure, a typical digital camera can capture about 10 to 12, maybe up to 14, stops. Your eye can perceive around 18 to 20 stops worth of light.

The practical upshot of this is that when you enter a situation with a wide range of brightness–bright shadows in a sky, for example, along with dark shadowy details in a foreground, or even just a person standing in front of a bright window–you have to choose whether you want to capture details in the bright sky, or details in the dark foreground. Because of your camera’s limited dynamic range, you can’t have both, even though your eye can see details in both places.

This usually means that you need to tweak an image so that its tones resemble what your eyes saw in the original scene. For example, in Figure 3, the bright road and the bright background cause the camera to underexpose the women’s faces. Yet my eyes had no trouble seeing the detail of their faces.

Back in Photoshop, I brightened up the faces to make them more visible, in addition to performing some other, aesthetic adjustments.

So yes, I Photoshopped the image, but the main purpose was to restore the tonal values to what they looked like to my eye, since my camera was incapable of capturing them that way.

In our image-heavy world, it’s easy to be a visual chauvinist and assume that our visual sense is the dominant, best, or most important way of experiencing the world. But when you’re looking at a person in a flowering meadow, for example, you’re using far more than just your eye–all of your other senses inform your visual sense. Your nose smells the flowers, which might make you notice some that you hadn’t seen before; your ears reveal birds; the sun warms your skin, which might make you feel comfortable and more appreciative of the scene. All of these things can cause you to re-interpret what you see. Even your emotional state can lead you to view a scene differently than someone else might.

In other words, you can’t trust that what you’re “seeing” is simply the result of the light that your eyes have gathered.

For example, while driving around in rural Turkey, I saw this tree:

From this photo, it’s difficult to see why this particular tree would have caught my attention. It’s somewhat lost in the surrounding foliage and doesn’t look like any particularly grand specimen. Yet, while I was standing there, I was struck by a sense that it was standing out from among the surrounding trees. It appeared like it was on its own, separate from the other vegetation, and a worthy compositional counterpoint to the dramatic mountains and sky up above.

I can’t tell you why this tree had such a strong impact on me. Perhaps, at the scene, there was a subtle lighting change that made it more visible to me, and my camera didn’t capture that. Or, perhaps because I was seeing the scene in 3D, the tree appeared more prominent than it does in a flat, two-dimensional photo. Or maybe, having just traversed a difficult, twisty mountain pass in a car that wasn’t built for the type of dirt road I was on, coming into this valley carried a sense of happy relief, and seeing a tree jutting on its own into the sky was something I could kind of relate to, and so my response was prompted more by emotion than my eyes.

Whatever the reason, the original photograph didn’t match what I thought I saw. With some editing, though, I was able to re-create it in this image:

While heavily Photoshopped, the photo now feels like a “true” representation of what I experienced.

Just as a playwright knows that ordinary life must be “blown up” into drama to become interesting to an audience, a photographer must learn to create a representative image of his or her experience at a scene. Simply capturing visual information usually isn’t enough because, even while standing there, you’re not seeing only visual information.

Your job as a photographer, then, is to figure out how to shoot and process to create an image that is representational of your experience at the location.

“Look Over There!”
As you look at this text, take a minute to note–without moving your eyes from this sentence–just how wide your field of view is. Stop reading, keep your eyes still, and notice how much you can see in your peripheral vision. Notice how wide it goes, how you can see details throughout the room.

While your attention may be focused on these words, your eyes are capable of a tremendous field of view. Yet that doesn’t mean your brain is processing every detail your eyes are gathering.

There are many things that cause you to pay attention to some visual details while ignoring others. For example, threat of messy, hideous death quickly focuses your attention. Say you’re standing before a pride of lions. Your perception is that the giant cats are the only thing you can see, even though they’re likely just part of the scene.

In reality, the camera captures whatever field of view your lens dictates, so the image often contains a lot of extra, useless information. That’s what happened when I shot this photo:

As a photographer, you sometimes have to take extra steps to ensure that the viewers of your image focus their attention in the right place. And so you compose in a particular way, and you make tone, contrast, and color adjustments that lead their eye to the subject of your image:

Again, is this a perfect simulacrum of the visual information that my eyes gathered at the scene? No, but the edits give the lions a prominence that’s much closer to what I experienced when I was looking at them in person.

Finally, there’s one other thing to consider: The edited lion photo is prettier than the unedited one. We don’t take images simply to convey some idea of “truth”. We often take images to create a pretty picture, and a flat, low-contrast image simply isn’t very attractive.

Who Cares?
All images are Photoshopped. Or Lightroomed, or iPhoto’d, or dodged, burned, re-touched, cross-processed, developed with more or less agitation in the tank, at warmer or cooler temperatures, and so on and so forth. This has been true since the beginning of photography.

Understanding the representational nature of photography will help you take better pictures because you’ll better understand how to exploit the strengths and weaknesses of the medium.

But perhaps more importantly, it’s important to understand that all images are manipulated. Still photos are the dominant communication medium used for everything from entertainment to artistic expression, journalism to sales. Becoming a more informed, understanding viewer will make it easier to understand when and whether there’s any “truth” in the images put before you.


Posted on: August 3, 2011

49 Comments on All Photos Are Manipulated

  1. I read this with interest… and a smile on my face. My career as a photographer spans several decades; beginning before digital imaging was event a thought, and now encompassing the total control of Creative Suite CS5. Simple fact is anyone who claims that a photograph should be “pure”.. i.e. not manipulated (or “Photoshopped”, as today’s crude jargon describes it) is either stubbornly lying, sadly misinformed, a kid, or an idiot.
    The simple fact is a photographic image of ANY kind is an illusion. Pure smoke and mirrors… designed to trick the eye and brain into perceiving depth, space.. shadow and light where there really is none. Whether the image is made of particles of metallic silver suspended in a microscopic layer of gelatin or electrically charged pixels it is still an illusion.
    All the master photographers through time have never worried about manipulating their images.. they just did.. and still do. Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, Gary Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Henri Cartier-Breson, etc. were either masters in their own darkrooms, or could direct their printers to deliver exactly what they envisioned.
    Any photographic process is inherently limited in what it can render. The classic example of a BW print clearly illustrates this. A photographer sees a scene with a brightness range of 20 stops. Then carefully captures it on negative material that can only record say 8 stops (at best), then has to make a positive print on paper that can only record 4 or 5 stops of range (if that). Digital imaging is actually even more restricted.
    Not to take advantage of whatever technique (or “trick”.. if you prefer) to overcome these limitations, and allow an artist to completely express what they envision is just plain silly. Sort of like the Tea Party’s fumbling blustering.
    Regardless of whether it’s shooting RAW, processing in ACR then “Photoshopping” or dodging and burning and toning in a darkroom.. it’s all valid and all the same extension of control that an artist has at their disposal to complete their expression.

    Charles Matter
    New York, NY

  2. Jennifer Wills

    August 3, 2011 at 4:57 pm

    When non-photographers look at my images they almost always say “Wow, you must have a nice camera.” The second response (from those who own a camera) is “Did that come out of you camera like that?” I respond to both with a slight sigh.

    And by the way, visual chauvinist, is one of the best terms I have heard in a while. I am totally stealing that!

    Great article that I am sure will be passed around for years to come.

    -Jennifer Wills

  3. Great article, Ben. BTW, who ever said that a photograph is real life? Yes, a photo of a lake it may look closer to real life than, say, a painting of a lake. But a photo is still a mechanical interpretation of the lake. For those who want a real lake, I suggest they jump in the lake. So to speak. Thanks.

  4. Loved this article.

  5. Thank you for this article. I’ve been asked this question more than once and now I have a GREAT article to send to those people. Very good read and I totally agree with you. I shared it on Facebook for others to read.

  6. Brilliant

  7. I’m very glad I took the time to read your article. Thank you for writing it. I mainly use point and shoot digital cameras and my Photoshop skills are somewhere between extremely poor and non-existent. I almost always adjust levels to either improve the look of a photo or try to get it closer to what my eye saw.
    I prefer the first, wider angle photo of the lions. I liked the perspective and thought it prettier than the rather harsh treatment in the second shot.

  8. This is one of the best articles I’ve ever read on this website! Amazing! =) Greetings from Brazil.

  9. Well…reading through the article.. I think it is important to differentiate between a newsworthy documentation and illustrative vision. I found the composition and image content interesting. I felt the photoshop work was just to hightened in contrast. Somehow, the serene landscapes were lost in high contrast impact… if we’re talking about a documentation and not an illustration. The lions lost the gentleness of a hot summer day, the green grass became grey and their tones exaggerated. Even the mountain, tree view, there’s something about the haze that lingers in the background, the sky was so darkened..but then again, the photographers says that is closer to what he saw.. The women’s faces… seemed like they were shot with a flash… I don’t know. Think there is an in-between that we as photographers have to consider and how it’s going to be used. Creating an “art” project is so very different that a documentation of a real life environment. Oprah Winfrey, whom I love…is thinner on every magazine cover than she’s been in the last 3 years… Again, personal use is one thing, editorial and documentation as newsworthy is completely different and it’s up to the journalists and editors to keep that in focus. Photographers loose jobs for altering photographs about important issues.

  10. Sorry, the article I wrote at 09:08 that included Oprah, I forgot to post my name, Thank you,
    Jean Ferro

  11. Be careful when toning an image. I used to be a photo toner for a newspaper and was trained very well on photo toning. We would be given photos from the staff photographers and we would tone them for printing press- i.e. taking out unnecessary color casts, and excessive black ink. Upping the contrast and reducing mid-tones also cleaned the pics of nicely. Those where for the b/w images, the color images we had to be very careful. Lightening up the shadowy areas was always required, since once it reached the paper the dark areas would just come out as a black blob, but here’s the trick- lighten the dark areas but make it still look realistic. Surprisingly I’ve noticed a lot of photographers that actually overdo it with photo shopping an image. And thus the viewer may comment because it ends up looking unnatural. Yes, something grabs your eye in real life, you want to emphasize it but it ends up coming out ‘fake’ looking when too over emphasized and obviously tampered with. Either you go all the way and make it so obviously altered so its a purposeful art statement or you be subtle with the toning and make it look so realistic that the viewer would never ask if its been ‘photoshopped’. It should be obvious either way, A viewer sees a photo and goes “wow that’s been photoshopped, and they did a great job” or “wow what a great picture, they caught it so beautifully” and if the photo is manipulated correctly no one will ask because they will know. People are not stupid, just because they may not be a practicing or professional photographer doesn’t mean they don’t’ have an eye and are able to see poorly manipulated imagery. Whenever I manipulate images I always make sure the light source is accurate and in the same direction throughout-this is a great rule of thumb to keep the photo realistic.

  12. Bear in mind that the images that I’ve posted here are ones that have been prepared for print. They lose a lot of contrast and a bit of color saturation on the paper that they’re intended for. And, of course, who knows what they look like on your monitor, compared to mine.

  13. Really good!

  14. Wow, those are way overdone! I find when making adjustments that there is a threshold, beyond which I perceive the image to be manipulated and once that is passed all hopes of seeing the image ‘realistically’ go out the window. The trick is to enhance the image while staying beneath that threshold.
    I usually find going to far with adjustments then backing them off until they feel right works better than just gradually increasing them. And frequent comparisons to the original image to maintain perspective.

  15. Whether or not an image has ever been modified in some software in your computer, if it is a jpeg image, the camera has modified it. Do we want to make our images represent our feelings when we made the image or should we trust it to some guy in Japan who programmed the camera and has never seen the actual scene?

  16. I enjoyed the article and appreciate the shots you chose to highlight your points. The comments on these images are interesting because a few pan your editing. That’s the endless black hole for me – if you edit to print, it looks like crap on the web. If you edit for the web, it looks different on each monitor, and doesn’t print well.
    Ben, how do you manage the different kinds of edits? Or, do you just edit for prints? Thanks!

  17. Excellent post – thanks for this. It starts in the viewfinder… no, really it starts in the photographer’s heart and mind. We bring the filters of our life and experience to how we see *what* we see… and what we choose to present.

  18. Sorry, but I have to dissent. I’ve color corrected tens of thousands of slide scans and raw files. These edits are quite unnatural looking, while your originals look natural. All you have to do is look at the masters, at all of McCurry’s old slides, to know the difference between cinching up the levels and disrupting the natural tonal relationships, which is what’s been done here. There are strong halos, unnatural gradients, unnatural saturation, shadows that are not as dark as they brain knows they should be, etc. Good photographs do not require elaborate post-processing.

  19. Well said.


  20. Really enjoyed reading this visual defense of why photos are edited. Recalling my earlier times of the questioning to what degree has something been ‘Shopped or not; but profoundly now it’s in the manner of what is that photographer attempting to display and empower!

    Thank you for a very enlightening read!

  21. Thanks for a great article. And I DO like your edited images better than the originals. They have greater impact and it was interesting to see how you improved them. Your article confirmed my feelings about manipulation and the reasons why I spend the amount of time that I do with post-processing on all my images so that I turn out images of better quality and emotion. I totally agree with all that you say and you say it so well in this article.

  22. When people ask this question, and they have of me a lot as well, I honestly believe that they mean, “Have bits and pieces of this image been moved around or deleted electronically.”

    They are not referring to a bit of dodging, burning, color saturation, cropping or how the image has been selected before you click the shutter. They want to know if a tree, telephone pole, rock or person has been moved or removed from the photo. Or if something completely foreign to the scene has been added.

    Most people know that the job of (professional) photographers is to position themselves in the scene to relay, or communicate a message (and a distinctive difference between them and the soccer-mom-with-a-digital-camera crowd that is on the rise today). This ability, to select and capture a scene, is where much of the ‘profession’ lies in a ‘professional photographer.’

    So, most people know that a photographer selects a scene, crops in the viewfinder and then prints the image so that it is visually engaging (i.e. further cropping, dodging, burning and color adjustment). But now what they want to know is, with the advent of digital, is not all that stuff (which the article refers to as manipulation) but has the photo been cut up, rearranged or combined with other elements to achieve the resulting photograph.

    If that be the case, I think the average viewer considers this type of ‘manipulation’ a bit of cheating and so, it takes away from the mastery of actually capturing the image in space and time without the need to rearrange things in the computer.

  23. To me, asking if an image has been ‘Photoshopped’ is akin to asking if a print from film has been ‘darkroomed.’ Photoshop is the tool, the post-capture processing environment, not the technique. There are many techniques in digital processing, as there are in film developing and printing. Ask me ‘How did you do that?’ rather than parroting the ‘Photoshopped’ cliche.

  24. And there remain the two biggest distortions of all:
    1. representation of 3-dimensionnal space on a 2-dimensional plane
    2. representation of a scene that is moving through time as if it were frozen in time.

  25. Expectations have much to do with the misnomer (‘Photoshop’ as a verb) and the concern over image manipulation. People generally get their idea of what ‘the rules’ for photography are from documentary photographs. They aren’t approaching the images as art.

    The reason they do this is simple: that’s where their experience lies. Relatively few people spend time in art galleries looking at work by Weston but everyone knows National Geographic.

    In NatGeo and most news photos, saturation is within processing bounds but removing trees is a no-no. That sets the standard. Bumping up colours is not ‘photoshopping’ but removing objects from an image is.

  26. Excellant article and comments. Most photography is thought of as art (or should be), and as such is subject to interpertation by the photographer. When an artist is painting a cityscape, why in the world would he /she include a telephone pole and wires uless they were an integral part of story.

    Even when doing documentary photography, some manipulation may be necessary. A high contrast crime scene might require a flash fill or some contrast reduction in Photoshop. Can you imagine the opposing attorney grilling the photographer saying “What, you Photoshopped this image?”

    To me, the objective my photographs is to catch the viewers eye and give some pleasure and hopefully make some money.

  27. Ben,
    I like your argument in defense of the dark arts (over saturation & the like) and that works for art, advertising & personal use. The eye does see over a greater stop range than any camera.

    But here’s the kicker. As a photo-editor for a news publication, when I see something like that tree shot come across the wire, or in my FTP, that photographer doesn’t work for me any more.

    I’m not going to say the lion, or the hay photos don’t make the cut, it’s really up to individual editors, but rule of thumb is, if you want to keep your job, take better photos and layoff the special effects.

    BTW. Spot on about the cropping & editing process.

  28. I’ve taken are when I am fortunate enough to be in the perfect place, at the perfect time, with the perfect lighting. I agree with others in that the work done on these images is overdone and I doubt that the ‘photoshopped’ [there I said it] images are closer to what was seen with the human eye. They don’t look natural, they look worked on.

  29. This was a realization for me recently upon entering some photos in the advanced division of my local county fair. I thought I had to enter them as shot. Boy was I suprised when my photos were only given honorable mention. I went home used Lightroom to “fix” them and saw the immediate improvement and had I submitted those ones Imight have won higher marks. Ohwell…live and learn. I didnt know that I could have submitted them with the “tweaks” of Lightroom or Photoshop and will do so next time!

  30. I am an amateur photographer, but a professional graphic designer. I hate when people ask me about how much I used Photoshop on a photo, as if the portrayal is somehow less legitimate for being processed. Your article really put into words what I have wanted to say, but alas, I am not much of a verbal communicator either. THANKS!

  31. I’ve found the opinions of those posting quite interesting. I appreciate the explanation Ben has presented, as I’m a Photoshop user, and, hopefully, not an abuser.
    If we’re dealing with the art in a pure sense, then I feel we’re getting down to what defines manipulation. Learning how to use darkroom tools was included in most curriculums, and if comparisons are to be made, then one can argue that a glass plate photograph is more “pure” than a B&W photo processed in a darkroom.
    We’ve reached a new threshold of performance, especially with all of the amazing features to the latest outcrop of digital cameras, and the next question is “how valid are the opinions of the experts?”
    R. Smith

  32. …most of these photoshops are overdone. The two ladies look like they are glowing and so is the tree. OTOH, I think the lion image was improved by editing.

    There is nothing wrong with photoshopping images but you have to really be careful not to g oover the line.

  33. I agree fully with your article. It is the EYE of the artist, the photographer or designer. I love the way you explained it and I appreciate the tools we now have to get our vision across.

  34. What you did with the tree photograph bothers me. A landscape photographer should take whatever lighting conditions they get and do the best they can with it. If it doesn’t work out then you learn from the experience, not hack your photo into a replica of what you wish it had looked like. Once you get in the habit of putting makeup on all your shots in Photoshop then you’re a digital artist perhaps but not a photographer.

  35. This is probably the best description I have read of why we do what we do. I remember the hours in the darkroom dodging and burning, and that was never questioned. Ansel Adams declared the photo was taken outside but was made in the darkroom. In Dorothea Lange’s photo “Migrant Mother”(1936), a sharp eye can see the mother’s left thumb burned away in the foreground by the photographer, because it made a better photo.
    Photoshop gives us better tools, that permit us to expand our artistic capabilities and make beautiful photos. My picture is my interpretation – deal with it.
    Your photo of the tree in Turkey is exquisite. A work of art.

  36. You are a confused little dude.

  37. This is a great article and something I’m encoutnering a lot at the moment. I’ve gotten into HDR imaging. I feel that when done right the increased light range of the final product results in very realistic images. The funny thing is I’ve spent so much time looking at and working on HDR images that these look compeltely normal to me, and it shocks me a bit when people think it looks unrealistic. I believe part of it is that we’ve got what a photographic reproduction of a scene should look like preprgrammed in our minds. We expect parts to be lost in shadow and areas washed out in the highlights, especially when you consider that the majority of the photos people see on a regular basis are snapshots taken on point and shoot cameras and not edited in the slightest. My programming, through working with HDR has changed to the point where HDR images look more relistic to me.

    I’ve just recently started a photo blog ( unleashing my images, mostly on friends with no photorgaphy background. Just last night, after an exhausting rugby training one of the guys commented, “I’ve noticed your gay blog thingy. I’m following it, just unnoficially.”

    That’s about as close to a compliment as i could expect. Then, just as I was preparing to leave he asked what goes into the photos, “do you just stick them in photoshop and play with them until you like the look of them?”

    This simplification of what is sometimes hours fo work irked me a bit ( I was tireda fter all) and I didn’t come up with much of an answer. I also have a workmate that constantly tells me he likes this photo or that because it looks more realistic (he’s actually my gauge when Im’ trying to produce “realistic” images). I’m looking forward to entering into yet another debate with him on the topic of photo-realism armed with some of the points raised here.

  38. but, it will likely be read more by people who are in photography, and not those who end up asking those questions.

    I always think that when I take a photo, and then I work on it on my computer, the goal is to produce a work of art that is visually appealing to my interpretation; that looks dramatic to me; and so on. In that process, if I produce something on which the others agree with me, then good.

    But, I love this article – it does put the point across very nicely.

  39. Two points: 1. (directed to Charles Matter, who posted comment no. 1 above) Henri Cartier-Bresson did not manipulate his images in the darkroom. He was famous for leaving the developing and printing of his photographs to others. The only stipulation he demanded was that his photographs never be cropped, so he was in effect demanding that NO post-processing be done. 2. I think most people wonder if a photo was “photoshopped” because it is much easier to “photoshop” (post-process) a photo nowadays with the availability and convenience of many photo post-processing programs, like Photoshop. The impression many people have is that “anyone could do that as long as they had Photoshop in their computer.” As opposed to the old darkroom techniques, which were (and are still perceived to be) crafts that took years to learn and perfect. Again referring to comment no. 1, Ansel Adams et al are known for their darkroom processing techniques precisely because they were artists when they were working in the darkroom as well as when they were looking through the shutter. Not everyone can produce the same quality of Ansel Adams photos simply by using the same techniques he used. Nowadays, however, if you have Photoshop, you can get extremely high quality results with little more effort than reading the instruction manual. I think THIS is what compels people to ask “did you Photoshop that?”

  40. I apologize for any harshness, but I feel, as a burgeoning professional photojournalist, that this line of argumentation is little more than a convenient rationalization for heavy-handed post-processing. Post-processing is the photographers duct-tape. The goal is to get it right in camera. There is a huge, monstrous, world-changing difference between an aesthetically pleasing camera angle, and using photoshop to misrepresent the scene as it was. Inherent subjectivity of a medium is not the same as deliberate manipulation of a photo.

    In the same way acknowledging that news writing is not an objective process does not give free license to inventing sources or misrepresenting events as they occurred, altering an event through excessively manipulated images is not acceptable, and frankly most of the images posted looked much better before the editing anyway, but that has already been mentioned.

  41. Photoshop is mainly used for making bad or mediocre photos “better.” It is the modern way to avoid having to do what all great photographers do: wait very patiently until the right moment comes and then use all your skill and experience to photograph it expertly and beautifully. With Photoshop, anyone can just tweek here and manipulate there, and like magic their terrible shots have HIGH CONTRAST or HDL or WEIRD LIGHTING PATTERNS or JUST ONE PATCH OF COLOR IN AN OTHERWISE B&W IMAGE or whatever. And then it becomes a “conversation piece” that all their friends admire.

  42. This is so close to what I believe that I could have said it myself (if I could have put it across so clearly and succinctly 🙂 Thank you.

  43. Amen to guests #22, 27, 28, 34, …
    A photographer’s job is to make the image look as much like it did in “real life” –and here’s the important part–WITHIN THE LIMITATIONS OF THE MEDIA. A camera has limitations. Some of these can be compensated for. However, when you retouch an image to make it look like what you experienced, or what you wish it looked like, you are no longer a “photographer”. You are an artist, a designer, or something else, but not a “photographer”. Period.
    The tree image is a truly lovely work of art, but it is no longer a “photograph”.
    There is no reason you cannot be both a photographer and an artist. But please recognize that there IS a difference, and that there is a line between them (wide and gray though it may be).

  44. Definition please…a person who takes photographs, either as a hobby or a profession.

    Not defined is what is done with the photos after they are “captured”. Insulting someone for posting their work and attempting to refute the “photoshopped” tag is really a fools errand. Many of you are parsing sentences. Do you use ACR? Do you use a camera obscura? How pure does the mechanical aspect of the capture have to be to satisfy your definition of who is a photographer.

    My 5 year old son was a photographer when I gave him a point and shoot and let him capture the world. His uncomplicated and sometimes upside down views of the world are much more pure to me than the tripe that is sold as news shot by Professional Photographers.

  45. Hi Ben,

    I have recently transitioned from point-and-shoot to a DSLR camera and am learning rapidly. I often browse the net to learn and came across your article here.
    Before reading it, I often felt hesitant and slightly embarrassed to admit to my friends(none are photographers) that the image they are seeing has been photoshopped and hence it looks so lovely. The nature of RAW files is such that you have to either photoshop them or be a god of photography to not edit anything after clicking the photo and still be able to put it up in a frame.

    This article gave me a new way of thinking for which I am heartily thankful to you. I am not going to feel embarrassed any more now that I know everyone edits their photos in post-production.

    Best regards

  46. The people asking clearly just want to know if the subject would look to their eyes, the same as your photographs.mthe answer would often therefore be no.

  47. I really get amused when people advertise themselves as being a “Pro” as though this gave them some sort of Demi God status. The ONLY difference between a Pro and an Amateur is that one gets paid to take photos other people want while an Amateur has the luxury of taking photos they want. Get off your high horse and the self justtifcation kick. Most people I know that object to Photoshopped images is when they have been grossley altered by having items either inserted or removed.

  48. Are you trying to convince us that editing in programs like Photoshop is justifiable and okay or yourself? Many credible magazines, newspapers and contest judges would disagree. Of course you edit what goes into a photo through the viewfinder, this is called composing the photo. This is not editing, you are sorting out what you want a photograph of. Look up ‘photographer’ and ‘illustrator’ in a dictionary. If you want to be an illustrator that is fine, but please do not lump us all in with illustrators like yourself.

  49. Unless you simply failed to be more specific, you don’t seem to recognize or acknowledge that “photography” encompasses both practical and artistic forms. You are speaking entirely about the purely artistic side of photography as if it is the only thing that exists. You could qualify many of your statements by simply acknowledging that fact. As it stands, you are wrong to say that photography as a whole is abstract. Its practical function is objective. It isn’t until after the practical function is performed and the “real” image is manipulated, beyond attempting to overcome mechanical limitations, that it becomes abstract.

    If you are annoyed by people asking that question, stop showing it to laymen expecting a peer response. Who is your audience? If it is laymen (you know, the vast majority), then properly present your material. You suggest they don’t know very much about photography, yet you don’t seem to grasp what that means. The fact of the matter is that most if not all laymen expect and/or prefer that a photo be an accurate representation of reality (practical), not an altered vision of it (artistic). That in itself is not a lack of understanding of photography as again, it encompasses both. This is as much your failure as theirs.

    Your article focuses on the why and frankly I doubt the why is news to anybody. The issue is how the viewer can differentiate between the two because it does matter if something is intended to be practical or artistic. The only way a viewer is going to be able to see the “truth” in a photo is for there to be clear representation of the final image by the artist/practitioner. If you have altered the original capture to express yourself artistically, be up front about it. Even with peers. Post work is an art form in itself so why not talk about it.

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