Do You Manipulate Your Photos?

by Josh Anon


This past weekend, I was shooting the Big Air Windjam kiteboarding competition in San Francisco. To help try and drum up some support, I stayed up late Saturday eve putting together a small promotional gallery that I posted to some local kiteboarding forums. On Sunday, a number of people who know me and saw the images came up to me and said, "Wow, great shots! You really must know how to use Photoshop!"

Wow, what to say, where to start.... My reply was simply, "Yep, sure do!" (EDIT: I should also add that this is while I was shooting and most of the people who came up to me were not photographers/people who understand basics of digital imaging at all) It's funny seeing people's reactions to that simple statement. Some look kind of shocked, like they just expected me to argue. They usually end up just kind of walking away. I've learned that the bulk of the time, it's better just to say "yes" and to not try to deal with subtle explanations about image processing.

Then, a few people will start pressing me further, saying things like, "How long did it take you to put the kiteboarder in front of the golden gate bridge?" It's rather amusing to see their reactions when I tell them that the only thing I did to that image--and I used Aperture, not Photoshop--was to boost the shadows slightly. If they don't suddenly stare glassy-eyed at me, I continue on to say how I feel that nearly every image can use some manipulation, whether it's boosting the shadows, cropping it slightly, modifying the white balance, or straightening the horizon (it's a personal pet peeve of mine when I see a published image with a crooked horizon--there's no excuse for that anymore). The fact that Aperture lets me make these adjustments so quickly is a dream come true. I was able to go from CF card with over 3,000 shots (the 1D Mark III's motordrive is jaw-dropping) to edited DVD in about 12 hours (including import, edit, export, and burn time).


Take these before/after images of the two kiteboarders rounding the buoy in a race. The before shot isn't bad, and I saw a number of shots like it, with dark faces and lots of water or land, in people's personal galleries of the event. However, by tweaking the levels, boosting the shadows, and cropping slightly (15 seconds worth of work?), I think the final image is significantly better. In fact, I feel like Aperture is this secret weapon that we have, which lets us make these subtle improvements very quickly, helping to bring our images to the next level (sidenote: I am not saying you can make a bad image great but rather that you can make a good or great image even better). I almost even feel like we all should stop telling people we use it so that they don't learn this secret! But alas, Apple's advertising is very well-done, and I suppose competition is good and makes us work harder :)



However, the next time someone asks you if you photoshop your images, try saying yes and see how they react. At the very least, I'll bet that you save some time trying to explain shooting digitally!


2007-08-01 08:09:38
I wouldn't recommend saying "yes" to photoshopping, esp. if you're not doing that. It detracts from your ability to shoot great photos, and lessens your perceived value as a photographer in the people's eyes whom you simply say "yes" to.

I'd go a little more in-depth, while still not overly confusing them, if that's your goal:

"I actually don't photoshop any of my pictures, they're shot 'as-seen'; The most I do is make sure they're color-accurate."

This way, it's still a simple explanation (I think everyone can grasp the concept of "color correction"), but you haven't made yourself out to be a "cheater," and the guest now thinks MORE of your skills of PHOTOGRAPHY.

my $0.02

Josh Anon
2007-08-01 08:22:12
I tried that for a while, and maybe half the people I talked to sort of understood that (or pretended to). The issue is when you try to explain what that means to the other half who don't understand--it's not an easy task (and I've tried to explain many different ways). I've just found that for the bulk of the average joes who walk up to me and ask questions, they have a range of opinions about what it means to manipulate a photo but all understand "do some work to make it better," they often just ask "do you photoshop" instead of "do you manipulate," and they don't know what Aperture is. Yes, for people who have a camera in hand or say they're photographers, I actually do take the time to talk about Aperture and what specifically I do to my images, but for the average joe, I just say yes :)
2007-08-01 09:50:52
I don't use Photoshop on my photos. I use Aperture alone, and I adjust and manipulate nearly all of my photos with Aperture. Art requires limits. The limits I choose are those presented by Aperture. People love my work!
2007-08-01 12:56:01
my kitten knows exactly what to tell them......'nuff said?
John Thawley
2007-08-02 21:22:10
I think honesty is always the best policy. If asked, I'll explain. If I feel the need, I'll ask if they want the short version or the long version.

And, I'll explain it this way:

"straight out of the camera is a farce.

Digital images. like their older film counterparts, require processing. Film was always processed. And... guess what.... some processing was better than others. So, that would beg the question, what ACTUALLY came out of the camera? What was the true baseline?

The capture is only the first step. After that, I own it. It's my eye, my palette and my interpretation. So... if I want to wow the viewer and excite the viewer, I'm going to enhance the story to stimulate the senses.

To me, the sooner I get the image out of the camera, the sooner I can make it my own.

Post processing is simply the development of a digital capture.

I'm from the school that there's no such things as a great shot right out of the camera. Not that there aren't great shots coming out of the camera... but they ALL require post processing to be made TRULY great.

You don't take great pictures... you MAKE great pictures.

All images would typically have an adjustment in edge sharpening, exposure, color saturation, brightness and contrast. Some may have a little shadow/highlight adjustment and noise reduction.

That is a pretty normal set of adjustments for me.

My entire workflow is managed in Aperture. Photoshop is reserved strictly for pixel manipulation.

Michael Hansen
2007-08-04 05:53:26
I rarely "Photoshop" my images, but I definitely do postprocessing in Aperture. I'm a purist at heart and I like to do everything with the camera as much as I can. So, while I'm an expert Photoshop user, I rarely use it for my own photography (I use it to stitch panaramic shots together or to clone out particularly bad dust spots). That said, I don't publish or share a photo without using Aperture's tools to correct color, sharpen, etc. The speed with which I can do this now that Aperture is my primary tools is staggering and people are amazed at how fast I can get my photos out. I still remember the days of downloading and opening all the pictures one by one in Photoshop. It was quite the chore. I love Photoshop, but I feel like I'd be lost without Aperture now.
Susan Rennie
2007-08-05 15:06:31
I'm fascinated how people assume manipulation in the digital darkroom creates images that would otherwise be less noteworthy. I remind people how much manipulation took (takes) place in the traditional darkroom. How many hours do you think Ansel Adams spent on an image like "Moon over Taos" (?).