Photoshop is NOT A Four-Letter Word

I’m constantly impressed by the fine photographs posted by readers on Shutterbug’s Facebook page ( and make a point of reading the technical descriptions of how the images were made—as well as the comments by others in response. One of the great things about photography, whether you pursue the craft as a profession or a hobby, is there’s always something to learn from someone else with a different vision or a unique style.

Lately there’s been a recurring theme by those who comment on the work of others, however, that I find rather amusing; namely, the use of the term “Photoshop” as a pejorative—as though image editing or manipulation is somehow cheating. Predictably, there always seems to be one or two folks who feel compelled to respond to a beautiful or creative image with the brusque comment “shopped.” Sometimes, the comment is phrased as a question: “was this Photoshopped? I often find myself wondering how many people asked Ansel Adams if his images were edited in the darkroom, and imagine the terse response he would provide.

Back in the days of film, proficiency in the darkroom was highly admired, and many of history’s iconic images owe at least some of their impact to image-editing wizardry; either by the photographers themselves or by trusted master printers like Pablo Inirio of Magnum Photos. In fact, a quick Google search will take you on a fascinating journey where you can view the complicated mark-ups that led to the famous prints we have all grown to love and admire.

For some reason, however, skill in the digital darkroom is sometimes denigrated—even when used to accomplish much of the same tasks formerly achieved in the darkrooms of old. In the case of photojournalism where a depiction of “reality” is the standard, we rightly expect image-editing to involve nothing more than a bit of color-correction, sharpening, or perhaps the cleanup of some dirt or dust on the lens. But when it comes to commercial photography, art, or a hobbyist expressing a vision, our view is simple: As long as you faithfully describe the results of your efforts, have at it! Just like in the case of sloppy work in the wet darkroom, heavy-handed Photoshop work will lead to unsatisfactory results. But the next time you see an image you love, maybe you should just leave it at that!

blanddragon's picture

The author clearly thinks that using Photoshop is akin to darkroom skills. This could not be further from the truth as he probably should know given his age!

Maxine Hundley's picture

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