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Are You Cheating by Using Photoshop?


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The other day I read an article in which the author said something along the lines of, “I don’t like Photoshopped pictures.”  I immediately said to myself, “WHAT?  Have you not seen the power of this software?”

Do you feel that it’s cheating to use Photoshop? Does Photoshop help or hurt you as a photographer? Do you use it as a crutch?

Photoshop can be overused. If the author was talking about photographers using Photoshop to make people look like they’re hanging with the President or if they change out body parts with a celebrity, then yes, I agree.  I don’t like fake looking pictures either. This writer wasn’t referring to that.  She was suggesting we should be satisfied with pictures right out of the camera.

If you have access to the perfect location, the perfect subject and props, all the time you need (and patience), the best gear all custom calibrated to the appropriate situation, the perfect lighting, and it all collides at the same time, then you might not need to lean on Photoshop to further process the picture.  All you would need to do is send it to the printer.

In reality with most photography, you have one or more of these components skewed and the resulting pictures need a little help, some “pop” if you will.  Even if everything is right in camera, the photo might still need some added character or drama.

new5100web600 Are You Cheating by Using Photoshop? Business Tips Guest Bloggers Photo Sharing & Inspiration

Think of Photoshop like the make-up isle.

Do you need it?  Maybe or maybe not.  Maybe a little or maybe a lot.  It’s subjective.  Some ladies don’t leave their homes without foundation, powder, eye shadow, mascara, etc.  They feel undone.  To a certain point, I fall into this camp with both make-up and photos.  I usually shoot in auto white balance and fix it in Photoshop.  There, I said it.  I leave white balance to the computer because it’s easier.  I also like adjusting colors and saturation in Photoshop – it’s easier and so much fun!  But using Photoshop doesn’t devalue a picture.  In my opinion it totally enhances it!

I’m an on location, natural light photographer with a tilt towards the photo-journalistic style of photography.  I don’t always have the best lighting situations.  I look for back-lighting, shade, or natural reflectors to boost the light.  I prefer to capture a moment as it is happening and tend to stay away from the posed/styled looks. This is what I’ve discovered about my “style” of photography.  That doesn’t mean I hate styled, posed, or studio photography.  I have been asked to produce these styles of photography, and I will continue to provide these styles for my clients.  I just know where my “sweet spot” is when I’m in control of the photography variables.

Today’s digital photography world allows us to skip some steps and fix them on the computer later.  Please don’t get me wrong; Photoshop can only fix a picture so much – focus, exposure, and composition should be solid in camera.  When you use Photoshop to fix a poorly executed shot, it’s like putting lipstick on a pig.  Remember, the previous generation of photographers had access to fixes too in their dark rooms.  

What they did not have was the instant feedback from a camera display.  But, just like the current generation of photographers, it still takes practice to figure out what works.

I love the vast array of topics and subjects in the world of photography.  There are so many different niches and styles leaving room for us all.  What I have a problem with are the negative attitudes out there like the one I read.   I would prefer to encourage and work with fellow photographers so we all continue to develop our skills.  Figuring out our weaknesses and working on making them strengths is an important goal to have in photography.  We need to remember for whom we are taking pictures.  So, use your Photoshop skills to make some fun art for your clients.   Their opinion of your work is what matters most!


new5335seventiesweb600 Are You Cheating by Using Photoshop? Business Tips Guest Bloggers Photo Sharing & Inspiration


new5202web600 Are You Cheating by Using Photoshop? Business Tips Guest Bloggers Photo Sharing & Inspiration


This article and photos were contributed by Nicole Pawlaczyk of Capture Me Photography by Nicole.  She’s a Michigan native who now calls NW Arkansas home.  You can find her on Facebook here.


No Comments

  1. Erin @ Pixel Tips on March 19, 2012 at 9:19 am

    Getting things “right” in the camera certainly makes post-processing faster and easier, but I don’t feel that Photoshop is cheating, whether you are using it for a few basic tweaks or adding drastic enhancements. Like you said – have fun and create art! 🙂

  2. Jenna on March 19, 2012 at 9:23 am

    My first foray into photography was in the 80’s – a high school photography class complete with film (B&W) processing and developing. I loved it. I loved learning how my borrowed 35mm worked and what I could do with the resulting pictures in the darkroom. Photoshop, IMHO, should be used like the dark room. The captures should still be solid, but may need to be enhanced a bit. In my opinion, part of the beauty of photography is the “realness” of the capture. Excessive use of any editing software that is available to us today can obscure that so much that the photo becomes unreal looking. That’s simply not my taste. I want to see life and I want to see the mark of the artist that captured it in the first place.So to answer the question “Is using Photoshop cheating?”… well, I guess it all depend on your preference and what you value in a photo and how the editing software is used.

  3. Suzy on March 19, 2012 at 9:29 am

    I totally agree with what you say about ‘its like make-up – either you need it or you dont’. You then made me laugh when you compared trying to fix a bad photo is like putting lipstick on a pig. You are so right and the similies were perfect. Keep up the good work. x x x

  4. Kara on March 19, 2012 at 9:34 am

    If it’s cheating to use Photoshop, then it’s cheating to use electricity to cook your food. It’s cheating to use a sewing machine. It’s cheating to be a graphic artist — cartoonists are meant to use ink and paper, darn it! In all seriousness, I consider film photography and digital photography to be two completely different media.

    • kristin t on March 19, 2012 at 1:45 pm

      You took the words right out of my mouth!…or off my keyboard… 🙂

  5. Rixie on March 19, 2012 at 9:34 am

    I once had an old friend make this same bold statement and then added “I take the picture right the first time.” After I recovered from my shock and dismay, I did something I never do. I snagged an image off her site, and then lightly retouched it to really showcase the subject. I didn’t do a lot, but the image looked significantly better. I then emailed her a very polite email letting her know that I was now a photo editor (we knew each other before I started), and explaining my thoughts on how photoshop made good photos great. I attached a before and after panel of her own work. She replyed with the confession I expected. She had no idea how to do any editing. Her statement was made trying to excuse her lack of knowledge. When I read things like this I think that one of two things has happened 1 the person doesn’t know how to use photoshop and is trying to excuse it OR 2 they have only noticed over retouched and obvious work. Most of the time you’d swear that I did nothing more to a picture that remove a pimple or smooth a fine line at the most until you see the before shot. Going natural is the key.

  6. Donna on March 19, 2012 at 9:38 am

    I second what Jenna said. I prefer photorealistic shots. That’s probably why i lean more toward Lightroom for editing over photoshop. Then again, I, too, come from the film days where the only editing was in a darkroom, which Lightroom is basically a digital darkroom.I also think that it is important to get the shot as right as possible in the camera. Editing will be easier and better. If you over edit, you introduce a lot of noise, even non-destructive editing. If you over expose, you will never, ever get the highlights back. If you under expose, you will have impossible noise in the shadow areas that you attempt to get back…or you will never get the detail back at all depending upon how under exposed the shot was.And, it all comes down to “style.” If you like heavily edited photos, go for it. If not, keep on keeping it realistic. The world would be awefully boring if we all liked the same things.

  7. Molly @ mixedmolly on March 19, 2012 at 10:03 am

    Even with film photography you still have variables you adjust in the darkroom. Dodging, burning, exposure, and masking are not new to photoshop. I like to use it to sparingly fix things post-camera on portraits. For my own photos I will sometimes go further for artistic reasons. Great post!

  8. Jana Jones - My Portrait Stories by Jana Jones on March 19, 2012 at 10:08 am

    I understand also that Photoshop can be used as a crutch, and I agree that this is when the user should definitely try to learn to use their camera/equipment to its fullest potential. Clearly we all have to learn as we go and Photoshop helps us out during these times for sure! I also agree that Photoshop is a digital darkroom. I from time to time overedit my pics (I actually just did this yesterday) I take a second look after editing and realize how the more natural edit certainly out does the overedited one every time! Unless the photo is meant to have that surreal appearance, I feel that natural is generally the way to go, and Photoshop used as an enhancer, as a developer if you will, can create some amazing works of art! I do feel that those out there today who begin their businesses in photography without having any idea of how to use their equipment, or without even having established photography as a hobby yet, should take the time to learn how to use their cameras properly, and to be able to use them outside of the auto setting, and to not fully rely on Photoshop as a crutch. I’m not sure if I make sense I’d not, but what I’m trying to say Photoshop is a wonderful digital darkroom, and when used properly, rocks out some already awesome pics!

  9. Erin on March 19, 2012 at 10:14 am

    It’s an interesting discussion. I agree we need to “get it right in camera” and there is such thing as “too much Photoshop” however people forget that in film days the photos were still manipulated in the dark room”_ it’s simply a different medium we are using now to get our final image.

  10. Amber on March 19, 2012 at 10:17 am

    I have always considered photoshop to be the digital darkroom. Cause if I remember correctly when in photography classes we could alter pictures in the darkroom too, so many crazy ideas took place then as well.

  11. Coco on March 19, 2012 at 10:33 am

    Seriously? If Photoshop is “cheating” then I suppose that would mean we were “cheating” in our labs back in the day developing/manipulating film as it developed in the wash & and playing with the light in the darkroom to control grain and exposures as the prints came to life by hand. How is that any different? Progress in the digital world just offers us more creativity…And for me, it’s just bringing my old darkroom skills to life in a new way ~:)

    • Jodi Friedman, MCP Actions on March 19, 2012 at 10:39 am

      The author did not say it is cheating but saying people have said that to her – and bringing it up for discussion.

      • Coco on March 19, 2012 at 12:25 pm

        Hmmm…Sorry if my comment came across directed toward the author…It was not meant that way at all, but rather just responding to the question posed in the title of the article ~ 🙂

  12. Diane on March 19, 2012 at 10:37 am

    I’m in agreement with Jenna and Donna. I’ve always thought of photoshop as a darkroom. I’ve worked with fine are photographers in their darkroom, in full service labs/ studios back in the film days. I’ve also taught darkroom classes and am a very good printer. I don’t think people realize how much manipulating can be done with film. Yes the correct exposure, lighting was and is always the most important part of a great photo. But when you dropped your film off, you were leaving it to the labs discretion to process and print as they liked. For example, as a printer I leaned towards more contrast in my prints, where my counterpart was light on the contrast.Now you can’t do everything in a darkroom that you can do with photoshop for sure,but you can do a lot. Processing in a darkroom or on a computer make your work yours. Your signature is on it no matter how you choose to edit.

  13. Amanda on March 19, 2012 at 11:27 am

    One of the things I love about photography is the vastness of it. As in everything in life everyone prefers something different. I had someone ask me once how much it would cost to do her photos if I didn’t edit them, because she didn’t like edited pictures. I explained to her the price doesn’t change because my price doesn’t come from how much “fancy” editing I do. There’s usually basics that most/all of us to do have our photos be the best they can be. In some cases I do like what some consider to be “over edited”, I figure if people are going to chose me as a photographer they’re going to chose me because they’ve seen my work and like what I do.

  14. Yolanda on March 19, 2012 at 12:09 pm

    Digital post processing”îwhether you use Photoshop, Lightroom, or another piece of software”îis part of the process of creating an image in 2012. This has been the reality for several years, now, but there are still photographers at every level who are struggling with this idea. But, even the jpeg preview that we view on the back of our camera has some post processing applied (sharpening, minor color correction). In other words, it is not an exact representation of the image being captured by the sensor, it is the camera maker’s interpretation of what that image should look like. Not to mention cell phone pictures and the one-click filters in Instagram or other apps. If any casual photo-snapper can make creative decisions about their finished images, why shouldn’t professionals and impassioned hobbyists do exactly the same…but better?

  15. Beth on March 19, 2012 at 12:15 pm

    I always struggle with this. I’m also an on-location journalistic style photographer. A few fellow photographers in my area do not do great photos, but do textures and editing really well. The photos will be at an odd angle, a little out of focus, or just look like a (and forgive me for saying this) the typical point an shooter’s “stand next to this pretty plant” photo. But they are great photo editors (or out source to a great editor) so the colors and tones are beautiful. This is where I get so frustrated trying to compete. My photos are great. My photos are as good, if not better, but I don’t have the editing skills they do. Coming from a darkroom based start myself, I have ask my photo professors this question many times…is digital photography more about being a good editor or being a good photographer?

    • Marni on March 26, 2014 at 1:59 pm

      “is digital photography more about being a good editor or being a good photographer?”I was just having this discussion with my husband the other day. I am just a hobby photographer. I came from a film background and am struggling with the whole Photoshop/Lightroom thing. They do amazing things and I am having a blast playing with it and getting some really cool images. But you take 2 people – one who is an amazing photographer but sucks at editing and a really good photographer who is a whiz on the computer, who’s going to create the better image? Who is the better photographer? Or maybe the first question that needs to be answered is, what constitutes a great photographer in the modern digital photography age?

      • Rama on April 15, 2015 at 4:50 pm

        Well the ideal and the question of how you compete is to think of Photoshop as part of the creative process. Become great at getting things right in camera and become great at taking that and then enhancing it even further in Photoshop. This is my view but then again I like images that are surreal and come from imagination.

  16. Britt Anderson on March 19, 2012 at 12:42 pm

    Definitely not cheating if used to enhance….perhaps the original author was referring to people who use it instead of utilizing proper photographing techniques? I know I have used PS to save myself on a few occasions 🙂 but I don’t get lazy in camera just because I have PS that can do amazing things to help me.

  17. Alice C. on March 19, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    I agree! Definitely not cheating to enhance. People do the same thin in a traditional darkroom!

  18. Dawn on March 19, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    I love Photoshop and have used it since college back in 1993. Like others here, I don’t mind Photoshop enhancements, but I really cannot stand how overly processed skin is these days on a lot of photographs. I don’t mind a bit of skin smoothing or blemish erasing, but when lines and wrinkles get completely wiped out, I draw the line. I don’t want a 65 year-old woman to look like she has the face of a 28 year-old. I think skin is greatly overdone using technology. My friend was recently gifted a photo session for her family. The photos were lovely, but her face freckles were almost completely erased. she is a redhead with gorgeous freckles all over. I was dismayed. So use it for some highlights. Use it for some pop. But don’t use it for plastic surgery.

  19. Rebecca Weaver on March 19, 2012 at 2:40 pm

    I think photography is, and has always been, a documentary art. How much tweaking is ok really depends on the use. I love that last shot – so full of joy!

  20. Wendy on March 21, 2012 at 10:32 pm

    Sounds like the previous comments have covered my thoughts pretty sufficiently. I will add that Photoshop helps me enjoy my shoots more. Not because I use it as a crutch, but because I know I can take a great shot from the camera and create many different pieces of art via enhancement, filters, distortions, etc.

  21. Olga Rook | Rotterdam portrait photographer on March 22, 2012 at 12:13 pm

    Surely, it is possible to “cheat” using Photoshop – or with using fake eyelashes, lipstick and high heels. You can call it cheating or enhancing. Yes, one can go too far with editing, making people look plastic and skinnier than Barbie. Yes, journalists at some genres are forbidden to enhance their images beyond some basics like color correction.But…For portrait photographers it could also be cheating to NOT use Photoshop. Do you want to capture the natural charm of a person (this is what we see when we talk to someone) or those skin imperfections that may be gone next week anyway? Have you seen those portrets where the artists actually deepened the wrinkles and increased the contrast on old people faces? Is this “truth” or “cheating”? As a creative professional you have a right to focus on what you like and adjust things according to your style: be it “realism” or unreal pastel tints!

  22. Anna Hettick on March 23, 2012 at 10:35 am

    I don’t believe it’s cheating to use photoshop or any post processing software. As long as you don’t pass off a photo as the original SOOC shot after it’s been edited. To me the editing part is or can be so much a part of the art you are creating. I think as long as you are honest then there are no reasons to not edit.

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