Are these photoshopped?
It’s a question that comes up quite often when I show people my images. And I suspect that the questions they’re really asking, are; Can I trust these? Can I trust you? Are these lying to me?
Photoshop is, of course, just shorthand for manipulated. Altered or airbrushed can also used interchangeably most of the time. I suppose I should be flattered if the initial reaction is disbelief that it’s ‘real’.
The short answer is yes, my images are photoshopped. It is exceedingly rare for an image of mine to make it from camera to website without undergoing at least some treatment. In my case, it’s Adobe Lightroom rather than Adobe Photoshop, but that’s not really the point.
However, when I’m asked this question though I always want to respond ‘yes, but…‘, or to ask ‘what exactly do you mean?’
The issue is that there are varying degrees of digital manipulation, and no set rules about how much is acceptable. The lines between acceptable and unacceptable are extremely fuzzy and wiggly. Trying to figure out where the line is can be a difficult business. It depends on what the artist is trying to achieve, what they claim to have achieved and also on the tolerance and discernment of the audience. At one extreme we have photojournalism, where depicting and upholding truth is paramount. At the other end we have artists who have taken photoshopping into a new artform in its own right, seeming to bend reality like Salvador Dali.
We find landscape photographs at all points of the photoshop scale. For some folk, anything is fair game. It’s their image, they can do what they like to make it awesome. For others, the result straight from the camera is sacred. Altering it is defacing the truth. For most of us, we’re happy to do ‘a bit’ of manipulation but have some sort of intuitive limit.
I have no problem with high levels of photoshopping, personally, as long as we’re honest about where we’re coming from and what we’re doing to achieve our results. So in the interest of clarity this is my own explanation of what I do to my images.
- My guiding principle is to be faithful to the scene. So while I do make some changes, I believe every shot of mine is a totally honest recreation of the real thing. As far as I’m concerned, I’m using the software to get the best out of the image, and go beyond the limitations of my camera.
- I make adjustments to things like contrast, colour, clarity and the exposure in post processing. I would normally describe these adjustments as slight and tend to make universal changes to the whole image, but I do also sometimes selectively change a particular area. For example, reducing the brightness of the sky or increasing the brightness of a very dark area.
- I never use what I would call drastic techniques to profoundly alter the character of the image. For instance, replacing the sky with a more dramatic one, removing a structure, blending multiple exposures from different times of day, blending different focal lengths. What you see is always what I saw through the lens.