Did you photoshop that?

This photo started out as a prairie scene. I used software to add mountains and finished it off with snow. Just kidding!!! I really saw this scene while driving in the Rockies last December and just had to stop and take a photo. I assure you no mountains were moved in the creation of this image but I may have tweaked it … a little … but not too much.

I need a better answer.

I often get asked by non-photographer friends if I photoshop my images. I should have a good answer after all the practise. My problem is I usually have no idea what people are really asking or if they even know.

My current 12-minute, mind-numbing answer includes mentions of RAW vs JPEG, camera and computer software, art and philosophy. The glazed look at the end means I lost them somewhere near the beginning. I need a lot more pithy!

Here’s where you can help. I have provided a number of alternate answers and I would really appreciate if you would tell me what works and what leaves you cold. So here goes …

Did you photoshop that picture?

1. “No.” This trick answer to a tricky question would be lawyer-approved. I don’t own PhotoShop software so it’s technically correct, avoids the whole issue and doesn’t come close to answering the question.

2. “I try to make my photos look as good as I can but still be realistic.” This answer sounds reasonable but completely avoids the issue of whether the photo looks realistic for the scene that I saw.

3. “Every photographer and every camera will “see” the same scene in a different way.” True enough but that may come off as a bit defensive and is that really what we are talking about?

4. “I didn’t make any major changes to the scene like adding a moon or a lake.” That sounds high minded but the photo doesn’t actually include a lake or moon. It also slides by the issue of the busy freeway that was cropped out of the “wild” scene.

5. “I made minor changes.” Brevity is the soul of wit. So who cares if minor is such a relative term it could cover just about anything? Pure avoidance.

6. “I tried to make the photo appear like the scene I saw.” This answer starts to enter the realm of art which is potentially a new concept for my questioner. It may just be esoteric enough to stop further questions. It also leaves out any mention of medication.

7. “I’m not a documentary shooter so this image is art that conveys what I felt at the time I was there.” A full commitment to art. This may confirm the questioner’s worst fears by leaving the impression the photo has nothing to do with reality (whatever that is).

Do you understand my dilemma? So what should I say?

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Latest Comments

  1. Galen Leeds Photography says:

    I often times say “I didn’t do anything that couldn’t be done in a darkroom, and often times I do quite a bit less than what some people use darkrooms for.” Many of the people that might ask The Photoshop Question likely have as little understanding of darkrooms, yet somehow hold them in higher regard.

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  2. Judy says:

    I enjoyed this post quite a bit!! I find myself dealing with the question too. When I first got started with digital photography luckily I got Photoshop at the same time. After an initial bout with feeling like using Photoshop was cheating somehow, I got over it once I realized that Photoshop worked hand in hand with a digital capture. It is your darkroom. Since when did a film photographer feel bad about dodging and burning or doing double exposures or push processing (do I know what push processing is? Yikes!) Ok, I never was able to do anything artistic or even just adjust my pictures for best appearance shooting film. It always seemed like you’d have to sell your first born just to get a camera shop to crop your picture let alone enhance it!!

    The important thing is to not be tempted to use Photoshop as a rescue effort and not pay attention to getting a quality capture. That was the discipline I reminded myself of in the beginning!!

    The thing is, if truth is the issue, there are many ways to lie. You don’t need Photoshop for that. You can skew the reality by just what you do or do not include in your viewfinder with film or digital. The person who asks me the most however is my mother. Once I swapped a sky to create a more dramatic picture. I should NEVER have mentioned that as now she is suspicious of every beautiful sky picture I have.

    If anyone asks me if I use Photoshop, I do and I am totally happy to say I adjusted it to my liking so it would look its best or fit my vision for the picture.

    Just remembering there was one place a long time ago that would do things to make my film pictures better. The name was Accent 35 and they were in Texas somewhere. I can still remember paying a little extra for a picture I really liked in an 11 x 14 image to enhance it (if that was even the word they used) and being thrilled with the fact it had less yellows and was much crisper.

    Think of the power we have at our desktop now!! Amazing!!

    (oops about the long comment)

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    • lylekrahn says:

      I’m glad you found the post interesting and I appreciate your long and thotful comments. You make a lot of good points.
      I certainly want to use the power of digital photography to make my photos look good. Processing is what the darkroom was before as you mentioned. Where the problem comes is when photographers infer the image is what they saw and people can feel duped if it wasn’t really like that. If I added a moon to a photo (I never have), I would feel obligated to make that clear to viewers. If people say it’s art then it’s different story. I’m still finetuning my thots on this and there are certainly a lot of opinions on it. And yes we do have amazing power on our desktops.

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      • Judy says:

        Mostly I just wanted to convey that you should not feel guilty using this wonderful tool. If someone asks if I use Photoshop I say…”Absolutely”. Most times I’d venture to say the photographer is merely adjusting the capture to match what he saw through the viewfinder. Most times someone would ask if you used digital software, it is generally not accusatory but rather that they thought your picture was lovely and are just interested in your work. In reality, our world is so beautiful and so full of unbelievable colors, shapes and patterns, that surely God must use Photoshop!! I do not mean that irreverently but rather that the canvas before us is so divine that we are lucky if we can even approximate its nuances!! Photography can document things, but it is always an art….the art begins when you decide where to stand. It is no different than if you stood before the mountains and the moody sky and set up your easel and paint brushes! The rules of composition are pretty much the same.

        So, yes be honest with every question. No need to misrepresent anything..I suppose that happens but I don’t know anyone personally who does that. I had one photographer friend who posted a picture and the caption underneath read…”massively adjusted in Photoshop!!” I was just learning at the time and that really tickeled me.

        Your pictures are yours. Enjoy them and enjoy showing people why you were attracted to the scene!! Have fun!!

        Happy New Year to you and everyone!!

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        • lylekrahn says:

          Guilt free honesty while having fun is a good way to go and not a bad life principle at that. I like the concept of God using PhotoShop – nature is wonderful and trying to replicate it is not easy.

          Hope you have a great 2013. I enjoyed the conversation.

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  3. Inspired and pretty says:

    I’m so tired of this “war” against Photoshop. Back in the film days they were also retouching photos but people aren’t aware of that. I tell people “Photoshop (and all other software) is the new darkroom, and just like in film days, we are retouching our photos”. I’m not a purist, I like to retouch my photos, change colours, add textures, and so many other things. People should understand it’s a way of expressing our creativity.
    This photo is amazing, it’s a great landscape !
    Thank you for liking some of my posts 🙂

    Like

    • lylekrahn says:

      The darkroom certainly never got the negative reputation of PhotoShop. Even if you want to be a purist it’s hard to define what exactly that is since a lot of adjustments can be made right in the camera. I am still developing my opinions on all this and the points raised have been helpful. Thanks for stopping by and adding some comments on PhotoShop and the photo.

      Like

  4. melodylowes says:

    Interesting discussion here. I am an amateur, but know that no amount of manipulation can create a great image from a so-so shot! Tidying it up a bit just enhances what is already there… unless you added mountains and a stream to a Sk sunset. 🙂

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  5. Phil Lanoue says:

    I sometimes tell people that there is a difference between a photo, and a photo illustration.
    I come from the field of photojournalism so I have some strong opinions on what constitutes a “real” photograph.
    In general though, I suppose my approach is that if you were standing next to me when I took this photo, this is what the scene looked like and the photo should look like what you saw, and you could have potentially gotten the same photo.
    I guess in my wildlife photos I go for a sort of gritty realism more so then what might be considered a ‘pretty’ picture. But that’s just me.
    In the interest of full disclosure, I do some minor processing on my images but it’s mostly to make up for what can often be a flatness created by the source product.

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    • lylekrahn says:

      I can see where your photojournalism past would have a strong influence and I definitely recognize the gritty realism (good term). I found the comments today interesting since they landed much more on the photo side versus what I would call the art side. Given the types of photos I post I guess that shouldn’t be surprising.

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    • Judy says:

      You know, I guess I like both gritty and pretty and so sometimes the image itself tells you where to go with it. “Flatness” is a really good word too to describe what some captures have which you’d want to adjust for.

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  6. outdoorpictures says:

    I have no problem with such questions. Digital photography always means electronic transformation of sensor signal to color pixels. Your camera includes already quality improving software. So it is just logical to futher improve or modify the picture on your computer if you like it.

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  7. Delft says:

    I think the problems begin when there’s no question, and it’s blindingly obvious that the photo has been processed. I’m afraid we’re seeing far too much of that, far too much kitsch, in my opinion. Your photos are freshened up a bit, but usually very much on the discrete side of the spectrum. I think “minor changes” is fine.
    I confess the picture in this post is an exception, and does look over-processed to my eyes, but your ducks and bears are stunning!

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    • lylekrahn says:

      That is certainly the challenge – make the photo fresh but avoid too much kitsch (great word) since I like to keep it real or discrete as you say. Minor changes has its advantages.
      I found it interesting that you thot the photo in this post was over processed. It was such an unusual scene that I struggled a lot to find a zone that brought back the memory of what I saw. I thot I had done that but it’s helpful to know it appears too much in your opinion.

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  8. artsifrtsy says:

    I tell people who ask that I make simple adjustments – much like the ones I would have made in my film days – nothing fancy. Most people don’t realize that we made lots of adjustments in the darkroom and that the typical photo they see from me is not possible from the Walmart labs.

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  9. runningwithellen says:

    No is the ideal answer. When most photographers were shooting film and producing prints in a darkroom, no one asked if you dodged and burned the print…

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  10. westerner54 says:

    I think I’m probably the type of non-photographer who might ask that question, and what I’m really asking is “did that really look that amazing when you saw it?” and since the answer to that question is definitely a yes, I think the best answer is just plain old no.

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    • lylekrahn says:

      That logic definitely makes sense. The part I will take issue with is you claiming to be a non-photographer. The best definition of a photographer is someone who takes photos and on top of that you take a lot of good ones.

      Like

  11. FeyGirl says:

    Ditto, ditto, and ditto… I like to show the scene as it exists, the true beauty of what’s out there — with extremely minor adjustments. Nature rarely needs much manipulation. 🙂

    Like

  12. hannele says:

    I say I process the picture; like when people who do film photography have to develop the film, I (since I shoot in RAW) develop the file. I process it, but I don’t manipulate it.

    (this answer sometimes includes explanations of shooting in different formats and what their difference is, but that depends on how interested the person in question actually is)

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  13. Mike Powell says:

    I like #5, even if it is avoidance. It has the virtue of being true.Full disclosure might result in something like, “I manipulated the image in order to manipulate your perceptions and force you to focus on what I think is important.”

    Like

    • lylekrahn says:

      Both of those responses have their benefits and starting from the truth is helpful. Your sentence really encapsulates a lot. It really is about helping people focus on what I thot was important.

      Like

  14. Kyle Kuns says:

    As a complete newbie still at the beginner level of taking snapshots with a Panasonic point and shoot, I was interested to learn a little bit about how Ansel Adams altered his prints. So, if I were in your league I would answer the question the following way.

    The human eye is far more sophisticated and accurate than any image any camera is capable of producing. If I didn’t use software to edit the image, I wouldn’t be very good. Anyone could simply snap a photo and leave it at that (which is the level I’m at). If there is something specific in a photo of mine you’d like to know more about, I’m happy to tell you the kinds of things I did to it. If your question really is whether or not I added mountains to the photo; the answer is no.

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    • lylekrahn says:

      I think I read somewhere that Adams sometimes reprocessed his prints a hundred times to get them the way he wanted them! Editing images is certainly not something new! Part of the problem, as you suggest, is how miraculous the human eye really is which makes it difficult to replicate what we saw. I have seen enough of your photos to think you are selling yourself short as a “complete newbie.” While editing makes a difference, each step in the process including choosing what to delete from the subject when you take the photo, makes a huge difference. And yes, it may really may come down to whether someone added mountains and that is something I wouldn’t have a clue how to do!

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      • Kyle Kuns says:

        I didn’t realize in some cases he reprocessed his prints over a hundred times. Makes a few tweaks in Photoshop pale in comparison. Thanks for your opinion on my snapshots. You make good points on composition etc.

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  15. Gunta says:

    I think it’s a silly question to begin with. The issue, IMHO, is whether the person likes what s/he sees, or not. Personally, I don’t like the use of B&W, but know a lot of folks who seem to love it. Really overdone HDR is a turn-off in my opinion as well, but there are rare exceptions to both of these off-the-cuff opinions.
    I think the question you’re chewing on is in the same realm as the “joke” told by photographers:
    a photographer went to a dinner party and during the meal the hostess said: ” you take some great photos. What camera do you use?”. The photographer answered politely. Then, as she was leaving, she said to her hostess: “that was a lovely meal. What oven do you use?

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    • lylekrahn says:

      I like the joke – it says a lot! What you are saying makes sense. I am striving to make images that I like which is dramatically affected by my past. Interestingly, I agree with the specific personal tastes you mentioned. When I was a kid taking photos, I was limited to B&W and poor colour photos which looked a lot like many Instagram photos today. After striving so hard to get better than that, I have little nostalgia for those type of photos. Others like them a lot and that’s OK.

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  16. vanbraman says:

    Good answer, my picture adjustments are very basic. Color balance, cropping and adjustment of light levels. That is about it. I use the Microsoft Office Picture Manager for almost everything.

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  17. photographybycalliec says:

    No! is a good answer,Im sure we all add a little contrast,curves adjustment… etc but all that does is produces a more pleasing image. The photo and country side is amazingly beautiful, mind blowing, Wow. Keep the good work up.
    Cheers Callie

    Like

    • lylekrahn says:

      That’s a good short answer. I’m seeing a pattern in that you seem to like the snow images. Glad you liked this one – it was an unsettled day as it often is in the mountains and gave me this moment.

      Like

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