Sedona Stage | Beebower Productions

Last fall Dad and I traveled to our first art festivals to sell his photos.  We met lots of great folks in the process.  But without fail at each festival we were shocked by how many people asked Dad if he used Photoshop to create his images.  The tone of their voices gave away their thoughts.  Photoshop was bad.  It made you less of a photographer.  That led us to ponder, “When did Photoshop become a dirty word?”

For those not familiar with Adobe Photoshop, it’s a top-notch image editing software program that professional photographers use to do everything from processing a digital image to enhancing color to merging two images.  Photoshop is chock full of wonderful tools that replace and expand what we used to do in the darkroom.

Back in the dark ages there was a limit to what you could correct in the darkroom.  You could darken or lighten an image.  You could burn down overly-bright elements or dodge to lighten up dark elements.  Basic stuff.  Honestly it was easier to learn to shoot it correctly than to fix it in the darkroom.

And if you wanted to get rid of dust specs all over your prints or airbrush a model, you hired a professional retoucher and paid a wad of money to let them clean up the details.  But retouching was common practice even back then.  So when Photoshop hit the markets in 1990 it quickly became a sensation.

A Brief History of Photoshop

Thomas Knoll, a PhD student at the University of Michigan, designed the program to edit gray scale images.  Luckily for us, Thomas’s brother John worked at George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic.  Being a visual guy, the program immediately caught John’s eye.  He collaborated with his brother and then pitched it to Adobe.  And the rest, they say, is history.

Photographers everywhere took crash courses to learn Photoshop when it first came out.  I just happened to be studying photojournalism at Mizzou in the early 90’s and took a class.  I even taught Dad how to use it.  He, however, far exceeded his teacher in short order.

We photographers love the freedom Photoshop gives us to enhance the color, sharpen the image, and fix mistakes.  It is great!  The photographer, if skilled enough, becomes his own retoucher.

Photoshop also allows photographers to create whatever they dream up.  For example, Dad merged two different photos, one shot near Sedona, AZ and the other shot at a ranch in southern Arizona, to create the old West image “Sedona Stage”.

And that’s where photographers started getting in trouble.  I think the bad rap Photoshop has received stems from a lack of understanding on the public’s part about thee different types of photography.

Art Photography

With art photography the photographer illustrates his vision using the camera and postproduction work in Photoshop.  The art photographer uses tools like brushes and layers in Photoshop to create the envisioned image just as a painter uses different brushes and different types of paint to create his envisioned painting.  The painter can alter the scene to fit his vision just as the art photographer can.

Commercial Photography

The commercial advertising photographer creates photos that sell products or services.  Like the art photographer, the commercial photographer has a vision (most likely supplied by the art director from the ad agency).  The photographer strives to fulfill that vision and, again, uses Photoshop to alter and shape images.


Finally we have photojournalism.  A photojournalist documents news events through pictures.  People expect photos in a newspaper, a magazine or on TV to represent what really happened.  It’s a cardinal sin to use Photoshop to switch heads on people, remove key elements of the photo or add stuff to the photo.

I worked as a photojournalist.  My use of Photoshop was limited to color correction, sharpening the image and touch ups like removing a dust spot.  My Dad, on the other hand, is an art photographer and he used to be a commercial advertising photographer.  He does all sorts of amazing things in Photoshop that I don’t have a clue how to pull off.

Over the years since Photoshop was released, there have been many news stories that excoriate photojournalists who’ve altered the images.  Rightly so.  But many people have carried over the disdain for Photoshop to art and commercial photographers.  Not so right.

Purist vs Artist

I think of those “down with Photoshop” folks as photography purists.  They believe it’s wrong to alter a photo in any way. Even tweaking the color is a problem for them no matter what type of photography they’re viewing.  In the purist’s minds, Photoshop usage indicates a poor photographer.  In my mind (and Dad’s as well), artists use Photoshop to create amazing photos.

Photoshop doesn’t take anything away from the abilities of the photographer.   In fact, it requires more skill on the photographer’s part.  I’ve seen some horrible photos that were clearly “Photoshopped” by an amateur.


2 Key Points About Photoshop
  • If you don’t have a great photo to start with, no amount of fiddling in Photoshop will make it good.  So you’ve got to be a good photographer from the get-go.  
  • You really do need great ability to successfully blend two images without leaving clues you did just that.  Using Photoshop is a professional skill that is achieved by investing a great deal of time in learning and practicing your craft.  

Adobe House | Beebower Productions

Dad does not hide his use of Photoshop.  You can ask him how he created any of his images and he’ll tell you.  It’s not a deep, dark or dirty secret.

Take, for example, his photo “Adobe House”.  Dad started with three different photos:  the adobe house, the background rocks with the sunset, and the rocks in front of the house.  He utilized layers and masks and all sorts of other Photoshop goodies to create one great composite photo.

The Great Gallery | Beebower Productions

Dad’s ninja-like Photoshop skills allow him to create other things that would normally require special photographic equipment like a panoramic camera.  A couple years ago he photographed “The Great Gallery”in Canyonlands National Park.  The panel stretches at least 200 feet wide.  

Even with a very wide-angle lens, he couldn’t shoot the whole panel and he’d also risk image distortion.  Instead, Dad used his Canon 70-200mm lens to shoot chunks of the panel.  Then he stitched the chunks into a seamless picture.  Photoshop saved the day.

For an honest photographer who is skilled in his craft Photoshop isn’t a dirty word.   It’s one of many tools available to an artist just like light and composition help make a great photo.  Now we just have to convince the public of that truth.

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