Why I don’t use Photoshop

I don’t know how to use Photoshop anymore, and I’m pretty happy that way, since I don’t really feel much of a need for it. Back when I did have it, I only used it for three things: making signs, making business cards, and creating a watermark that I could put on my images.

Most of the fancy post production tricks don’t fit my style of photography- removing unwanted objects from the images, adding that special gleam of light to an animals eye, adding other elements that weren’t there… It just doesn’t fit. I have nothing against Photoshop, but it’s not part of my world view or my photographic view.

If you see a gleam in the eye in my photos, it's because I waited until I saw it there naturally, and I positioned myself to the light

If you see a gleam in the eye in my photos, it’s because I waited until I saw it there naturally, and I positioned myself to the light

I consider myself a documentary photographer. That is, I am documenting the world around me. Be it an animal, a landscape, an event, or a person- I will try to give my most honest interpretation of what I see through the lens, nothing added, nothing taken away. I might pull a few blades of grass that will interfere with the view, but I do that before the shutter clicks, and I will not manipulate or pose the scene in other ways.

I do perform some minor manipulation on my computer, but I don’t see the need for fancy software. I may adjust the brightness or my exposure when I get home, if the image was a little light or dark. I may shift the white balance to correct the color more closely to what I saw, but I don’t try to add saturation to the images or shift the color into unreal realms. If I am giving my audience a picture of the natural world, I want it to be close to a real and natural state as possible with a photograph.

I likely do less than what many photographers of old did in the darkroom, but I still perform some processing that can be equated to the wonders created in those chemical dens. It doesn’t mean I am more or less of a photographer than those who Photoshop, it just means I am less of a Photoshoper.

I have no problem with people getting creative with their pictures, creating new images, new fantasies, but I consider manipulated images to be in a different genre. They are not documenting the world around them, even if they are giving a new version of the world. Photoshop is proper in its place, as my pictures are in theirs. If I am showing the realities of nature, I believe it is best to stay real. If you are submitting images to a nature magazine, it is likely that they feel the same.

Happy shooting,


About Galen Leeds Photography

Nature and wildlife photographer, exploring the world on his feet and from his kayak. Among other genres, he is one of the leading kayak photographers in Northern California. To learn more about him, visit him on his website- www.galenleeds.net
This entry was posted in documentary, ethics, nature photography, photography and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

46 Responses to Why I don’t use Photoshop

  1. newsferret says:

    Glad to meet another photographer who share my views. I will crop when needed of course but that is not manipulating.

    • Glad you’re of a similar mind. Cropping isn’t really manipulating, in fact it is probably about the easiest of darkroom tasks.

      I have a feeling that many of the followers of this blog will be of a similar mind. We will see.

    • Gunta says:

      Ahhh… Newsy, I begin to understand your objections to my photo workshop experience. Fear not. I suspect Photoshop is likely to be completely over my head. I think I simply need to become more familiar with my fancy DSLR. Wish you had introduced me to Galen’s lovely site…. found my way here through Quietsolopursuits.

      Galen, your photography is inspiring. I’ve wanted to do a kayak trip down the Rogue, but (as you covered in a previous post or comment) there’s that fear factor. Something I might try to overcome.

      • Photoshop was a little over my head, which is part of why I developed my philosophy on photography, and learned more about how to use my fancy DSLR. It also keeps me from spending too much time in front of the computer, and lets me explore nature instead (a situation I am much happier with). Quietsolopursuits has similar leanings, and you can also learn much from him.

        I’ve never kayaked the Rogue, but I’ve heard good things about it. I would say try paddling it without fancy cameras first, and get to know when and where you might want to have your camera out and where you might stash it away for safety. You won’t have fun on your outing if you are always worried about a camera, and being on the water should always be about enjoying yourself. Best to worry about just one thing at a time, your first trips down the Rogue, you want to be able to concentrate on yourself.

  2. animalartist says:

    Galen, I too really dislike this recent style of overmanipulated images–everyone’s images look the same! I am a graphic designer and have used Photoshop since it was invented in 1987, and that may be the reason I have some restraint. Professionally I’m often asked to manipulate the content of an image, and I’ll often have fun with an image on my own or I’ll run a disappointing image through filters, but when I’m documenting something, which is most of the time, the only corrections I make are to adjust the image as close as possible to the original, and to crop where it’s needed. The other use that irks me–I am also a fine artist in pastel, watercolor, pencil and ink–is when someone uses the “art” filters and tries to pass off a filtered image as a watercolor using the watercolor filter and it’s not a real painting at all. Oh, please! If you want a watercolor, learn to paint!

    • Ha! I couldn’t agree more, although when I first found the filter, I had fun looking at some self portraits as paintings … that was a long time ago though.

      Photoshop is definitely very useful, but it does need to be kept in its place

  3. Vicki says:

    I agree with you.. I have Paint Shop Pro, is that the same? and my use is restricted to cropping, brightening on a dark day and clarity sometimes.. I have no clue how to use it otherwise..

    • I think it counts, but not in a bad way. It’s all about what is the intent of your photos, and using or not using the software within that intent. For showing your love of clouds, I think that what you do is well within the bounds.

  4. Anne Camille says:

    Galen, this is an excellent post on the proper view or philosophy of Photoshop. That is, there is no right or wrong in using the tool, but there are some circumstances — such as documenting the natural world — where it isn’t needed and often not appropriate. Most important are your words “[I]t doesn’t mean I am more or less of a photographer….”

    I just recently started experimenting with Photoshop. There are times that I love using it to manipulate an image in a certain way and other times when it is only to add a watermark. It all depends on what I am trying to do. I get tired of reading some photo bloggers who are dismissive of “documentary” photography, elevating their own “art photography”. I want to say to them: “Get over it! They are different styles and it isn’t a contest.” I recently started an on-line class that deals a lot with using textures. It’s a lot of fun with still life photography — something that I don’t do a lot of. Why is it fun? Because it is new and challenging for me to try to shoot (and process) in a different way. I’m learning a lot, but most importantly is learning when I DON’T want to use Photoshop. I think I would rather “get it right” — including creative blur, etc with lenses — than manipulate it in PS.

    AnimalArtist — I’ve seen some very interesting images using the artistic filters in PS. I have experimented, but not been too happy with, the “watercolor” filter. Still, I continue to try it from time to time. BUT, I never would call it a “watercolor”. It’s an interesting effect, but it isn’t painting! I’m in awe of those who can paint!

    • Wonderfully stated Anne. There is no right or wrong to photoshop, it is all about how we choose to use it. There are times when I miss not knowing how to use it, especially for fixes like removing dust spots and cloning and stamping, but there are also other very useful tools with in it, when applied to the right style of photography, that aren’t just about “fixing” an image.

  5. As a long time user of Photoshop and a person who learned photography in the darkroom, I am very tossed on the recent photo manipulations. The problem is not Photoshop but apps like Snapseed and the like that has made these cheesy filter apps available to the masses. The proliferation of images on the web and the dribble you find on FB has taken the profession down a few notches in my opinion, and has affected professionals in very noticeable ways. What is considered photography on the web at FB is often laughable. The main problem is some professionals are now competing with amateurs hawking their work for little money or for free. How does one compete with free?

    I have written on this subject quite a bit in posts titled All Tech and Little Talent and Tough Times to Be a Creative. Since I am not a professional photographer, but a previous professional graphic artist that learned Photoshop back in the beginning, I have a great interest in what is transpiring on the web. What most people do not know about Photoshop, is the incredible power and endless possibility of the program for photographers and artists alike. I use it in my architecture presentations too. It adds to the CAD drawings.

    Many only know the few things you have tried and there is so much more that really makes images magazine worthy. You are fortunate and talented enough to have your work of this quality already.

    I am sure many high-end magazines use retouchers of high quality to manipulate color channels to really pop those photos for glossy print. If one knows this advanced technique, the possibilities are endless. Here is a link that you might try if you choose to sign up for Kelby Training for a trial. It is from a premier retoucher, with the lesson called: There are No Bad Originals, Pt. 1 & 2. http://kelbytraining.com/online/watch/margulis_no_bad_originals1
    There are also very good lighting classes there too.

    I have been throwing out less images because the recovery of information all ready stored in the image will surprise you. What you see on screen in your digital image is only a portion of what might actually be there. I do wholeheartedly agree with you as a nature photographer though. You need to keep it real. But real is also what you saw, not always what the camera saw. You know I love your work and am very glad it is as you saw it in the field. I aspire to that quality and technique.

    Oh you alluded to why we use Photoshop? Well, for the web and posts I rarely do. It takes long enough to upload and why waste time spent on this when there is things like real, money earning work to get done.

    Oh, and the comment on learning to watercolor… what can be done in Photoshop and associated filter apps would shock her. Many big name illustrators for animated movies do all their watercolor paintings in Photoshop, but they actually apply the ‘paint’ with ‘brushes’. The app has come a long way for creating art. I did four images of my birds as Photoshop paintings and am posting them shortly. I believe that no one passes off the paintings using the watercolor filter as real. It would be far too amateurish. Animalartist should look at the artists who do these paintings well. Sorry about how long this comment has become, but you probably know that this is a subject I am well acquainted and very passionate.

    • Dont’ be sorry about the length of your comment. I love it! I think Photoshop is an amazing piece of software, and am amazed by what it can do. If I knew more about it, I could likely save more of my shots that I lose to operator error (since as you metioned we are only seeing a portion of all the information available). I just worry that in my case, I would over stretch myself and not know when to stop, so I try to keep my manipulations minimal. I think that even with nature photography, I could likely go quite a bit farther than I do, and still present that “real” image. Also, for me, it is easier and changes time if I don’t have to go back later and spend as much time at the computer trying to adjust things. It’s what I like doing least, but that could partly be due to the fact that I’m not very competent at the adjustments… or even doing things like removing dust.

      I think most magazines would be completely lost if photographers weren’t allowed to (and in many cases required to) manipulate their images, and I think in many cases depending on the types and purpose of the images it can be a good thing. (Imagine a fashion or architectural magazine if the images couldn’t be controlled.)

      I also think that the unmanipulated photographs you are posting on your blog are good enough that they don’t need any serious adjustments, since it sounds like those aren’t Photoshopped.

      • Thanks, Galen. I have been refraining using my Photoshop know how to better myself as a shooter. I have worked in many creative disciplines and much translate between them, but there is so much in photography I learn each day, much from people like yourself. One learns in Photoshop that certain ways of doing the manipulations will repeat and can even have actions created for certain minor repairs. I find in time, you learn where to stop. The really great thing I find indispensable is the History panel. You can create states that take you back where you can compare to what you did subsequently. That way it looks fresh and one always stands out. I rarely comment during a work day, but working at a home office, your post title lured me in. :grin:

      • Ha! Well, I’ll try to keep my titles more circumspect from now on so that you can concentrate on the real work. Also, I keep meaning to get back to your post describing everything you’ve done to make your garden a safe, yet photographable haven for the smaller birds. Amazing work, and so ingenious some of the tricks you have come up with.

    • animalartist says:

      Garden Walk, I am Animalartist, the painter who commented, and I am also a 25-year user of Photoshop as well as a 30-year graphic designer and illustrator who trained before electronic media. I use all these manual and digital skills individually and in combination every day for both commercial and fine art, and in fact one of the places I use them all in combination is to illustrate, design and finish interpretive signage for conservation lands.

      I “do these paintings well” myself in both Photoshop and on paper and other media. I am surprised by what Photoshop can accomplish with its filters–in skilled hands–but two points: 1) the skilled hands are important and there are frightfully few of those; and, 2) even with skilled hands, the piece is not a watercolor or an original painting of any sort, it is a digital file, and while it may seem like the same thing to someone who is not a painter, and is in its own right an original work, there is a world of difference between a digital file and an original painting.

      • I agree with you. I am also trained in fine arts and have painted in oil, acrylic and watercolors. I also agree that many do digital work that is quite amazing. I also feel as you do that many are now doing the manipulations and proudly proclaiming themselves as artists, but in a way they are to a point. Everyone starts somewhere. Same with photography, but the web fills up with a lot of crap so to speak. I have been writing on this often, because like you I have been tossed by what is currently out there and how it is affecting pros in different fields.

  6. I want to thank you for a well written post on a subject that’s dear to my heart!

    I just did a similar, although poorly written post on about the same subject. I see a new crop of photographers coming that seem to be willing to settle for any old shot, just to get something to play with in photoshop. Then they attempt to turn it into what they could have gotten if they had thought about what they were trying to photograph in the first place.

    There has always been several schools of photography, and that will not change. What disheartens me is the way that nature as it truly appears is no longer good enough for many photographers, they feel the need to “improve” on it some how. I suppose that being a nature lover, that this bothers me on another level besides photography. When ever man begins to think that he can improve on nature, trouble soon follows.

    • I remember reading your post, and thought you expressed it quite well. Maybe that is part of why this issue has been bumping around in my mind. Thanks for helping to inspire me.

      I agree, that with nature photography, it is “nature” that should be allowed to create the scene. I also agree with Donna though, that it could be a shame to throw out an amazing image, simply because we messed up our camera settings. I have a photograph of a Red-tailed Hawk carrying an octopus that I would love to be able to better select which information the camera captured is being displayed. Right now it is a really noisy image (or actually series of images), since the sun had already gone down and the available light wasn’t enough for higher ISO settings, and through no fault of my own, just through timing and circumstances. I worry though, that the temptation would be too great, and I wouldn’t always know where to stop.

      • Thank you, you are too kind! And, that’s where I go wrong, I post my bad photos if they are of something as special as a hawk carrying an octopus.

        I love your blog, as it is one of a few that I follow that shows me what modern cameras and lenses are capable of. The technology has improved so much from the old film camera that I used for years. I know that you often write how you got the shot and settings you used, that doesn’t seem to help me as much as looking at your photos and figuring out for myself why your photos look so much better than mine!

      • Oh, I didn’t say I wouldn’t share such a photograph with others- in fact, I did on this blog post Hawktopus. It just would have been nice to have been able to clean it up enough, where it could have made a nice large print.

        I think that part of the key to getting good wildlife and nature shots is being out there (which you do) with as much regularity as possible, and making sure your camera is with you. And then, when you get home looking at your images nearly right away, and asking yourself why you do or don’t like a particular image. The more you see, the more you can photograph. Also, from what I’ve seen, your photographs have been continually improving in the year or two since I first saw your blog. You had some nice images then, and even better ones now. I end up getting some real stinkers with regularity, you just don’t get to see mot of those.

  7. I’m with you 100%. I have PSE only to crop for enlargements, make calendars with my photos, etc. I couldn’t have said it any better than you did.

  8. snappychat says:

    I agree with you, I don’t even own photoshop. My photos are exactly what I see through the camera lens. I like nature the way it is

  9. ljr3 says:

    I think photo manipulation should be kept to a minimum unless you clearly state what changes you have made. I prefer a photograph to be real, straight from the camera. I don’t have or use programs to enhance my images but then I am not trying to make a living as a photographer. As an amateur, photography can be daunting and a photograph may not fit the vision in our head. Instead of using photoshop, however, it would be better to experiment with the camera and really get to know what is possible through working the ISO, aperture and shutter speed in manual mode. I must admit it wasn’t until I started a blog and saw your blog and a few others that I got the nerve to take my camera off automatic. Now I leave it on manual. My photographs are not great, but I feel much more confident and in control of my camera, can achieve much more than I did in automatic mode, and most of all I am learning!

    • I’m happy that you’ve made the switch to manual. It is a much better mode for learning what cameras can really do, for seeing the affects that shutter speed, ISO, and aperture can have on an image.

      It’s part of what I love about photography, that chance to experiment and to learn.

  10. Great discussion Galen. I don’t use PHotoshop, didn’t “grow” up with it…. I do use LIghtroom to a certain degree and haven’t seen that mentioned here. I too prefer the natural photo, and have gotten feedback from some on the need to take a extra twigs, branches from a bird photo… Thanks for this healthy discussion, and I love your Rocky Raccoon!!!

    • I’m very happy with how much this has turned into a discussion, although it does seen to be largely one sided. That’s to be somewhat expected though, with a nature photography crowd. People are accepting of basic darkroom style manipulations, but avoid the gross manipulations (even if some of them were also possible in a darkroom) that give a view that is too different from what was in front of the lens.

      So happy you like the raccoon

  11. janechese says:

    I see a place for artistic expression using the Photoshop and going overboard with the saturations if it is done deliberately and occasionally but would rather be out shooting than glued to the computer editing. Yes, I played with HDR after this weekend but with a light touch that does not look artificial. I prefer the photo to look the way I remember it. Someone told me that some photographers clone out excess seed from a bird’s beak-too much for my taste. But everyone is different and “each to their own” but as long as I know what I want I am good with what I am doing and for me “less is more.”. I probably have too much hardware because I have “bent” to peer pressure – when I read something like what you have written, I breathe a sigh of relief…

    • I agree. It is actually a very useful tool, when used properly, just many people don’t know where to stop or get carried away creating what is essentially a new image, and then labeling it as what was there. HDR definitely has some amazing possibilities for showing more of what the human eye can see, and making up for the deficiencies of our cameras’ sensors.

  12. Nice post: while it’s fun and interesting to experiment with and see how other creative people are using and innovating Photoshop, I consider it a different skill than photography, especially the documentary type of photography you practice and advocate for here. It’s also bittersweet to watch the departure of darkroom techniques, exercising extreme patience to capture a specific moment, etc. Thanks!

  13. AngO says:

    I agree. I have no photoshop. Cropping and a little bit of adjusting for lighting/colour is all I use. If you need to use photoshop all the time, there’s something wrong!

  14. GOAT 山羊 says:

    Some good points here, I’ve never used Photoshop or any software more complex than iPhoto. A slight crop or straightened horizon if needed, a quick play with levels and it’s all over painlessly in under a minute per shot. I kept thinking I needed to at least try Lightroom or similar but I’m more inclined now to stick with my approach and try to improve what comes out of the camera first time. Almost all my photography is outdoor or nature-based and I spend MUCH more time stomping around in the hills than fretting over my pictures on the computer. And I’m usually happy with my results because they look real – no inverted commas necessary – to me, not the science fiction hallucinations that so many so-called outdoor photographers and calendar makers, etc, produce.

    • iPhoto is all I use, and for many of the same reasons. Much better to get it how you want it before it ever makes it to your computer so that you don’t have to lose all that time to the screen, but can instead enjoy the outdoors. I’m especially getting tired of the overdone and saturated look of all the HDR photos coming out these days. The first few times they were interesting, now though…

      I’m glad I’m not the only one that likes to explore the world instead of getting lost in the circuit boards.

  15. beachmama says:

    Nice to see your take on PS Galen. I have Photoshop and Lightroom on the recommendation of a professional photographer friend. I rarely use either. Shooting outdoors is where I’d rather be, not spending hours in front of the computer. I already spend far too much time there as it is . . . That said, I have a friend, Lawrence Beck, who does fine art photography and does it magnificently. He uses PS. He also prints his own massive prints and makes his own exotic wood frames. He’s a master and his images are stunning. He’s a perfectionist spending hours editing photos. Lawrence has his own style and it works. I’m happy when I get a good sharp image with nice contrast and color ; )

    • Photoshop can be a fantastic tool in the right hands, especially if that person really takes the time to learn how to use it. I think part of why I skip it all together is that I haven’t been willing to take the time to really learn it… It’s seems like it could be a vicious cycle where it takes many, many hours to learn it, then many more to use it once you know what you are doing and you want to give photos the proper touch. I guess it’s laziness that I try to get as much of it within my standards before I click that shutter- not that many of those people that are master photo shoppers don’t do the same (they’re just aiming for a different end product from the beginning).

  16. ingrid says:

    I fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. I also appreciate documentary style and like to shoot those photos myself. I love looking at context and environment shots — they are interesting to the eye.

    My mate comes from a film/darkroom background and taught me some of those skills. I also recognize that photographers through the ages have used the tools at their disposal to bring out the elements they desired in their photos. So, I’m not against post-processing. But I agree completely with your comments and the notes of others who suggest that PP is sometimes taking the place of good photography. I’m especially weary of the fact that photographers don’t disclose their methods when the shots have been dramatically manipulated. (Same thing goes for wildlife photographers who don’t admit to baiting, captive animals, etc.)

    I shoot RAW most of the time, and use Lightroom to enhance sharpness, contrast and white balance. Sometimes I do apply a bit of NR, as well. I have an old version of Photoshop which I’ve used for triptychs or collages, but not much else (although I just found a collage app that works just as well and is much easier).

    • I think you make in excellent point, in that if any serious manipulation occurs within a photograph, the photographer really should disclose that information. Not adjustments such as sharpening, contrast, NR, etc., but more serious manipulations. And it really does depend on the context of the shot and what it is being used for. Fashion magazines for example would go out of business without photoshop.

  17. leo brady says:

    I couldn’t agree more with the sentiments spoken about in this post. It seems once you go beyond the basic cleanup of an image, you’re changing the moment you worked so hard to capture. Further manipulation with a computer really creates a whole new moment (image). Some of those manipulations are very beautiful, but unreal.
    Maybe we just need a new name for this type of extended work. ;-)
    Thanks for the post!

  18. rondje says:

    Hello Galen,

    Totally agree with you on the overusage of it, especially hdr and oversaturation are very annoying to see. I use photoshop and some plugins, but I only want to reproduce what I saw and there´s limits to a dslr compared to our eyes,so much needed for that, even when documenting what we see! But thats just my opinion, i do feel the result needs to be as natural and real for the viewer as possible when documenting, greetings and thanks for great discussion-starter, Ron.

  19. Robert says:

    Great piece!! Totally agree with every word.
    The idea of photography is to capture an image as it exist in that moment in time. It is what the eyes behind the camera sees. The viewer of the picture should try to see the image as seen through the eyes of the photographer, not the photographer manipulating the image to bring forth what is not or enhance his/ her skill to appear greater than their abilities.
    I see nothing wrong with minor adjustments to a shot, as you mentioned, but if we use photo enhancing software to make our shots look better than they truly are then we rob ourselves of making improvements to the craft and to our abilities.

  20. Patrick says:

    I’m sorry if someone has already made this point. There are far too many replies, of a repetitive nature, for me to read them all.
    Perhaps I’m interpreting your post incorrectly but it seems like you’re drawing the line between photo correction and “artistic” modification too conservatively. I have seen photos that had too much saturation, sharpening, etc. applied but a LITTLE of these kinds of effects may be necessary to overcome our camera’s limitations. To assume your camera recorded what you saw is very generous to the camera. I have a very recent FF dSLR and it doesn’t always capture enough dynamic range to suit the scene. The auto WB is good but not perfect. Since some of the affects of capture don’t show in the viewfinder, I may have screwed up the settings (as others have pointed out).
    My point is this: while restraint in post processing is absolutely necessary, you shouldn’t state, definitely, which tools you will or won’t use in Photoshop or any similar program. Do whatever you have to, to reproduce what your eyes ACTUALLY saw rather than assume your camera already did that.

  21. And i thought i was the only one who found PS more a cheat sheet than the real deal. I also use it for cropping, mayby adjusting some light issues and then I try to achieve getting it right on camera the first time. I find it much to time consuming and somewhat makes the photographer lazy in knowing that he can manipulate an image afterwards. Some photos are manipulate beyond recognition and may people say oohhhh and ahhhh to something the photographer didn’t really accomplish as a photographer but rather a graphic artist.

  22. jane says:

    Fully agree – a lot of landscape photographs that have been heavily manipulated in photoshop look false. The excitement of photography for me is going out and looking for that super composition, waiting for the right light/time of day, etc., not taking a quick shot and then spend hours on a computer in photoshop creating something totally different.

  23. Jay Farrell says:

    There’s also no reason to leave a zit on someone’s face. I agree that Photoshop is a seasoning, not a main course, but it has it’s place.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s