My First Photoshop Experience

Until today, I have never used Photoshop to edit my pictures. I often tell people it’s because I feel like it’s “cheating.” There used to be a time where photographers didn’t have Photoshop, or computers, or even digital cameras. They took their photos on film, developed them in a dark room, and had to do a lot work up front to get their work to look spectacular.

However, I think part of the reason I’m so against it is because I haven’t learned how to use it. Photoshop and other editing programs don’t magically turn a crappy photo into an amazing one. It still requires a talented person to frame the shot, find the right exposure, work with the lighting, etc. Sure, technology allows us to “tweak” the photo to make it better, but that itself is an art form. This is especially apparent when you try to use Photoshop for the first time, as I did today.

Don’t get me wrong. I still kind of think there should be separate photo contests for photos adjusted in “post-processing” and those that were taken exactly as they appear. Or maybe when people put their shutter speeds and f-stop information on their photo, they should also indicate what editing tools they used. Maybe once I learn more about this tool, I’ll start to feel differently, but for now I’m still a bit of a skeptic.

That said, I decided today was the day to try my hand at the basics of Photoshop.

In the photos below, I didn’t edit the actual picture at all, but I taught myself how to add a border, add a text box with my name, “flatten” the image, and save the file as a jpeg.

To all the not-so-clueless photographers out there, what do you think? How did I do? What photo editing program(s) do you use? How much do you actually edit your photos? What skills do I need to learn in Photoshop? I’d love to hear your thoughts.


9 thoughts on “My First Photoshop Experience

  1. Great job! These are beautiful. I’m also teaching myself Photoshop (Elements 9 for me). You might actually teach me something: how did you make the water green? The paint tool? Photoshop is definitely something you need to spend time on and practice. I just ordered a book myself, since it gives how-to’s on different effects.

    • Thank you! I actually did not make the water green. Chicago has a tradition of dying the river green on St. Patrick’s Day weekend, so I took this on Saturday and it IS that green! I just used the “color accent” feature on my Canon PowerShot that focuses on the green and turns anything not green to black & white. But the river color was completely natural! No Photoshopping there!

  2. I have mixed feelings about Photoshop (I actually use The GIMP, because I can’t afford Photoshop right now, but same basic thing). At this point, every single picture I take gets “photoshopped” — that is, brightness, contrast, color saturation, etc. gets tweaked in post-processing. As far as I can tell from reading, and conversations with other photographers, this is basically par for the course. And really, even with film cameras, you had control over these aspects when you were developing the photos, so I don’t really consider that “cheating.” For me, it’s a choice between taking 20 different pictures of the same subject trying to find the perfect balance of settings, or taking one picture of the subject and finding the right setting balance afterwards. That leaves me free to worry about composition and framing while I’m actually taking the photo. I learned long ago that my mind is too small to keep track of everything I need to before I take a shot. Almost every photography contest you can find allows this type of editing.

    Then you get into slightly more questionable areas — oops, that person wasn’t supposed to be in this photo, I’ll just edit him out. I do this type of editing to my photos, but I try to do it as sparingly as possible, for two reasons. First, it feels a bit more like cheating — if I allow myself to not worry about technical aspects so much so that I can focus on composition, and then I screw the composition up, I shouldn’t get a free pass to a good photo anyways. Also, this type of editing is quite time-consuming, and hard to get to look right (at least for me). Though, Photoshop’s context-aware heal feature makes this substantially easier. Depending on the photo, I will sometimes (but not always) note when I make this kind of correction. If I had to remove a major scene element, I usually will note it. If there’s something in the background (like a wall outlet) that mistakenly made it into the photo, I usually won’t bother. Depending on the photo contest, this type of editing may or may not be allowed.

    The third type of editing that I will often do is for artistic effect. This includes things like your Chicago river shots — selectively making parts of the photo black and white. Also in this category are things like HDR (high dynamic range) shots, where you overlay 3 or more shots of the same subject to eliminate shadow and oversaturation. Specialized filters, posterization, and other “special effects” fall into this category as well. Once you get here, you’re starting to cross into digital design rather than photography. I do these kinds of things occasionally, but they tend to be incredibly time-consuming for me, and they start steering away from pure photography, which is more my interest. In most cases, however, it’s blatantly obvious that something has been done in post-processing to these types of images, but I will always note what I have done (mostly to satisfy viewer’s curiosity. Sometimes I will even post “before” and “after” shots).

    So anyways, that’s my two cents. I think you will find that as you start taking more photos, it will become an essential tool for you — but, that doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re “cheating”.

  3. That’s exactly the kind of “two cents” I was hoping for! 🙂

    I really like your point about the “choice between taking 20 different pictures of the same subject trying to find the perfect balance of settings, or taking one picture of the subject and finding the right setting balance afterwards” and being free to focus on framing and composition.

    Obviously as I am just getting started with all this, I want to take lots of photos of the same subject while playing around with the settings to get the right settings because that’s the only way I’ll ever learn. But over the weekend when I was out and about taking “real” photos, as opposed to in my apartment photographing books and food and other objects that don’t move, I found myself getting really frustrated. I couldn’t figure out the right settings for the changing lighting, and I felt like I was trying to remember 20 different things at once!

    I also really like the way that you categorized the three different types of editing. I think the first one is the one I need to learn, and it helps to know that it’s more of an acceptable “tweaking” than cheating.

    And, as for the second type, I can see how that kind of editing has its place. You have the perfect wedding photo, or scenic picture you want to blow up and hang on your wall, but there’s that one piece that doesn’t belong. Although, when I think of this kind of Photoshop work, I also start to think about magazines and photos in other types of publishing where it can be used to completely manipulate reality. (e.g. I could be a supermodel, too, if I had someone to remove wrinkles, blemishes, and an extra 20 pounds off me.) 🙂

    Thanks again, and also thanks for continuing to read and keep up with my journey!

  4. Everything you can do with Photoshop can be done in a darkroom, though it might take a lot longer and be a lot harder. But, there’s nothing new there and photographers have been tweaking and manipulating images forever. It’s just a tool, same as an xacto blade or a bucket of chemicals or an enlarger.

    How you use it is up to you, and what result you’re going for. You are a “straight photographer” so pasting a grizzly bear eating the motor boat would probably feel like cheating to you, but if you were a surrealist it would be a hell of a lot easier than tracking down a grizzly bear and getting him to attack the boat, or collageing the images together from prints or negatives.

  5. Oh! I didn’t realize they did that to the river. Duh! Still, it’s cool!
    And I like David’s perspective on Photoshop. I agree that it can be easier to sort of “fix” the photo afterwards, instead of getting all of the camera settings perfect before taking the shot. However, it can be easier, but for this reason, I still don’t have all of my camera settings figured out yet!

  6. David and Laura make great points – Not sure I have anything insightful to add. However, I will echo that presentation is key. If I present my style as photojounalistic, I really shouldn’t be messing around with adding/removing elements. On the same hand, if I’m presenting as a graphic artist, I probably want to do more tweaking then “straight out-of-camera”.

    Personally, I do the majority of my post-processing with Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software – Mainly color-correction and brightness/contrast type adjustments (also good for RAW to JPEG conversion). When delivering files to clients, that’s as far as I go. However, I do tend to throw a little vignette on files I share online or print and typically I bumb up the saturation/contrast on website/blog pictures.

    That said, I think you did a great job with the borders and text! I look forward to seeing where your Photoshop explorations take you – As that is definitely an area I, personally, need a lot of work on. I’m hoping you can do all the hard work of learning and perfecting and can then teach me the shortcuts 😉

    Finally, thank you for the link to my website! You’re awesome and I intend to return the favor when I finally get around to putting some links up on my page 🙂 Keep up the great work!

  7. Pingback: Learning about Shutter Speed: Water « Clueless Photographer

  8. Pingback: Sometimes Photography Is Frustrating | Clueless Photographer

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