To Photoshop or not? (No photo)

I was in South Lake Tahoe early last year shooting in the Taylor Creek area.  Maybe it was the year before.  While shooting, I came across another photographer.  We ended chatting for about half an hour, maybe more.  One of the topics we ended spending quite a bit of time discussing was the use of Photoshop (insert Lightroom, Aperture, or any other post-processing program here).

Now granted, the other photog and I both post-process, as do most photogs that shoot digital.  And I’ll admit that I occasionally even take those photos from my P&S (cellphone camera, old compact Canon SD750) and post-process them too.

The comment that started off the “Photoshop or not” discussion was he had seen a local photog’s booth at one of those Tahoe craft and art events specifically mention the fact that the photographs were not Photoshopped.  I suppose I get the marketing hook here.  I once thought about entering the world of big advertising agencies and there’s something to be said about things being organic as being more “pure”.  Maybe there are sales to be made with that approach…to people that don’t dabble in photography.

There is no nobility in not using Photoshop.  It is as though this photog is standing up and shouting that he is the only clean player in baseball’s steroid era.  But that would be a misinformed analogy.

But let us try to look at this objectively. If the photog is using any camera that is pro-sumer level and above, they are probably shooting in RAW format.  If they are not shooting in RAW, well, I have some concerns.  On a simplistic level, shooting in JPG format means you are applying Canon, Nikon and any other manufacturer’s engineers’ algorithm to your photographs.  You are letting someone else determine the final output, especially in the areas of color cast and contrast.  So in theory, some engineer in a lab has post-processed your photograph by some very common denominators.  So while the photog has not put the photo through post, by shooting in JPG, it has been in post through a computer algorithm and the final photo has been “unneeded” data (as determined by the algorithm) removed from the photo.

Now if the photog is shooting in RAW, there is a reason there are specific computer profiles in Lightroom, camera RAW profiles for Photoshop, but they are by not means perfect (as some profiles are proprietary) and a reason why there are different profiles for every camera manufacturer.  Yet here’s the thing.  RAW Photographs straight out of the camera and viewed on the computer screen look VERY different from what reality is.  Perhaps after applying camera profiles and some work in post, you can get an photo close to what was seen by the eye.   Post-processing for digital is the very thing the camera darkroom was to film shooters.  Otherwise it would be as though you shot film and sent it off to the local Fotomat or corner drugstore for prints.

Everyone has their preferences when comes to their approach to photography, but implying your art is better/more pure/organic because it has not been altered is disingenuous.


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