Thoughts

 

"Was this photoshopped?" I get asked at times.

With regards to photographs I present, yes, they are all "photoshopped". Just about every serious photographer shoots in the RAW file format, this file type primarily designed for manipulation in a photo editor such as Photoshop. The link defines what a RAW file is, and does so very well.

Some studio photographers may be the exception as they can manipulate their environment to the extent that not much post-processing may be needed. That is a very different story for those who shoot outside, especially landscape and wildlife photographers who don't have that luxury.

RAW files contain all of the information that the camera sensor records, although what a sensor registers is not on par with what the human eye and brain interprets. On the other hand, JPG and TIFF saves are processed in-camera where adjusting or adding more color, figuring in a bit of sharpening, and tweaking the contrast some -- to name a few in-camera edits -- are performed. JPGs especially are compressed to create smaller files; therefor, much of the info that would be found in a RAW file is missing. It ultimately comes down to whether one wishes to preserve what the camera thinks the photograph should look like via onboard processed JPGs, or create one what the photographer saw, envisioned, and interpreted.

To reflect what one remembers and experienced behind the lens, exposure, saturation, plus dodging and burning various areas of the photo must be performed in order to bring out detail or subdue distracting or non critical areas to shift the viewer's attention to more important areas, is almost mandatory with advanced photography skills.

If post-processing is your thing and you wish to pull out as much color gradation and info, you are at a disadvantage with JPGs. If however, you are satisfied with the outcome of in-camera interpretation and plan on occasionally emailing them to friends, posting to social sites by way of the web or keeping them on your hard drive for casual viewing, JPG is usually adequate. When it comes to printing, especially for very large prints, saving to RAW gives you the option of post-processing and then saving to a very printable file if saved at JPG Finest or whatever the largest JPG save option is in your photo editor.

My method is to do minimal work on the RAW file in Lightroom, export to Photoshop as a TIFF, post-process the TIFF files using layers, and then saving and using the TIFF file as my master file. I print using this master; pretty much everything else uses a JPG copy derived from the TIFF.

Manipulation is what Ansel Adams so artfully did with his prints in the darkroom, both for his interpretation of what he saw and experienced during capture, and for artistic and aesthetic appeal. I don't ever recall anyone complaining that his prints were not true-to-life because of Ansel's darkroom handling.

Treatment of files in the digital darkroom of Photoshop is an attempt to capture that moment in the photographer's eye, the scene unfolded before that person and framed in their camera's view finder. The feelings, the sights, and the sounds, endeavoring to capture on a photo sensor; to be interpreted and reproduced for print and for the screen through a photo editor.

RAW file straight out of camera
The photo above is a RAW image straight out of the camera I took of my youngest daughter Anna on her wedding day getting her hair styled by her older sister Sarah. It's not apparent, but there's lots of digital information contained in this file. With it, I can lighten it, darken it, increase the saturation, yada-yada, with great gusto if so chosen, and not have the file degrade to the point of being noticeable when viewed or printed.
With some minor Photoshop adjustments.
Here's the same file with a few basic adjustments made such as lightening it up, bumping up the saturation a bit, plus contrast was added and the white balance adjusted. This could easily have been done in-camera, but the changes made would have been those that Nikon thought were suitable. Here, I decided what is appropriate for this particular photo and at what strengths for whatever purpose.
Artistic license utilizing Photoshop.
Finally, we have the photo I had in mind when I saw the girls prepping. The sun was streaming through a large window directly upon them. The period furnishings suggested to me a time long gone. My immediate thought was this scene could be transformed into a Renaissance Rembrandt or Tintorreto; something that would not have been immediately apparent by looking at the RAW file. 

 Speaking of Ansel Adams, Ansel is inarguably the master of the traditional chemical darkroom. If it weren't for his darkroom magic, his photos, in my opinion, would still have been highly desirable, but not necessarily better than some of the other black & white landscape photographers on the planet. Ansel was a master of content and composition; it was his mastery of the darkroom that turned fine art photography into exquisite masterpieces.

Dodging, burning, double processing, pushing, mixing his chemicals at various dilution rates and at different temperatures; all of these helped to transform a photograph into a work of art by Ansel.

Here is an interview in the U.K.'s The Independent with Ansel's son Michael on photographing the British countryside and discusses why his father would have embraced digital photography.

  A digital photographer's darkroom is their computer. A snapshot is an instant in time, while the photograph will attempt to tell a story, tries to capture the mood, the feelings and hopefully, the thoughts and experiences of the one behind the lens. All photography is not photojournalism. Photojournalism is only one aspect of photography.

Over processing a photo is something that many photographers do starting out, realizing they can manipulate an image in a myriad of ways via photo editing software; me included when I first post-processed photos.

Is it intrinsically bad? No, especially if one is attempting to create, construct, amplify or convey a feeling through the photo, a look that is outside of what one would consider "normal", or they like the look and feel and don't care if it is true-to-life or not. What is annoying though are those photographers who crank up the saturation, boost the contrast way high, over sharpen, and present it as this is how it really looked like. Sunrises, and especially sunsets are prone to this form of digital torment.

Many are the times that a photographer will goose the saturation and contrast to make up for the lack of a dull photo, but as someone else so succinctly put it : "You can't polish a turd."

Below is an online link to an article that addresses Photoshopped files as seen by professional photographer and Adobe Photoshop guru, Ben Long :

All Photos Are Manipulated