Is this photoshopped?

Recently, a friend and photographer Ben Jacobsen of Ben Jacobsen Photo got his work into a third gallery.
One of the gallery owners asked him “Is your work photoshopped?”
This is also a popular question often asked at Art Fairs and Photography exhibits.

Why is this question relevant to some viewers? If you are asking this, do you know what photoshopping means?
Better yet, What does that word mean to you, what is it that you are asking?
Are you asking if the photographer added the boulders in the foreground or the clouds in the sky from a different photo?
Or are you asking if the photographer made local contrast, dodging, burning, etc… tweaks/enhancements? (Just like what can be done in a darkroom)
Did you know that the latter is what most photographers use photoshop for?

Some people get excited when they make a nice looking picture with their camera. They rave “This shot is SOOC!! (Straight Out Of Camera)
Congrats! You made a good exposure. This is what you are supposed to do with your camera. Make a good exposure, get as much detail from the scene as possible.
Now you can use photoshop to enhance it, make it pop. Just like the old masters used the darkroom for.
Did you know that a jpg image straight out of the camera is actually a RAW image, processed by your camera?
That’s right, the camera just made contrast, sharpening, saturation, etc.. changes FOR YOU.
What does the camera know about processing an image that represents the scene that you just saw?
It doesn’t. This is why most photographers in the digital age shoot RAW and process the image in photoshop.
Now the photographer can process the image and make it look representative of what they saw when they clicked the shutter.

The truth is, all digital images need some processing. Many film photographers will scan in their negatives and make localized adjustments. Does this make their photos more acceptable or more “real” because they started on film? Perhaps to you they do, but to be honest, that film photo is now a digital photo *GASP* and is being treated as so.
Most people think “untouched, pure” when thinking of film photography.
The great masters of film photography had tricks they used in the darkroom to make their prints really pop. They didn’t go out with their 8×10 cameras, take an image, print it and hang it in a gallery.
Ansel Adams’ negatives weren’t punchy with deep contrasts and bright whites out of the camera. It wasn’t until he manipulated them in the darkroom with techniques he perfected by experimenting over many years that they started to really sing.
Let’s not forget that every style of film gives an image a different look, not representative of the colors you saw with your own eyes.

It’s 2012, there are so many tools available today that weren’t in the hay days of film. You can show much more dynamic range throughout an image, something that wasn’t always easily achievable.
Why would you not want to make your final image look as good as it can? In this day and age, some will embrace these tools and use them to make their photos better. Some will embrace them and make their photos worse.
Some will elect to not use them at all and let the camera have the final say.

So why ask “Is this Photoshopped?” If the photographer explained his/her process to you, would that make you want to buy the print more? Would that make you respect it more? Probably not.
When you sit down to enjoy a meal at a nice restaurant, you probably don’t ask the chef what recipe he/she used or how he/she processed the food. You’d just enjoy the food.

From my perspective, when looking at art, it either speaks to me or it doesn’t. The method used to achieve the final product isn’t important.

In conclusion of this short rant, don’t sweat the ingredients and preparation, just enjoy the meal.

This entry was posted in rants.


  1. Jeremy Kruse 10/25/2012 at 1:16 pm #

    This would have had rather more impact if you’d used a typewriter.


  2. Maggy 10/25/2012 at 2:35 pm #

    Very well said! It is the same as the film – just different tools. I’ll do whatever I need to do to get an image to look the way I want it to, including getting my exposure and composition right with to start with! I’ll be pointing a few people to this post:)

  3. John King 10/25/2012 at 2:43 pm #

    Excellent post. Well done.
    Your Ansel example is a good one. I usually use Eugene Smith examples to make the same point.

    Your thought mirror my own, but you may be somewhat more diplomatic…

    An excerpt from my own rant on the subject…..

    “And then there is a whole crowd who think SOOC is a virtue. Straight Out Of the Camera has a legitimate meaning when it refers to a polaroid or a contact sheet from a film negative. With digital, SOOC often means “I’m not industrious enough to process my digital negatives. My camera’s computer did all this cool processing for me.” To me, SOOC seems to be the equivalent of taking your film to a mass-production lab processor in a department store and getting a package of machine-made prints. Every print is okay, but they are processed to minimum standards. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but why has it been elevated to a virtue of pristine photography? There is even a Flickr group for SOOC. Maybe someone should start a “WalMart Prints” group too.”

  4. David Lawrence Lim 10/28/2012 at 7:36 pm #

    Thanks, very good analogy about how you do not ask a chef how he cook his food before you eat it.

  5. David 11/13/2012 at 8:08 pm #

    When people ask me that I bring up two things. 1. My camera shoots a “negative” like film cameras did(RAW file), so I have to process it to turn it into a photo. 2. It is photoshopped, but to look like the original scene. I never add or subtract elements.

    Really I think people ask this question just out of unfamiliarity or curiosity. They really don’t know what they are asking 🙂 If I reply to the question with *anything* they usually just shrug or nod because the answer doesn’t even matter to them, they are just trying to make small talk.

  6. Christian Dalbec 03/30/2013 at 12:30 pm #

    I think that the next person that asks me “is it photo shopped” I will bring them to my workstation and bring-up the RAW file and say “there ya go, show me what I did wrong”
    I would rather use digital darkroom without the chemicals YO!

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  1. By Guys, I Have a Confession. | Kip Praslowicz on 10/25/2012 at 12:41 pm

    […] scanner so that they may draw their own conclusions. Glad that is off my chest. This post was for Shawn.BonusWhat the hell. Lets go one step further and at least inverse it. There. I'd still get laughed […]

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