‘Shopped? Don’t Sweat the Ingredients and Preparation, Just Enjoy the Meal

Recently, a friend and photographer Ben Jacobsen of Ben Jacobsen Photo got his work into a third gallery. One of the gallery owners asked him “Is your work Photoshopped?” This is also a popular question often asked at Art Fairs and Photography exhibits. Why is this question relevant to some viewers? If you are asking this, do you know what Photoshopping means? Better yet, What does that word mean to you, and what is it that you are asking?

Are you asking if the photographer added the boulders in the foreground or the clouds in the sky from a different photo? Or are you asking if the photographer made local contrast, dodging, burning, tweaks/enhancements? (Just like what can be done in a darkroom.)

Did you know that the latter is what most photographers use Photoshop for?

Some people get excited when they make a nice looking picture with their camera. They rave, “This shot is SOOC!” (Straight Out Of Camera). Congrats! You made a good exposure. This is what you are supposed to do with your camera: make a good exposure, and get as much detail from the scene as possible. Now you can use Photoshop to enhance it and make it pop. Just like what the old masters used the darkroom for.

Did you know that a JPEG image straight out of the camera is actually a RAW image processed by your camera?

That’s right, the camera just made contrast, sharpening, saturation changes FOR YOU. What does the camera know about processing an image that represents the scene that you just saw? It doesn’t.

This is why most photographers in the digital age shoot RAW and process the image in Photoshop. Now the photographer can process the image and make it look like a better representation of what he/she saw when they clicked the shutter.

The truth is, all digital images need some processing. Many film photographers will scan in their negatives and make localized adjustments. Does this make their photos more acceptable or more “real” because they started on film? Perhaps to you they do, but to be honest, that film photo is now a digital photo (gasp!) and is being treated as so.

Most people think “untouched and pure” when thinking of film photography. The great masters of film photography had tricks they used in the darkroom to make their prints really “pop”. They didn’t go out with their 8×10 cameras, take an image, print it, and hang it in a gallery.

Ansel Adams’ negatives weren’t punchy with deep contrasts and bright whites straight out of the camera. It wasn’t until he manipulated them in the darkroom — with techniques he perfected by experimenting over many years — that they started to really sing.

The Tetons and the Snake River (1942) by Ansel Adams. ‘shopped.

Let’s not forget that every style of film gives an image a different look that isn’t representative of the colors you saw with your own eyes.

It’s 2012, there are so many tools available today that weren’t in the hay days of film. You can show much more dynamic range throughout an image, something that wasn’t always easily achievable.

Why would you not want to make your final image look as good as it can? In this day and age, some will embrace these tools and use them to make their photos better. Some will embrace them and make their photos worse. Some will elect to not use them at all and let the camera have the final say.

So why ask, “Is this Photoshopped?” If the photographer explained his/her process to you, would that make you want to buy the print more? Would that make you respect it more? Probably not.

When you sit down to enjoy a meal at a nice restaurant, you probably don’t ask the chef what recipe he/she used or how he/she processed the food. You just enjoy the food.

From my perspective, when looking at art, it either speaks to me or it doesn’t. The method used to achieve the final product isn’t important.

In conclusion to this short rant: don’t sweat the ingredients and preparation, just enjoy the meal.

About the author: Shawn Thompson is a photographer based out of Duluth, Minnesota, specializing in dramatic outdoor imagery in and around Lake Superior’s North Shore. Visit his website here. This post was originally published here.

Image credits: What’s next by ialla, inspecting by fiddle oak, Darkroom & Tony 1975 70s Film Developing by Whiskeygonebad

  • Dave Meyers

    I seldom “Photoshop” but I “Lightroom” essentially any image I think worth showing anyone. It’s more-or-less unavoidable if you shoot raw. I guess if I were asked the question, I’d be inclined to try to find out what the questioner really wanted to know.

    Yes, I do common darkroom-y things. No, I don’t add people who weren’t ‘there’, combine elements from multiple images, create jack-a-lopes, or other things of that nature. On the other hand, one would hope that “one of the gallery owners” would understand that almost all presentable digital images are post-processed to some degree.

  • junyo

    Except photography isn’t a medium, it’s an image creation method. It’s the creation of an image by exposing a light sensitive media to various forms of electromagnetic radiation. Film is a media, the sensor in a digital camera is media, the delivery vehicle of the final image is media, but photography isn’t. Therefore, by objective definition, most of the stuff that people include as ‘photographs’ i.e. an image derived from a photographic process – really aren’t. Prints are really photographs of photographs. And digitally manipulated images are right out, because numerical data manipulation isn’t exposing light sensitive media; while the results might be the same as darkroom work, the method is entirely different.

  • ninpou_kobanashi

    “Most people think “untouched and pure” when thinking of film photography. The great masters of film photography had tricks they used in the darkroom to make their prints really “pop”.

    Actually, I think folks chose different film and push/pull/cross processed as well. Why was Velvia so popular?

  • Ken

    I was a sign maker in a previous life (yeah, at 50 years old I still don’t know what I want to do when I grow up), There’s a story of an old sign painter that had a client come into his studio and was watching his sign be painted which was a 4’x8′–something you might see on the side of the road to advertise a parcel of land for sale. The client was watching the painter do his thing and noticed the letters weren’t perfect up close. The client kept watching, and getting closer and closer. The old painter knowing what was about to come, a complaint the lettering wasn’t perfect, gently took the client by the shoulders and pulled him back 10 feet. His explanation to the client was “You look at it, you don’t smell it.”

    The theme of this article reminded me of that old sign painter.