Paul Taylor Photographer

Commercial and Fine Art Photography
Baton Rouge, LA


"...but you used Photoshop!"

Posted on February 25, 2021 at 1:30 PM

Icicles Under the Eve III, Olympus DSLR, Nikkor 420mm, processed in Photoshop to render specular highlight and "sundogs".

Sometimes when I am displaying my wares at an arts and crafts fair, someone looking at a perfectly realistic photo print might complain that I used Adobe Photoshop to achieve a certain effect in a photo. While they are right that 100 percent of the time I use Photoshop, they are “out of their wheelhouse” to complain about it!

While these may seem harsh words for many of my would-be patrons, complaining about a photographer using Photoshop is completely out of line, absolutely unfair. Back in the pre-digital days of film, this complaint would be tantamount to accusing a photographer of actually using a darkroom to process the work. Back in those days, if you didn’t use a darkroom, you didn’t get a photo, with the exception of instant film, like Polaroid.

Similar to Photoshop, using regular film and standard darkroom developing and printing techniques gave most photographers the control they wanted for rendering realistic pictures. The darkroom was an absolute necessity in those days, whether you defined a darkroom as a completely manual processing laboratory or as a “one-hour” mini-lab.

Many different, non-standard developing and printing techniques were used for more unusual photographic effects, including cross-processing for psychedelic colors (especially in the 1960’s and ‘70’s), and multiple exposure printing for image superimpositions that created fantasy worlds that only previously existed in the artists’ imaginations.

The standard controls, such as increasing or decreasing light sensitivity, manipulating contrast, dodging out or burning in details from shadows and highlights, cleaning up colors, and increasing color saturation were worked out long ago in custom processing labs used by photographers and technicians. The non-standard techniques that yielded special effects and otherworldly realities were also worked out long ago in those same custom labs.

All these standard and non-standard image controls exist in Photoshop, Lightroom, Gimp, and any number of well-known as well as more obscure computer-based photo programs. Those controls would not be there had it not been for their existence in the photo processing labs that preceded digital photography, starting way back in the 1800’s!

So what’s the difference between processing photos with film and darkroom techniques and digital imaging? None, except that potentially anybody with a computer can use Photoshop. All the same controls are there, whether you want your picture to look realistic or fantastic. All methods can be abused, of course! But ever since I began photography way back in the 1960’s, not a single soul ever accused me of using a darkroom! Because if you didn’t use a darkroom, you weren’t a photographer.

Consider the grand masters of the darkroom, people like Ansel Adams, to whom many of us owe a heavy debt of gratitude. A master of black-and-white landscape photography, Adams helped establish baseline controls for films, papers, cameras, lenses and printing enlargers that became known as the “Zone System”, which to this day influences photographers the world over, even though most of us are digital these days. Adams would spend hours and hours in the darkroom, processing and printing his masterpieces with flair, imagination, boldness and ingenuity. So, yes, he used every manipulation in the book, and then some. He died before digital photography became a daily reality, but I think Ansel would have loved Photoshop.

So, next time someone says, “You must have used Photoshop”, I will say, “Yeah, and in the bad old days, I did even worse—I used a damn darkroom!!”


Categories: None