The topic of Photoshop has come up this week in several forums of which I am a member. It has come up in context of the question “did you Photoshop that?” The implication is that using Photoshop is somehow bad or artificial—a “manipulation” of reality. I was stung by this accusation recently when someone said critically that I had "over-manipulated" the sky in a photo. The reality was that the photo was taken on a perfect day with perfect clouds and the only manipulation was the use of a polarizing filter at exposure. To the inexperienced eye, it must have been "Photoshopped".
This question never goes away to my amazement. In the "wet process" days, no one ever asked me "did you 'darkroom' that?" Photoshop is my digital darkroom. I can do little in Photoshop that I couldn't or didn't do with film and the darkroom. Ansel Adams said, “To visualize an image (in whole or in part) is to see clearly in the mind prior to exposure, a continuous projection from composing the image through the final print.” Using Adams’ Zone System, prior to exposure, I choose whether to overexpose or underexpose my film. Then I adjust my development time, under or over, to compensate for my exposure. That was just the beginning of “manipulation” of the image through the final print.
Digital technology is ubiquitous: when every cell phone is a camera, the curtain has been pulled back and the Great Oz revealed as the little man behind the curtain. Where people used to admire prints made with skill and artistry, today they ask, "is it Photoshopped?" It is demeaning to a well-made print and this affects all digital art. With drawing, paints or watercolor, the focus is on the work of art; with digital media, the focus is on the software, as if Illustrator also lessens a work of art.
There is a steep learning curve required to get the maximum out of Photoshop. As always, it takes a good eye, training and experience to get outstanding prints. Yes, the curtain has been pulled back, but, in the end, the wizard still had a brain, a heart and courage. Whether using Photoshop or a darkroom, good prints will still always be good prints.