Photoshop Replaces Talent?

This is an image of Mount Brooks as it would have come straight from my camera, using the Landscape picture style. Not bad, but definitely not complete in my eyes.
This is the same image, processed from the RAW file, using Digital Photo Pro and Photoshop. This image does a much better job of capturing the emotion I felt, flying up to this mountain. The same elements exist, and my exposure had to be perfect, but using Photoshop to bring out elements, dodging and burning certain areas, and enhancing color rendition, brings the image to a new level.

I have been struck recently by the number of people who seem to think that using Photoshop to enhance photos- or do post-processing of any kind- is somehow cheating. Recently, on my trip to Alaska, I was in a store that had photos from a local photographer who did an amazing series on the northern lights.  The shots were beautiful, but a comment from one of the staff when I asked about the prints struck me: “He doesn’t do any manipulation in Photoshop- everything is just as it came out of the camera.” I shrugged and walked away. First of all, I believe the statement is a bit disingenuous- there is post processing done on every shot taken with today’s digital cameras. Either you’re doing it yourself, or you’re letting your camera do it for you.

Then this morning, I was reading George Lepp’s column in Outdoor Photographer. A reader wrote in, railing against “post-processing” and wondering whether Photoshop has replaced photographic talent. George very nicely dispels “the myth of the simple, good old days of photography, where photographers were judged on their skills behind the viewfinder.” George then explains that it was the print that was judged, and whether you or someone else made the print, darkroom work- yesteryear’s “post-processing”- was still an essential part of photography.

George then sites Ansel Adams’ “Moonrise, Hernandez, NM” as a perfect example.  In the book “Ansel Adams: Some Thoughts About Ansel And About Moonrise“, by Mary Street Alinder

The finished "Moonrise, Hernandez, NM" print, by Ansel Adams

(Copyright 1999 Alinder Gallery), Mary Street Alinder explains:

“Moonrise, the negative, was far from perfect. It took me two years to convince Ansel to make a ‘straight’ print of Moonrise. He printed it without his customary darkroom manipulation as a teaching tool to show the basic information contained within the negative. Comparing this print with a fine print, one is struck by the immense work and creativity necessary for Ansel to produce what he believed to be the best interpretation of the negative. His final, expressive print is not how the scene looked in reality, but rather how it felt to him emotionally.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again- clicking the

The contact print for "Moonrise" by Ansel Adams

shutter is only half of the process. And asking “Is that what it really looked like?” is somewhat misguided is well.  That’s what it looked like to

ME.  All of the elements were there, but it’s my skill in Photoshop, and my skill at the moment the moment

of exposure, as well as my eye for composition, that brings out everything I saw.


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