Wednesday, January 23, 2013

"Photoshop is cheating" - Oh, really!?

Admit it, you've heard this one before. "Photoshop is cheating, it's not reality anymore". Or, how about this: "I never use Photoshop, I wanna get it right the first time". Or even this: "Photoshop is for geeks, I'm a traditional photographer". Well, I have heard all of the above - and plenty of their variations - more than once, and so I decided to write a little something about it.

The claim that Photoshop is cheating and not "reality" anymore, obviously originates from a well-known fact (although, sadly, not well enough for many depressed teenagers). This is, that lifestyle magazines portraying all these hordes of celebrities employ significant retouching to, shall we say, beautify "reality" (I keep using quotes on that for a reason, read on).

Do I use Photoshop to make the photos of the people I take look better? Of course I do. Do I make them look something they are not? Of course I don't. But Photoshopping is a continuation of the process of taking a picture: it is there to tweak some technical matters that cannot be fully tweaked while taking the photo. For better or for worse, a camera cannot capture a scene the way our eyes see it. Both because our eyes cannot freeze time, and also because our eyes see in ways a camera can't (yet) - different color perception, much different dynamic range perception, and all that.

A shadow under an eye; a little spot distracting an even surface; highlights that make the skin look greasy and dirty. All these are things we do not notice on everyday life, when we see a person. But once they are encaptured on a photo, they are very, very visible. So, forget about "getting it right the first time". Some few photographs might work like that - although, still, they would greatly benefit from some post-production work. Most need at least a little tweaking.

As for "reality" and why it is in quotes. I won't go into philosophical analyses of reality, but in photographic terms, people ignore the fact that what a camera captures is not reality. An image, printed on paper or displayed on a screen, even less so. Go as far back as you want, photographs always involved a dark room where certain decisions had to be made. In some ways, Photoshop retouching is closer to "reality" (=what our eyes see) than in the old days! And yet few, up until computers appeared, questioned how real is the image depicted on a photo.

Consider the following two sets of images. The white balance has been tampered with. Unless you have been present in the scenes, it is very difficult to be certain which of the two is the case.



This is not a matter of "Photoshopping" - simply a point that a camera does not capture "reality". In film days, it would have depended on what kind of film (what temperature it would have been) to see the same effect. The bottom line is, you cannot trust your eyes - in the sense: cameras do not capture "reality"

So, the claim "Photoshop is for geeks, I'm a traditional photographer", is certainly not applicable for someone using a digital camera. Because it is the equivalent of a film photographer taking photos and then not developing them.

What is your opinion? Do you agree? Disagree? Leave a comment or share this using the buttons below and get the discussion going!

1 comment:

  1. As you say, no camera can capture what the human eye can and we don't even process things in the same way when we are there and when looking at a picture. A picture itself is not "reality". We're not there, where it was taken. The sights, sounds, smells, curiosities of that particular space and time are data we do not have. By definition, a photo is merely a visual representation of the moment. It's a painting of it, done by a machine.

    The complaints come from people who are against idolizing people and view technology as a threat to their artistic expression. Which, if you think about it, is their own type of "cheating" and makes for double standards. This is the moment as I want it to be seen and anything and anyone who thinks differently are cheaters.

    While I am certainly against distorting reality and trying to pass it off as reality (which is the morally incorrect thing to do), I do not feel being creative is cheating. It's art and it's creating a spectacle for the eyes. It's a way to convey the things you want to covey through the tweaking you do.

    Like with any medium or tool, it is not the tool itself which brings moral or creative conflict, it's how people use it. Manipulating pictures and using that to form a fake reality, in order to convince people that is what they should strive for, is wrong. Not Photoshop, but what people do with it.

    Also, there is a lot of tweaking happening to a camera even before post-processing in Photoshop. Why is that not called cheating as well? And to put it more simply. Haters gonna hate. :P