Was that picture Photoshopped? How many times have we heard that? Well truthfully, if it wasn’t Photoshopped, it probably should have been. Almost any digital image can be improved. I am referring to the refining of the image using photo editing software such as Lightroom, Photoshop, or Photoshop Elements. More importantly, editing software is a major tool we have at our disposal to aid in creating the image we had in our mind’s eye at the moment we clicked the camera’s shutter. In a recent essay, “Photography and Creative Vision,” I wrote about that perfect concept in your mind’s eye; that idealized version of what is before your camera. Capturing the image with your camera is the first step in the process of realizing your vision. Refinement or development of the image is the next step.
We as digital photographers are fortunate to have an assortment of available tools (editing software) for refining or developing our images. Film photographers had choices in their developmental process too. Conceptually, the goal is similar but the tools are quite different. The film photographer had choices of film size, type, and speed. She or he had choices of chemistry and paper types for printing as well as being able to dodge, burn, crop, etc. the image. Used in combination, these tools work to affect the feeling or emotion the photographer is trying to evoke, the message wanting to be conveyed. But our digital tool box, on the other hand, gives us many more options. We have more ways of refining our image, of creating our vision. We have the ability to make global changes, changes to the entire image, and macro or local changes affecting only a portion of the image. Examples of our global tools include levels and curves to affect tone and contrast (the gray values), hue and saturation to affect color shades and depth, and details, meaning image sharpening and noise reduction. Some of the tools we have to affect macro changes incorporate cropping to include what is important to your vision and eliminate what is not. In addition, macro changes consist of spot removal, red eye removal, graduated filters as well as dodge and burn tools to lighten or darken specific areas of the image.
Obviously, the above is a cursory simplification of the tools available to us and much could be written about each. The best way to learn about the tools in your toolbox is to use them. Remember, image refinement is but one step in creating your vision. Our editing software is remarkable but it can not make a great image out of a lousy one. It is only as useful as our knowledge of it is. And as with most things in life, it is best used in moderation.
You have probably noticed that I have been talking about refining your image to further your vision of that image. To me a “Photoshopped” image is one created in Photoshop by assembling parts of photographs or other graphics. To pass one off as the other is disingenuous.