Should I use photoshop as a professional photographer?

The Case For and Against Professional Photographers and Photoshop

Technology continues to evolve to make life and work easier and more convenient. If Alexander Graham Bell were alive today, he’d be shocked to see his invention is no longer just a tool for communication. People can run an entire business out of a smart phone.

So why does the use of Photoshop elicit controversy? In some cases, discussion incites venom and vitriol.

Bad Photoshop almost always makes it to Internet headlines. Do you remember the Beyonce “thigh gap” scandal on the cover of Bazaar? Or how about when “Titanic” star Kate Winslett lost her fabulous curves on the cover of GQ?

In this day and age of social media, the uproar can spell disaster of “Titanic” proportions for the publication, the photographer and the celebrity. A well- meaning re-touch has now become an issue with social messaging implications!

But love it or hate it, Photoshop has become part and parcel of the arsenal of many professional photographers. There are strong advocates for and there are staunch critics against the use of Photoshop.

What’s in a software and why has it polarized the photography community?

What is Photoshop?

Photoshop is a graphic design software that was created by Adobe. It is normally used by photographers and graphic designers to make improvements on design or an image in question.

The idea of retouching photos is nothing new in photography. Before Photoshop came around, photos were retouched in the dark room with film. The digital age brought new features and more advanced technology to the table which made re-touching easier and faster.

Advantages of Using Photoshop

Photoshop offers greater benefits to a novice photographer who does not have the experience or necessary skills to take great photos.

But professional photographers have Photoshop handy just in case conditions are not ideal for the proper shot. As a photo- editing software, Photoshop offers photographers the following advantages:

  1. Touch Ups – Sometimes you can’t help it when a speck of dust ruins the entire photo or an errant passer- by accidentally “photo bombs” your moment. How about that unexpected ketchup stain? Photoshop can remove these distractions and keep the image as perfect as possible.
  1. Color Enhancement – Photoshop has tools that help you change the hue of any color you wish to enhance. For example, you can make greens and reds more pronounced and appear more vibrant on sweaters and scarves for a Christmas catalogue.
  1. Layering – With Photoshop you can add layers to your photos to give you more room to exercise creativity. You can experiment and add or decrease layers to see which set up presents your image in the best possible way.
  1. Easy to Use – The interface of Photoshop is very organized and user- friendly. Importing and editing photos on the software is fast and easy to do. You can work on multiple videos and images at the same time.

In the real world, perfection is a fleeting goal. For professional photographers who are hired to take photos that would represent products at their most marketable  best, Photoshop gives them the opportunity to achieve perfection.

Disadvantages of Using Photoshop

On the flipside, there are also disadvantages to using Photoshop. Outside the expense factor, the disadvantages lie in how Photoshop is used.

  1. Expensive – Adobe Photoshop is not cheap. In fact it is more expensive than most photo-editing software in the market. It also needs a good, reliable and equipped computer to run in. It requires a large amount of RAM and space in your computer.
  1. Easily Abused –  Despite its bells and whistles, Photoshop remains above everything else, a photo- editing tool. The problem with some photographers is they use Photoshop to compensate for lack of skill.

Photography is first and foremost an art form. If you want to become a good photographer, you must constantly work on your craft.

Some of the best photographers in the world do not even use high-tech cameras much less Photoshop. They learned how to handle the camera and understood all the elements of great photography particularly light.

Light is the most important component of image composition. The best photographers use light as its main tool to bring images to life not Photoshop. If there’s not enough light, they find ways to capitalize on what’s available.

That is creativity; which is one of the most important qualities of a good photographer.

In a world that has grown politically correct and socially sensitive due to social media, abusive use of Photoshop will override the primary message or intent of the image.

In the Beyonce and Kate Winslett episodes, the use of Photoshop was perceived as promoting an unhealthy body image. It brought to light ongoing concerns on body shaming.

For aspiring photographers, Photoshop becomes a crutch. It encourages short cuts and makes them more reliant on technology than developing basic photography skills.

Case Study: Café Photos Taken Without Photoshop

To deny the importance of Photoshop to photography would be like favoring analog to smart phones. Technology had a purpose for creating them and there are irrefutable advantages to using Photoshop.

But as a photographer, the primary focus is to take great photos. When you are signed up for a photo assignment, your first question should be “What should my approach be in setting up this photo shoot?” not “What settings should I use on Photoshop?”

We recently took product shots for a café. Our objectives were as follows:

  • Make the items on the plate look appetizing
  • Highlight elegance of food plating and presentation
  • Create product shots that would encourage purchasing behavior
  • Train eye focus on the main item itself
  • Create an impression of a premium brand in the mind of the consumer

For this photo shoot, we did not use Photoshop for editing purposes. We wanted to capture the product as organically as possible.

Hangar Steak Close up

Consumers tend to be more vigilante when it comes to food advertising. Can you imagine being enticed by a photograph of a thick, juicy burger on plump, shiny, freshly baked buns only to be served paper- thin patties between 2 pieces of stale, soggy bread?

We had the following criteria for the shoot:

  1. Lighting – People will talk about the importance of lines, angles, shapes and contrasts. But without proper lighting, all of that will remain irrelevant.

When we arrived at the cafe, our immediate concern was to set up the shoot in a way that would harness available light. Food must be presented in a bright and clear manner which creates an impression of freshness.

Shadows would only serve to add depth and not cover or detract from the main products.

  1. Composition – When composing the picture, leave out the details. The camera will take care of that. Our approach was to find the boldest, emphatic yet most basic lines and configurations that the eye can plainly see.

Composition is like the context of a story. People will have a general idea of the story you are trying to tell with their first look at the photograph. Eventually, they pick out the details and arrive at the deeper content of your material.

  1. Eye Path – It is normal for our eyes to be drawn to the most colorful or exuberant components of an image. Then it slowly drifts away and explored what else there is to see in the picture.

It’s also natural for people to scan objects from left to right because that is how we read. Finally we limit dark areas because these are the last things people look for. We wanted to keep their attention focused solely on the products.

  1. Color – Another powerful element in photography is color. Studies have been made on how colors influence buying decisions. Food in particular has close associations with color.

The right use of color can connote freshness, juiciness and quality. Contrasts can also be used to emphasize quantity or intensity. For example, fine dining foods are served in small quantities because the flavors are very intense.

Thus, fine dining foods are often served in white, large plates. It draws your attention directly on the food itself. The size of the serving plate becomes a metaphor for its intense flavor.

  1. Food Styling – To avoid the need to use Photoshop, we made sure there was no need to re-touch the photos.

Before taking the shot, we removed everything on the plate that could become a source of distraction. As consumers, we are usually wary on how food is presented.

Distractions such as errant sauce spillage could take away attention on the main item. Plating was executed with precision. We made sure all sauces were wiped clean.

The Verdict

You will notice from our product shots that the orientation of the items on the plate made it easier to notice the primary components of each dish. Plating was done with a left to right orientation. In fact, available light created shadows on the left side of the plate to add depth to the image and made it stand out.

Since people tend to veer away from dark colors, we emphasized the bright red color of the perfectly cooked Hangar Steak to draw attention to product freshness and quality. The steak should be the star and we made it the star of the plate. Its green colored sauce was used as a layer to the steak and give it a more pronounced three- dimensional effect.

No Photoshop involved in this photo

Lighting played a big factor in a multi-layered dish like Carbonara. Proper lighting allowed all the ingredients to stand out. You can easily distinguish the bacon, cream sauce, mushrooms and shaved Parmesan cheese.

It was quite an accomplishment because the Carbonara is rather a plain, drab looking dish. But proper use of lighting made it more vibrant and appetizing.

By contrast, take a look at the poorly executed shot of the Tiger Prawns dish. Anybody who has been to Singapore knows this is one of the country’s signature dishes.

Poorly positioned lighting. Food looks flat and not appetizing

But where are the prawns?

You hardly see them because the photographer emphasized the bright red colors of the peppers and the greens of the vegetables. The prawns ended up camouflaged against the back drop of the sauce which has the same color. Thus, the star of the plate were the chilies not the prawns!

There is no contrast between the color of the plate and the background. It does not draw attention to the food because you cannot distinguish depth.

We believe our readers enjoy taking pictures of their food and sharing it on social media. We’ve come across food shots taken with a camera phone that were truly amazing.

But when it comes to business, the difference between the cash register ringing or remaining silent can be measured in terms of lighting, composition, color, eye path and distractions.

Ask yourself which pictures would compel you to patronize a restaurant. Or if you are a proprietor, which photos would entice a customer to patronize your business over another.

In the end, the success of a photograph would always come down to the skill of the photographer and not the latest technological innovation.

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