Why photography without Photoshop is brilliant, exciting and important
Before you dive into this article, keep in mind that I’m not saying Photoshop is bad. I say photo editors that I refuse to call photographers use it in an incredibly misleading way. And moreover, if you are tired of our ads, please download our app on iOS and Android, where you can subscribe to get our ad-free content. With this brief aside, I want to expand on Arts and Culture Editor Dan Ginn’s article that we previously published. If you’ve been reading our site for a while, you know I’m a big fan of no photoshop. In fact, I’m even bigger on transparency and authenticity. Let me explain.
Let’s start with the reviews of this site, then I’ll get to the artists and photographers. When I started The Phoblographer, there were different camps on how camera, lens and lighting reviews should be done. DPReview, Imaging Resource and others believed images should not be edited. Recently, DPReview even changed its policy on this. They defended the lack of editing to give readers the most honest idea of what the camera can do. But the truth is, most photographers spend time editing in Lightroom, Capture One, or Photoshop. So when I started The Phoblographer, we were doing just that: retouching photos while showing images that hadn’t been edited.
Then we only allowed basic edits from Lightroom’s basic editing panel for a while. After a few years, I started looking around the world of YouTube and saw what I felt was excessive photoshop. So for a while I doubled down on the authenticity and again told all of our staff that there should be no changes. With the exception of one staff member who has long since been fired, there were no edits (and I caught them too late) made to the photographs in our reviews. Then we entered our current phase of delivering our images, edited and unedited. This allows photographers to make a reasonable decision and see that clean files can do one thing, but a photographer can do another.
All the while, I’ve been looking for ways to improve in-camera photos. You can see many of these experiments on my personal site. I opted for multiple exposures in the camera over the Photoshop overlay. In fact, the above multiple exposure was done behind closed doors. I have also created paintings in camera. And more and more, the idea of authenticity permeates our work.
Now, what is authenticity, you ask? This is to be 100% transparent in our photos. If an image is a composite, we will call it as such. But many people on Instagram, Behance, Tumblr, Flickr, Reddit, and social media groups don’t label their images as composites.
A composite photo is not a photograph, it is a composite. Some people who are marketed as photographers aren’t photographers, they’re photo composers. I don’t care that composite photos have been made since the beginning of photography. The point has to do with ease of entry. For people to do them years ago, they had to have a lot of special skills and put in a lot of work. These days, a high school kid can probably retouch skin better than you. AI has made it more accessible. As the barrier to entry has become lower, the standards must be set higher.
So what is a photograph? I have a personal rule, and I have rules for what I think are considered photographs. If the final exported file is 80% the original image, it is a photograph. That means basic touch-ups with ethics in mind, standard tweaks one way or the other, and so on. For our Creating the Photograph series, Brandon Casey’s recent post is a composite.
Here is what he said:
“This photo actually required a bit of post-processing to get the final result. I moved the three images from Lightroom to Photoshop. The first thing I had to do was mask my son in the long exposure frame of the rocket. Once I masked it I moved on to correcting the colors on it to match those of the long exposure frame, as the output temperature of flashes is very different from the light emitted from the rocket .
In the field I set up the main light to recreate the light that would come from the rocket, a secondary light to recreate the full moon overhead and a third light to the right of the camera to act as a light fill . It certainly helped but wasn’t a hundred percent so after balancing out the colors I did some dodges and burns on it to shape the light in a way the rocket would have. After getting it to blend into the frame with the rocket, the next step was to attach the stars. We see the stars as perfect little pinpoints as we watch a rocket launch. However, during the long exposure, these small dots turn into star trails. To solve this problem, I usually find a clear section of the sky and capture a fair image of the stars.
Once in Photoshop, I’ll use the healing brush to remove all the star trails from the long exposure frame. Next, on the frame I took with just the stars, I’ll adjust the contrast to make the stars brighter and the sky darker. Then change the Layer Blending Mode to Lighten to hide the dark sky and only let the stars show through. Finally, with a layer mask and a brush, I blend the stars where they need to be. Once everything is done, I save the final blended image in Lightroom where I adjust the color grading to suit my style, which is the last thing I do.
When you think about that, you see how composite it is. Alternatively, Meg Loeks created a photograph. Here is his post-production process:
“I use Adobe Creative Cloud to edit my images. In Lightroom, I straightened my frame and then did some basic white balance correction to remove some of the warmth and magenta in the SOOC. I increased the exposure on my daughter, added contrast and applied a radial filter to add haze to my Profoto light. Then I imported the image into Photoshop and slightly modified the greens and yellows by creating hue/saturation layers.
You can see her before and after the shot in the previously linked blog post. The two are monumentally different. And they should be labeled as such. Why is this important? Because people look at composite and photoshopped images and think they are real. Think about all the editing issues that occur. If you’ve ever purchased Aerie underwear, you should accept what I’m saying. If you’ve ever seen the Northern Lights and then looked at pictures of them, you should understand what I’m saying. This is why photography without Photoshop is great; he finds a way to bring out the Northern Lights without post-production. It’s exciting because you don’t have to sit in front of a computer for hours. And that’s important because humanity needs to try harder to stand out from what AI can create.
I believe the future of photography should be paved with authenticity, and we should all be part of it. More importantly, it means learning in-camera skills and learning how to do everything without Photoshop.