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Monday, May 1, 2006

Is Photoshop About Photography?

Is there such a thing as "pure" nature photography? And how does Photoshop fit into that idea?

Yet for many peculiar reasons, many photographers and editors who have little real experience with it see the computer with skepticism and even fear. I've never heard a photographer complain about another photographer using the technology of flash or a super-telephoto to create a certain image, yet I've heard them complain about using Photoshop. For some reason, flash and optical technology is okay, but computer technology is not.

This attitude is reflected in an odd way with computer people, too, in that they start separating Photoshop from the photography as well. Some digitally savvy people seem to want to make Photoshop just a place to "fix" photos, even to the degree that the computer becomes a special place to revel in Photoshop's magic. That idea then becomes a cult, which doesn't help nature photographers in search of better ways of controlling an image to "widen the range of our visual experience" as Feininger put it.

I saw the digital attitude where Photoshop is separated from photography when I was working on Adobe Camera Raw for Digital Photographers Only. I began the book with chapters on the actual photography and didn't go right into the software. The book's editors questioned why I would do such a thing, since this was a book about the software, Adobe Camera Raw, and not about photography.

Hmm. Now, doesn't that seem strange to you? I hope so. Working on an image in Camera Raw or its partner, Photoshop, is about photography! It's about controlling an image to bring out its inherent qualities, and I can guarantee that if you're going to get the best image in Photoshop, you better have an original with the best qualities.

I consider the whole process of photography, from click to print, a discipline of control that's critical for nature photographers. This is something Ansel Adams can still teach all photographers, making him and his books especially relevant in the digital age. (I consider this so important that I devoted a whole chapter in an upcoming book to the craft and the discipline that Adams represents; the book is an OP guide, Outdoor Photographer Nature and Landscape Photography with Photoshop CS2, and is due out this spring.)

When photography becomes a thoughtful and wise set of choices from the time the photographer sees an image in a scene to the making of a print, then the photographer has great potential in creating something that indeed widens our visual experience. When people who don't understand certain technologies limit photography arbitrarily, it can only hurt all of us.

Photography is both technology and art. None of us can ever escape that sometimes uneasy marriage. I know that not everyone will use all the technology available (that would make one crazy, anyway), and that different photographers will have a different balance of art and technology in their art.

As a group, however, nature photographers have a responsibility to viewers to use the technologies available to us, from high-speed shutters to Photoshop, to meld that technology and art into effective, evocative photographs in order to affect a world that sometimes forgets how important and crucial nature is to us all.

OP editor Rob Sheppard's website is www.robsheppardphoto.com, which features photo tips, how-to videos and more.



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