Why Do Photographers Hate Photoshop? (The Followup)

Why Do Photographers Hate Photoshop? (The Followup)

Now that the discussion post on the fight between pro and anti-Photoshop has been up for a little while, let's see what we've gotten back in the comments.

After reading through all 125 comments on Facebook and 100 comments here on Fstoppers here's where we are:

63% of people were pro-Photoshop

32% of people were anti-Photoshop

2% of people don't like the Creative Cloud model.

and 3% of people were trolling or missed the point.

The discussions in the comments also brought about a new argument. Apparently, "purists" and film-photographers do not consider digital photography as photography at all:

"Digital is for people that create things in post. Photography is for people that get it right at capture. Problems occur when digital folks mistakenly believe that they are actually photographers."

This comment touched off its own argument that even I didn't see coming. It had never occurred to me that people could go as far as to say that people who shoot digitally were not actually photographers. It seems a few others felt the same way, as evident by these responses to that comment:

"This is complete nonsense. What you're saying is give any graphic designer a camera they take exceptional photos? How about a certified photo finish engineer, can they all take exceptional photos too? Someone can't just pick up a $40,000 Hasselblad and take award winning photos - a camera is a tool and it still takes a photographer to use it correctly. Photo finishers have been manipulating negatives for decades and decades. A photographer post-processing digital images today is no different than a photographer manipulating images in a darkroom 30 years ago."

"So there's no legitimate imagery being digitally produced? Hahaha!"

Shooting digitally or on film has no bearing on whether you are or are not a photographer. However, I won't go as far as saying just having a camera makes you a photographer. I draw a line between photographers and people with cameras, but that's an argument for a different time.

Many of the pro-Photoshop points referenced the same analogy that image retouching has always existed, even back in the darkroom. However, hardly any of the anti-photoshop responses reference the darkroom. It's as if the anti crowd doesn't want to acknowledge that the darkroom had its own bag of tricks for enhancing what was captured on film.

One great response mentioned Ansel Adams' "Moonrise Shot", one of Adams' most famous landscapes:

"Most every photographer calls their best photograph their "Moonrise shot", after Ansel Adams' super-famous landscape shot. When you read Ansel Adams' notes about what went into creating that image, you find out that a TON of darkroom manipulation went into making the finished product as dramatic as it is. Of course Mr. Adams had great skills in getting things right in-camera, but I believe that were he alive today, he would put this conversation to rest by saying that Photoshop is just another means to creating an expressive and dramatic work of art. I think it's important, especially in journalism, for photography to be honest in representing the facts, but we all know that photos do not always show only what our eyes see, but they often include distractions that are best left out of the photo in order to tell the story. When you really get down to it, all art is storytelling, and sometime in storytelling you leave out some details and ruminate on or accentuate other details to add more drama and impact to the story. Tools like Photoshop just do visually what any storyteller does in his/her mind when that one was there, so then others can see the story they saw."

One of my favorite comments came from someone who has experience shooting commercially both digital and on film:

"I am guessing, and I feel a little bit this way as well, that most people who left negative Photoshop comments regarding the Annie Leibovitz's post mentioned above is the perception that if you are that famous, that well regarded, have a massive budget, a huge team of professionals and have done everything humanly possible to have a successful shoot that you wouldn't need to heavily retouch the final image. I imagine that if the art director had handed Annie a layout for the Disney movie "Dumbo" and she need to photograph an elephant flying over head, that the expectation to get it right in camera would be much less and that foul cries of retouching wouldn't be that loud.

"I spent the first 16 years of my commercial photography career shooting film and the last 13 years shooting digital. There isn't one day during those decades when I wouldn't tape, staple, cut and paste, hold the camera upside down, over process, under process, shoot at 3:00am or do anything else that wasn't illegal to get the highest quality for my client."

This comment interested me because it at proves my original point that you either adapt or fade away. Clearly this commenter has adapted to digital to stay competitive in the business.

Many of the comments also referred to "truth" in imaging and how retouching took away from what was "seen" by the camera. This is a fine argument for why there's no retouching in Photojournalism, but that isn't what we're talking about here. The whole original post centered around Commercial Photography, and lets face it, there's hardly any truth in commercials and advertising. Commercial Photography is all about perfection, no one wants to buy anything that isn't perfect.

I can't count how many times I've been given a product to shoot that wasn't yet ready for the market and therefore not "perfect" for the image. In these cases I've always been instructed by those in charge to fix labels, colors, and many other things to better reflect the product that would eventually hit the market. This is just the way it works now... and it's time to get used to it already. There truly are some things you just can't get in camera, and retouching, whether in the darkroom or in Photoshop, is what helps us get the results that clients are after.

In the end this post and others like it will not settle any debates on this issue, but it was nice to air it out for once.

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Previous comments
Lorri Adams's picture

Absolutely! Vive la difference for sure.

I've been reading and sitting on this topic for a minute now. I believe that people are not understanding some things, a lot of the things that you can do in Photoshop are not that new (they are just easier). Look at it like this the first photomontage was in 1858, skin smoothing was done by airbrushing, etc. Has Photoshop brought it to the masses, yes. Has Photoshop made it easier to do, yes. Has Photoshop ruined photography? I personally do not believe so, but it has made it harder for truly talented photographers to be found. Like anything else in this world Photoshop has it's pros and cons, but to outright say that this one piece of software has ruined an art form is shortsighted at best.

This comment is for all the arrogant film photogs out there. These are the words of Phillip Halsman, who I consider a master photographer. Read them and learn them:

"Later, in the darkroom I sometimes get a new idea. The creative process doesn't stop with the taking of the picture, it continues also with the making of the print -- because by changing the tonal values you can change the mood or emphasize the statement you originally intented in the studio."

And that's just Mr. Halsman speaking. I think a lot of film photogs are just plain insecure.

Cant we all just get along. We take photos because we love it. Some post process more than others. It is what it is. Throw any type of traditionalism or conventionalism out the door and we should all just be happy and create. I am overly critical of people who take a bad photo and make it something else in PS, but I got over it. To each their own, and to each their own eye.

I guarantee if it's not for an effect or just a bad habit, most people who use it continuously eventually end up doing less post than when they first started. I think it's called, "learning" or something.

Brian Anderson's picture

I am an amateur. I have a Nikon N80 film camera I still use too along with a Sony A-33 which was my first DSLR and a Canon 7D. If it is a camera I will take a picture with it. I consider ALL photography....well, photography. I consider all cameras, lenses, darkrooms, and digital post-processing software 'tools' to accomplish photography. I really don't want to fight about it. I just want to take pictures in pretty much any format and have fun while doing it. I want both the memories from said photos and the experience of photography no matter how I arrive at it ;)

I think they are people who cannot just change with time. They have just geeked out so many years and feel changing with the times brings is like betraying all the years, time plus equipment... (I wonder why they're not still using pinhole cameras, coz those, are real cameras?) In terms of film or digital, it all comes down to preference. I prefer digital over film, some prefers the other, it has nothing to do with wether one is a pro or not. Photographers get paid for their (artistic) images, not for their gear. Gear is just a means to the product, which is the photograph.

i was trained many years ago commercially on 4x5 with yes film and extensive "get it perfect" before you shoot professionalism by my mentor and boss. Every tool available was used for the best end result. Fake ice, dry ice ect....I think photoshop is an amazing tool. But I understand the sadness of seeing over processed models. I would also love to see more expressive modern voices come from using the base digital images and Photoshop to create non -representational art forms. To me, this tool is a great digital paint box for expression beyond.

Even for people who rely on photoshop, if they don't want the picture to turn out like crap... then they're more than likely good at turning out a product that someone likes, regardless of their lack of skill in the shoot or post. It's not trivial to come up with effects that the professional photoshop gurus can create, and honestly using dry ice opposed to photoshop isn't REALLY going to matter when the outcome makes the customer say, "WOW". You just end up wondering if you're stupid for having to carry around all that stuff because some old guy was a purist.

Dry ice was an example only of the natural things we used sometimes not better but before. (And that old guy was and still is a brilliant artist) this was before
Photshop was created. The craft was very different than today. Not better nor worse just very different. I like the abilities and artistic muscle of today.

Gotcha. I think everyone has to agree that though some people may have been purists, there's probably a large part of older artists/photographers that would have given an arm to be able to achieve results in a couple minutes, that would have cost them days in a darkroom.

Yes agreed. We didnt send anything to retouch because that was what we got paid for. Retouch was a dirty word as it would blow the budget in those 20 years ago days. agencies paid us to get it perfect. Tiny mirrors armature wire foam core cut into the size and shapes needed. Four hours for a simple still life. I have been told by many of my young professional friends how three hours of retouch is normal today. . So you get it before retouch or after lol.

I like it, but it's the price that stinks. Before even getting into photography, I used photoshop for everyday graphic design and press use. Now, I don't use it for photos, but I still like it. To say digital photographers are horrible and using photoshop to edit photos, would be a slap in the face to people like Merek Davis who captured their own style, and can take plain olan mills photos like the rest of the naysayers, any day of the week.

I know there's more to it than that, but c'mon... if it's not for style, and you do it with every single picture because you lack fundamentals, it would be easy to argue about... but THOSE people aren't going to pay $600 for photoshop legitimately, OR have the talent to even use photoshop enough to take your business. Why waste time on the debate at that point?

Ansel Adams is always a terrible excuse for why photographers refuse to light in camera. Unless you are shooting landscapes, it does not transfer. I love photoshop, but the most effective way to use it is to have a clear, sharp, well lit file ready to go. Not someflat semi focused hazy mess you have to bash the pixels in on. #endphotoshopabuse

Photo means light.


I find that People who regard themselves as "purists" and want to depict the "truth" in an image, miss the whole point of imagery.
Image is reflection, it is never the truth. It always begins with a choice to depict something in a certain way, and exclude everything else in the world at that moment.
Art is never the truth. It may reflect on some truth or reality, but it is never that truth or reality itself.

And putting the truth-lie aspect of this discussion aside, my second argument with those so called "purists" is that they mistakenly regard an image coming straight off camera as a final result of an artistic (or even simple non artistic depiction) process. As the product itself.
Well, No.
Image straight off camera is just one step out of many of creating a final product. The camera is a tool, and today more than ever, the image is a tool. Many times when i shoot i do it with knowledge of the manipulation i am going to do on PS later on, and shoot accordingly. Why? cause the image i am creating at the moment is just a tool to create my desired result.

And to conclude, i have a question to all those so called purists. Why "so called" cuz, well, the question will explain. And it's actually two questions:
1) Film photographers - don't you choose the film you are going to use prior to shooting? Doesn't each film has its own characteristics upon which you choose to use it? Isn't that manipulation? On digital this manipulation simply occurs at a different stage, post shooting.
2) Digital photographers - which profile do you use? standard? portrait? neutral? monochrome? custom? other? Well, isn't that manipulation? oh it's different cuz you decide on the manipulation on the spot and in a split of a second, and not think heavily about it on post. Wow. That's so pure. So loyal to the truth .

C'mon you guys, all we do is create lies. Lets each of us do it in our own way and not claim it is the right or only way.

Whoever referneced Adams' Moonrise hit the nail straight on the head. In fact, this is the precise example I always use when discussing this issue. As photographers we have been dodging and burning and manipulating images since the beginning. The only difference is now we don't need a dedicated dark room to accomplish the task and we aren't wasting physical recourses by making test prints.

The problem that arises is not with Photoshop but its accessibility. When anyone can get some sort of photoshop variant relatively little money work is going to flood the market by people who don't take the time and make the effort to use it properly.

At the VERY least, the bottom line? Photoshop isn't going anywhere. Adapt and overcome, or become irrelevant.

Don't forget, even 35mm film photographers were once seen as "not real photographers"


Great points by everyone!!!

So what? It still doesn't change anything. The FACT is that you can be a photographer and a digital artist, and you can be one or the other, but they are still not the same thing when you boil it down to it's finer parts.

There are lots of examples of people who take not that great photos, and will never be considered great photographers in the purist sense, but they make "good" photos to lots of people BECAUSE of their editing, so at what point does the alteration/manipulation/editing take over as the primary art form? And when it does, is it really simply a "photograph" anymore? No.

You can impress me with both, but since I'm far more interested in photography, then it will personally impress me far more to see someone making amazing photographs that have as little editing and manipulation as possible. And that (to me) is what it's all about.

The lines can be blurred between art forms, but when you break it down - they still fall within certain boundaries.

That's why some people might be complaining, and it's a distinction I'd love to be made more often on sites like this. I'd rather look at more photography that has more to do with the original capture than with adding things in later, taking things out and creating the actual LOOK of the photo in a computer. And let's be honest, a lot of that is what IS on this site. It's just not for me. I'm not a snob, I love film, I have digital cameras, I love photography.

***Anyone wanting to take that argument route is silly, but I believe that we should be focusing on light/vision/creativity, and not gear and editing techniques. Seems so backwards. Subtle is the best, and you will be a better photographer if you can capture what is really in front of you in ways that others cannot, it will never impress me to see how someone edited something into what was not really there beyond recognition. We have been editing, dodging and burning and removing stuff since.... forever, but is dodging and burning really the same as half the crap you see on this site or Flickr? Uh. No. No.......***

Do what makes you happy, call it whatever you want ..... almost, but don't call that other stuff simply photography, call it something else. It can be just as valid, but I don't see heavily manipulated stuff as simply photography at that's that.

As a film photographer (the you vs. me thing is so childish and old, photography is photography) I love not editing my photos. Slight tweaks in contrast and removing of small blemishes if the make up artist did not, is all that I like to do. Is it editing? Yes. Does it very closely represent what was captured by myself with the camera? Yes. Digital obviously has the potential, just as any medium does, to do this. Matters not. But start moving away from that and you've lost me.

I find security and comfort in the fact that I need to go out, shoot what I see in my head and find a way to make it occur in real life and take the photo. I used to do lots of editing to my work two years ago, but it felt soulless (to me) and I gave it up. This has brought me a lot of comfort and made me a far better photographer.

The problem here as that everyone in this day and age will argue about ANYTHING over the internet.

agreed... its quite ridiculous really..

c.edward brice's picture

I think this debate is often rooted in the economic pressures that the photography business has come under since the democratization of the technical ability to take a good photograph
(technically). I hear many photographers lament and criticize Photoshop which
will often be veiled under the "retouching" argument in how they hate
the reprocessed look, or how you don’t need Photoshop if you get it right in
camera. Reality is they havent imporved their skill set and they all come running to Lightroom.

Many have stated before including, Mr. Adams, that great photographs are made. Too some that includes the use of tools at hand in a process long after the shutter has been clicked. I think
anyone who has spent time in Photoshop works harder to get things right in camera
as much as possible anyway.

What really matters is what your audience or your client want. It matters not if it’s overly retouched to your opinion, to dark, etc it’s all subjective so you either answer to your client (commercially or consumer) or your inner artist.

Let’s look at the real pressure. Even through the late 90's and early part of the 21st century people would pay a premium for a "good photographer". Allot were still shooting film
and to take a decent picture, you really needed to work with someone that had
the technically ability to get a solid exposure in variety of environments.
That was a worth a good value in and of itself.

Today technology has made it possible for everyone to get a good technical exposure, and as such the "the technical value" associated with Photography as declined like rocket. With the new economic environment everyone has also been put under increasing pressure to do more for
less. This means that photographers need to get better at retouching and working
with video. Video people need to get adept at software and editing and in reality
we will all be scrambling to learn 3D modeling in the next few years.

In today’s market, skill set with the new tools helps you to differentiate yourself whether you’re shooting senior portraits or the next Ford campaign. It’s true that photography and the
visual arts have never been bigger with tens of millions of images uploaded to
Flicker and Youtube each day not to mention the droves of people coming into
the digital visual medium.

To survive you must differentiate through the use of tools because Uncle Bob, a guy with camera (GWC) happens to know allot of Photoshop, has his Alien Bee lights, and can take some pretty dam good pictures for Sam, the local landscaper, in exchange for a case of beer. In
addition Bob's daughter who is graduating high school, has been taking Photoshop
in school for over 3 years, just started her own photography business and dabbling in Aftereffects. Welcome to the new reality.

So don’t worry about retouching or Photoshop vs. non Photoshop and start looking at how you can differentiate your value offering in a very different economic reality.

So a writer that use a text-editor it's a real writer or an architect that use cad isn't a real architect?

Hi Andrew....Since you used a quote from one of my previous posts, I felt obligated to add a bit more clarity to it. First of all, Fstoppers is Bohemia. Bohemia is a place where anybody can have an opinions about the arts, but they don't actually need any real experience in the arts. Unfortunately, this creates an environment where people can easily be susceptible for falling into controversies that don't actually exist in the proper arts.

Digital imaging is a separate medium from photography. This is a non-controversy in the proper arts. The reason is because photography must be directly connected to it's object. Meanwhile, digital imaging does not have to be directly connected to it's object. What is specific to photography as a medium is the ability to directly represent or denote an object. But, that also means that photography is always chained to it's object. Meanwhile, digital is not chained to it's object so it is free to go beyond the object to create fictions and fantasies.

In literary terms, photography is non-fiction while digital is fiction and fantasy. The so-called "purists" working in digital are NOT creating non-fictions like film photographers of the past era. On the contrary, they are creating "believable" fictions. Meanwhile, the non-purists working in digital are creating fantasies.

film = non-fiction

digital purism = believable fiction

digital non-purism = fantasy

The people that are working in digital imaging should stop defending themselves according to the non-fiction standards that are associated with film photography. Instead, they should embrace the fact that they are working in a brand new medium that is no longer limited to denoting actual real objects. Digital imagers are free to create their own objects, fictions and fantasies.

Anybody that wants to work in digital and also to avoid being criticized for things like retouching etc should stop confusing his opponents by claiming to be a photographer. Instead, he should just embrace the fact that he's working in a new medium and find some cool new name that applies to it. Then, all of the criticism of purism, and so on, that are related to film and non-fiction will go away.

I'm only writing this for the people that might need some help getting ouf of Bohemia and the controversies that endure there....For all the others, enjoy your stay!

I could write a long winded rebuff...but instead I'll just state that you are so full of it.

arrogant, presumptuous and egotistical

Tony Guillaro's picture

I'm sorry, I don't find anything great about Ansel Adams... Yes it was a lot harder back then to use a camera, No doubt, But all his photos look like snap shots taken with a Iphone!! Just say'in

I know this has nothing to do with PS..

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