Posted by: David Vernon | May 27, 2009

A Bit of a Rant

401 Water - Happy Solstice Photographer Eddie Tapp, writing on Scott Kelby’s blog today, pulled this quote out:

“… it was at this time I heard someone named Ansel Adams make this statement, “Half the image is created in the camera, and the other half is created in the darkroom.” Hearing this, I knew I was on the right path. Needless to say, Photoshop is the darkroom that I’ve been using since the early ’90s.”

A few weeks ago, when I spent part of the day selling my wares at a Bradley University event, a guy came up to me with this tidbit. He told me he had just seen photographer Jim Zuckerman at the Peoria Camera Club’s annual seminar (I had a conflict so I didn’t see it myself). He told me that Zuckerman was a big fan of Photoshop and that most of his images were not only “manipulated” but Zuckerman had proceeded to tell seminar attendees just what he did to “doctor” his images. He finished his little sermon about the evils of Photoshop and image manipulation and then he says this to me: “Please tell me you don’t do that to your images!” Okay sir – sorry to disappoint – but HELL YES I do.

Look – I have two appreciable skills in life as far as I am concerned. Photography and Computers. Did I mention a lot of what I do is DIGITAL PHOTOGRAPHY? WHY would I waste any of those skills? Do you think when someone stood in a darkroom with film, easel, and enlarger that they didn’t do most of these same things? OF COURSE they did. Dodging and burning works the same way in the darkroom as it does in Photoshop. The good news is in Photoshop I can get it right. In the darkroom it’s a very random and analog process – and good luck doing it the same way twice.

I wouldn’t show you an image that didn’t pop or didn’t have impact. I don’t see the point. My photography is ART. I’m not trying to render the scene EXACTLY as it was. I’m trying to render the scene EXACTLY as I want it to be seen – and to be remembered. I’m trying to keep you looking and make you think “I would love to be there.” So I, and a lot of other photographers, use every tool in the toolbox to make our images try and stand out. It’s what I think I’m good at. I don’t ADD stuff to the picture and I rarely SUBTRACT stuff. I try and make the best images in camera that I can and then I use digital darkroom tools to lead you visually through the final product. I extend tonal range, I remove color cast, I increase or decrease saturation and contrast, I sharpen, and I dodge and burn. I use filters (those pieces of glass that go on front of your camera that have been around FOREVER). I make art.

Pressing the shutter release is just step one of a process. Sometimes nature or people hand you a lot of the right place at the right time and the rest of the process is simple and short. A good shooter will make it work regardless of the post process. I get kinda miffed when I see an image with a caption that more or less says “I didn’t Photoshop this” like it’s a bad thing. RAW files aren’t Kodachrome 64 folks – they’re unprocessed digital information and they need some guidance to come in for a landing. That’s how digital photography works. If you shoot in JPEG on Landscape mode in your digital camera then guess what? That mode is going to do some of the same things to your file that I do in PS. It’s going to make it more vivid, more contrasty, and sharper. And that isn’t how the scene originally looked either.

I’m NOT really a photojournalist – but I’m also not the guy photoshopping an Iranian missle launch. When a painter paints a scene, you take in the piece and like it or not. You take it as art. I’m just hoping you do the same thing with my imagery. Get over how it’s made. You’re missing the big picture so to speak. Does the final product move you? That’s the job of art. How the artist executes it is less important to me then how it makes you feel.

Okay – I feel better.


  1. It was pretty interesting at the Zuckerman seminar. Yes, he did things like drop in a crescent moon, better sky, even complete composites of multiple images. We all laughed and joked about the moon, because you saw it in several shots. But, the reality is, it made the image more interesting or appealing. More appeal means more sales, right!!

    When the subject of “photoshopping” vs. “reality” came up, he explained it in a way that I really liked. It went something like: If your intent is reporting/journalistic/documentary, then what’s generally acceptable as far as manipulation goes is much less forgiving, but, if your intent is to make art, then MAKE ART! (that wasn’t a very good paraphrased quote, btw, but, that was the idea he was getting at).

    I know Lily and I have had discussions on this topic, and her journalistic background was really at odds with all the digital manipulations. But, Zuckerman’s explanation really hit home for her.

    I don’t usually composite images (except HDR) or drop in a new sky, but, when it comes to color/contrast adjustments, dodge/burn, and even clone/heal, I use whatever I feel will improve the image (or make it artistically where I want it). I feel no remorse!! 🙂

  2. Excellent topic. It is one that gets brought up frequently. It is such a personal choice and I don’t understand why people get so wound up about using photoshop.

    It’s silly just like saying using one brand of camera isnt the right choice or film vs digital isnt is the right choice. Art is art however you chose to make it and as the artist you have every right to make it look the way you want to see it.
    Besides if everyone walked up and simply snapped one frame of the same thing and never put their unique touch on it – that would be pretty damn boring.

    One of my favorite things about photography is watching 10 people take a photo of the same subject or place and seeing how differnent each final image really is. We all make it personal otherwise, what is the point?

  3. Ouch… now that’s a rant! Though I don’t disagree.

    I guess the thing that most people get upset about is the addition of things that were not in the original image. The moon which showed up a bunch in Zuckerman’s presentation I think was the catalyst for some people being upset (it was in a lot!).

    The fact is however that people are still going to do this. In fact they’ve been living with this far longer then they probably realize since the fashion industry has been doing this for decades upon decades. They just needed airbrushes 30 years ago instead of a computer.

  4. For my way of looking at things René Magritte nailed it when he captioned his 1929 painting “The Treachery of Images” with “This is not a pipe.” Never have truer words been spoken to belie our belief that the representation of something is acceptable as a reality of the subject represented. Our willingness to believe photography, movies, TV, or even non-fiction books is very much akin to our understanding anything we accept as real is real. Who says that magic doesn’t exist?

  5. […] Let’s expand on the rant. […]

  6. […] Vernon shared a nice thought on here about using Photoshop that I completely agree with.  Your choice to use or not use Photoshop (or any other editing […]

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