Is Photoshop Good or Bad for Photography?

Some people claim that Photoshop is destroying the art of photography.

There is so much information out there on improving your shots with Photoshop that we do seem to be encouraged not to worry about learning good camera techniques but simply learn how to ‘fix it’ in Photoshop.

london market

This was more or less finished in the camera. I have selected the correct exposure, decided on the focus, waited for a good position of the lady in the background and click. I have, however, added a vignette and boosted clarity in Lightroom – no Photoshop here! (Click this image to buy )

In a way Photoshop allows you to skip some of the key techniques that can improve your camera skills in favour of trying to quick fix it on the computer.

Though I use Photoshop extensively in my work, I do think it’s really important to learn how to use, aperture, focal length, ISO, Shutter Speed etc, and understand camera settings and the effects they have on your images in order to get it right at the time of taking the shot. This can save you hours messing about with Adobe Photoshop afterwards, after all, who would prefer an hour of fixing a problem in front of a computer screen to messing about outside in the landscape or street having fun experimenting with your camera? More time out in the field rather than spending hours at a PC also gives you more opportunity to see and capture a moment and to enjoy the natural world and it’s inhabitants. Photography should be fun, exciting and free, it should not be about being glued to a computer screen all day, what’s the fun of that?

Photoshop is still amazing, and it is great to be able to recover a missed opportunity, but maybe we are becoming too reliant on it and wonder if the tendency these days to use it instead of learning the correct technique is makes us poorer photographers.

You can, on the other hand, use Photoshop (or Camera Raw or Lightroom for that matter) as a leaning tool by noting the adjustment you need to make each time and trying to get those right first time in camera next time. It can be good when you have limited time in on location and don’t have time to take different images on different settings, because it’s all about the moment, like at an event when everything is moving fast. So it’s useful if you have made a mistake on a great image or change your mind after the event, or for doing really funky things that are impossible in camera.

skateboarding brighton

This has been in Photoshop! Whilst the shutter speed, apperture and ISO have been carefully selected to freeze the action. I have moved one of the lamposts on the promanade so that it doesn’t go up his bottom! The Black and White conversion, the square crop, and the burning in of the edges especially the left corner has been done in Lightroom. (Click this image to buy )

However – ‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a pig’s ear” – Photoshop cannot correct a badly focused image or a badly composed one. It can correct things the camera got wrong, like white balance, and you can go to any extremes in processing to create a particular effect if that is what you want.
If you want to visually transform an image then that’s an entirely different kettle of fish. You can combine images, change skies, get rid of blemishes, clone out things, get rid of noise, desaturate parts of an image, selectively darken or lighten parts of a image- these are the things that Photoshop excel in.

Things you should definitely learn to do in camera:

1. Select the right depth of field / lens aperture
2. Decide where you want your Focus
3. Choose a great composition
4. Choose the right shutter speed to avoid camera shake, or enhance movement.
5. Choose a filter when necessary for example a polarising filter

Things you can learn to do either the camera or Photoshop

1. Colour balance
2. Sharpening (jpegs only)
3. Using filters (on camera) or filter effects (PS)

Things you can only do in PS

1. Cropping and straightening
2. Dodging and burning
3. Adjusting low and high levels independently
4. Adjusting levels brightness / contrast, hue / saturation etc
5. Lots of strange filter effects.
6. Cutting and pasting part of on photo to another.

If you get it really wrong in camera delete – don’t waste your precious time. Learn as much about your camera settings as you can and start to experiment and practise with your settings. If you get it nearly right you can recover in PS, even though cameras are really sophisticated they don’t alway get it right on Auto.
I know photographers have very different opinions about this, what do you think?

If you need help with learning Photoshop I can recommend the beginners Photoshop Training course and the Advanced Photoshop Training courses at Silicon Beach Training