Why Do Photographers Hate Photoshop?

Why Do Photographers Hate Photoshop?

According to what I've been noticing in a lot of the comments posted here on Fstoppers, there seems to be plenty of photographers who absolutely hate Photoshop. So lets have a bit of a discussion.

Technology has become part of everything in our lives. Cars get better and better. Phones have become portable and are now the size of a credit card. Speaking of credit cards, you barely even have to carry cash anymore - just swipe and be on your way. Records were replaced by tapes, which were replaced by CDs and then the iPod replaced everything. Hell, I can't remember the last time I got a written letter instead of an email. All of these technological advances have come along and made our lives better and easier with hardly any complaints. I hardly ever hear anyone complain that their entire music library fits in their pocket, or that they can now communicate across the globe in just seconds.

There's been an even greater impact in what some of us have chosen as a career path. Computers make running our businesses easier, social media makes our advertising easier, and it seems every year cameras come out that make the ones we're already using seem like paperweights. No one complains about any of these advances, but go ahead and use Photoshop, an absolutely amazing piece of software, to enhance your images and out comes an army of tin foil hat wearing purists clutching their Kodak Brownies (or at least thats how I like to imagine them).

Why is there such a problem with using software to retouch and enhance images? It was done in the darkroom with film, the "digital darkroom" is just an extension of that. Before we get into an argument over bad retouching, let's only consider good retouching for the time being. These are the results the software was designed for and not the over-processed messes that are frequently brought up in the arguments against Photoshop.

Are we on the same page now? Good.

I'll start with my take on it.

I am all for Photoshop. Before I get accused of having never shot film, relax, I started with a Mamiya 645 PRO TL, which I still own today. In college, I learned to shoot, develop, and print my own film. I still shoot and appreciate film and enjoy being very technical with my lighting. That being said, I am a Professional Commercial Photographer in a digital age and I will use ANYTHING available to create a good product. I don't live by "fix it in post" which is another accusation made by the anti-Photoshop army, but I do know when I can employ it. Let's face it some things are 110% out of our control. What's the big problem with now being able to at least fix it?

Commercial Photography is driven by perfection and it seems this perfection is what drives many against Photoshop. Let's be real for a second though. If we were to get rid of retouching for one whole year ... absolutely no retouching allowed in any advertising for an entire year, could you imagine what our world would look like? I promise sales in every industry, from cars to jewelery, to clothes, and everything in between would plummet.

In any industry, you have to adapt to changes in technology or you'll get phased out. That holds true even in Photography. With so many people competing for so few jobs you have to set yourself apart from the crowd and stay memorable to clients. Why not have some knowledge of Photoshop in your arsenal? The more you know how to do the more valuable you'll be.

It just seems so odd to me that some photographers can harbor so much hate for something that was designed to make their lives easier. It's like the firefighters' union being offered trucks and hoses and replying, "no thanks, we're good with the buckets of water we've already got."

Even today as I write this there are multiple posts on the Fstoppers Facebook page that have comments like, "Photoshopped." What does that even mean?! Of course it is! Why would you deliver anything to a client that's less than perfect? There's even a post about Annie Leibovitz's Disney portraits with a comment, "20% on set, 80% in PS", which if anyone bothered to watch the behind the scenes video they could see is untrue. Annie is known for the quality of her light. Obviously its run through Photoshop to achieve her look, but it still starts with beautifully lit images which is totally visible in the video. Sometimes it seems like a lot of these complaints come from people that are upset they can't achieve the same. Can't light like Annie and retouch like her retoucher? Then it's far easier to just hate on her and call it Photoshopped than to work on your lighting and learn the software.

Anyway, I've given you my thoughts, now I want to hear yours. I'm opening this to a full discussion in the comments below. I'm not looking to argue with anyone, let's all get along and have an adult discussion about our opinions for and against image editing software. I'll go through them and follow this post up next week with a collection of the best opinions.

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104 Comments

Jason Vinson's picture

the only time i think Photoshop is bad is when its used to polish a turd. you need to have a strong image to start with. that being said, i love photoshop, but as a wedding photographer i hate when i have to use it because it takes to much time for the amount of images i need to edit.

Spy Black's picture

Well, that goes back to the turd thing, no? ;-) There's an old saying from the 70s out of the audio world that went "don't worry, we'll fix it in the mix". It was an industry joke, however ironically today that is possible in the digital domain, both in aural and visual, both still and moving. Programs like Photoshop and After Effects visually "fix it in the mix". Sometimes, as you've experienced, it takes more time than you'd like it to.

Why does it matter if the turd ends up beautiful? I don't think the method ever matters. If the end result is better because of or in spite of the method, so be it. If a polished turd, still looks like a turd, then yeah do something different, but I've seen people take mediocre images to get a basis for a compilation / illustration that in the end is gorgeous!

I agree wholeheartedly. I just had four of my photos featured on B&H's Facebook page and while most of the comments were positive, there were a few that wrote negative comments about the amount of post-processing. Personally, I like how every photographer has his or her own style. Some are Photoshop-heavy, some aren't, and that's what makes the world go round! And I definitely don't think there's anything wrong or dishonest about using Photoshop, as long as the audience is aware of it.

Can I also ask … why is the assumption that photography has to be honest? I understand the historical reasons why people felt images were "honest" … but were they always? You can use no photoshop but make images appear that things aren't the way they truly are. And other forms of art aren't held to this "honesty" standard. You can paint whatever the heck you want and drop a rainbow in and there isn't a "dishonest" claim about it.

I'm NOT talking about photojournalism either. The purpose there is clearly to honestly report the event, place, person or otherwise.

Zach Sutton's picture

I'm absolutely in love with Adobe and everything they produce. I have absolutely no problems admitting that. Its a tool that allows you to make your work better, so why would you criticize someone for using it?

Every single one of my finished images goes through Photoshop at one point or another. Every day in my life has the use of an Adobe program.

People who are against Photoshop need to take a better look at the industry. Photoshop is here to stay, and if you're looking to make a career (or continue a career) in photography, you need to embrace changes to that industry. Sink or swim...that's the name of the game.

So when Adobe jacks the price of CC to $100 a month, we shouldn't criticize that either? How about $200? How about $500? $1000?

And why wouldn't they? They have the monopoly at this point

Zach Sutton's picture

WHEN they do that, we can discuss it. But you can't hate on a product based on what might happen in the future. They've shown no indication that they're going to do that

They are a publicly owned corporation, meaning that they have a duty to shareholders to pull in as much profit as possible. So yes, the rates are going to keep rising as long as there is no real competition. This why Lightroom is not mandatory CC. There is plenty of good competition in that space. Photoshop, not so much.

David Vaughn's picture

And complaining imaginary hypothetical situations totally helps the situation. Thank you internet for providing such rich conversation. It's nice to know everyone is smarter than everyone else.

I have a right to voice my opinion. It's when consumers voice their opinions that corporations realize that they are going down the wrong path. See Netflix, Xbox, etc.

CC is AU$20 per month here in Australia. With the current exchange rate it should be about $11. I recently bought CS6 because I didn't trust Adobe to stay at a reasonable price. CS6 (not extended) cost me AU$800 (US$740), how much does it cost in the US?

It's not a matter of "if" it's more a matter of when and they have you by the short and curlies!

Having said that PS is an extremely good product and I do enjoy using it.

Spy Black's picture

Although I enjoy working in Photoshop, I'm no fan of corporations that have monopolies running in an industry. You can argue that there are alternatives to Photoshop, but try getting a job retouching knowing Gimp or Corel Photopaint. Right. Same goes for Illustrator and InDesign. So no, I'm no fan of Adobe.

Who's fault is it that no other company has a better product? Adobe, or the other companies? People are complaining that Adobe is too expensive....it's a free market, that should be driving OTHER companies to undercut with a better/equal product, no?

Spy Black's picture

I guess you don't know Adobe's history I see.

Educate me.

They did evil things and bought all their serious rivals or something, is the way I understand it...

Spy Black's picture

Well, for instance, in the 90s a small Korean upstart names Ulead made a program called PhotoImpact, which at the time was a direct competitor to Photoshop. Adobe filed a lawsuit claiming that there were some kind of CMYK technology that these guys had infringed upon. It was essentially bogus, and Ulead, being a small company, kowtowed and pulled out CMYK capability in PhotoImpact. This essentially killed it for professional use in pre-press which was where Abobe was establishing it's stranglehold.

Adobe also decided if it couldn't compete somewhere, it would simply "buy out" a company. How exactly this happens isn't clear, but it probably follows the same path Microsoft and Intel followed, which was to internally divide and conquer DEC, which at the time threatened their dominance with their Alpha CPU and VMS operating system. Basically, they "buy out" key people in the company to sell out.

Adobe bought out it's competitors as well, notably Aldus early on, and, more critically from the perspective of modern competition, Macromedia. With Macromedia out of the way, there were no threatening players left in the game to get in the way.

I see you hadn't been paying attention, but welcome to the age of Corporate Imperialism.

Its simply an elitist attitude about getting it right in camera all the time and, "Look at me Im so skilled." Brands need Kate Moss to promote their brand, guess what, Kate Moss looks older these days but with retouching shes timeless. Consumers of younger age dont care as long as its an iconic face selling something, and isn't that the point? Photoshop and lightroom do make bad photos better and at the end of the day the final image is what counts, not the process. If you are stuck on this in the camera attitude, go shoot fine art or street photography, the commercial industry doesnt have time for an elitist attitude, they simply want good clean solid work and fast.

Not getting it as right as possible in the camera is untenable from a professional standpoint. You end up spending your time making an okay picture good rather than a good picture great. As a professional, always strive for as good as possible at every stage of your work. It is better to get it right than to try to "fix it" later. You still need post production (we all do), but you can use those work hours to push the quality way out there rather than to make up for lack of care at the camera stage.

The Kate Moss example is just right. If you take time to get your lighting right (something that compliments her more aged skin), then you won't need to work as hard at the post production stage, and it will increase your chances for a much better picture.

Hell, go back to film if you're so into "in the camera!" Like someone said, the final product is what counts, the process is the means to that end.

Noam Galai's picture

Photoshop is my life. I can't imagine using anything else to work on my photos. Batch processing is usually not my style, and photoshop gives me pretty much every tool I ever wanted to work on my photos.

I wonder if people who say "It's Photoshopped!" also said "it's been dark-room processed!" 15 years ago...

I want to think that people who hate PS or LR are photogs that have no skills in using post production software so the only thing left for them it's to believe and defend the idea of a "pure" image. Although I don't believe that's wrong, I do condemn the fact of hating something created with art and imagination. We are all artist and hating any form of creativity it's just wrong. For my type of photography I need and love to retouch and post process images but Ialso respect and appreciate all kinds of images proccesed or not.

The old saying you cannot polish a turd is no longer true, PS helps varnish and role that turd in glitter, may not smell any better but sure looks better.

Painters and sketch artists have always had an advantage over photographers. While we are stuck only being able to capture reality they can go off and bring their crazy and wonderful imaginations to life. They can utterly express themselves, give their own take on the world. Photoshop is the tool that gives photographers that freedom of expression. Photoshop is where our imaginations can run rampant and the only limitations placed on us our the ones we set ourselves.

I've noticed a lot of comments on here criticise every single post on FStoppers......

I think of people who hate it as people who don't know how to use it. For some reason some people don't look at retouching that happened by hand with a pencil in the darkroom, as bad as photoshop. Photoshop is a digital version of the darkroom which is much faster and easier to use. When something is faster and easier it opens up for thinking less of "how to do..", and more how to use it creatively.

For me (and I'm sure I'm not alone in thinking this) the problem with Photoshop and other photo manipulation programs is truth, or lack thereof. The term "photoshopped" has become synonymous with something that one thinks isn't real, and even untrained eyes can see it most of the time.

To me a photograph is a recording of an event, and the basic skill sets that are required to do it well include understanding and seeing light, composing in-camera, and making proper exposures. When you composite images (especially ones that aren't your own), use CGI, or drastic manipulation you're creating an image, not a photograph. The lines in digital media are very blurry, but as you said Andrew, in the commercial world you give the clients what they want.

That being said, I use Photoshop and Lightroom. I learned on film in school, but I personally shoot digital. It's one thing to be a purist, but clearly defining your work in this overly saturated world of digital images gives credibility to your skills, be it in photoshop or in camera.

Why people hate photoshop:
1) Adobe's abusive pricing tactics. Photoshop is the most recognizable Adobe product.
2) Photoshop is overdone and done poorly more often than not.

3) If the photoshopping/retouching is done WELL, you can't tell that it has been 'shopped and so no one complains about how awful the photoshop work is

Marko Mihaljevic's picture

1. About thing that aren't possible in-camera:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fc2rqKP2u6Y

:)

2. When you shoot film, like a diapositive, there is a final image right after developing. White is white, black is black, red is red (depending on your light source ofcousre) But when you shoot digital, there are so many variables included - sensor, monitor, printer, paper... and i think that it is inherent to digital that you have to do some kind of color correction just to have an image that is more natural that the default (out of camera) file.

3. If you are making money with photography, one of your primary concerns is production cost, right? If you are shooting a car, i believe it is cheaper to use one light with multiple exposures and make a composition in photoshop rather than renting 5-10 flashes and softboxes.

http://www.chimeralighting.com/Products/Overhead-F2-Lightbanks/F2X-Light...

4. The only time when we can question postproduction is in artistic concepts, because certain technological characteristics and restraints of a medium can be, and are used as a part of the process itself.

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