Call me Mr. Sensitive, but I feel wounded when someone looks at a piece I have done and says, “Photoshop?” I am not sure what they mean. Are they saying that it is not a straight photo, it was manipulated? If that’s what they mean, Duh.

Are they saying that they know my trick? That they could do the same thing if they had Photoshop? In other words, they can reduce what I did to one word, the name of a piece of software that I used? (Before you ask, this post was written using a piece of software called Ecto.)

Are they saying that I cheated?

Whichever of these they intended, it feels reductionist. To me, the question is as odd as looking at a painting and saying, “Brushes?” The tools we use are just constraints and/or opportunities. It is the vision and the skills that create the final piece, not the tool.

war_&_peasYes, the arms were attached to the peas using Photoshop. But the piece began with a still life of peas on black velvet. The pea on the rim is not “photoshopped” in, it is attached with a staple to the pod. I shot the arms of someone on a trampoline to get the feeling of free fall that I wanted for the peas in the foreground. And even though I used a software tool to bring in the arms, I hand-painted the shadow and the texture to make it feel like they are part of the still life.

When I started using Photoshop (version 1) no one outside of a small circle of engineers even knew what it was. Now everyone proclaims themselves an expert. And they seem to believe that you just push a button and the arms are extracted from their original background, and made to look like they are part of the peas. I had a photographer contact me recently with an image of a couple in front of an ugly background. She asked, “Where is the Photoshop command that will take them out of their background?” She was very frustrated when I told her that there was no such command. There are various tools that would allow her to remove the background, but she would have to figure out the right tool for the situation, and do the work.


It is bad enough that Photoshop has become a verb, it is now also a term of derision. A teen complained this summer that his summer camp had gone downhill because their group photo had been “photoshopped.” I am not even sure what that means. Was it because I had used Lightroom to convert the raw image? Was it because I had tweaked the contrast? Was it because the colors were so vibrant? Was it because the background trees weren’t blown out by the sun? Was it because the camp logos had been composited? The camp director thought that it was because the people at the far ends were a little distorted. He at least knew that particular effect was caused by the wide angle lens and the fact that I did NOT use Photoshop to correct the distortion.

The irony is that the one element that could be considered classical “photoshopping” wasn’t even noticed. One camper had to leave early. So I took a photo of the kid the night before, and inserted him into this group shot.

Can you spot which kid was added?


Art by feifer

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