Thursday, April 30, 2009

Media Literacy in the Age of Photoshop

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(Posted by Ryan)

Photoshop is a tool that has become synonymous with photography. Every single photo that I deliver to my clients or use to market myself has been through Photoshop at least once. I am a very minimal retoucher, but even still I use Photoshop as a tool to deliver higher quality images to my clients. I think you would have to be crazy not to use this powerful tool to polish your images, but I also think it's incredibly important not to rely too heavily on Photoshop to make a bad image look somewhat interesting.

I strive to get everything the way I want it in camera before I press the shutter button. I think this is a practice that is often overlooked. I've had clients say to me, "You can Photoshop that later can't you?" The answer that to question is, 'Well yes, maybe. But it's most likely going to cost you more than if we just take care of it now.' Sometimes as photographers it can be easy to get wrapped up in the heat of the moment and think, 'I'll just take care of that later.' I've been guilty of this in the past and let me tell you from first hand experience that a heavily photoshopped photo does not make a crappy photo better. It might just make it tolerable to look at.

This quote from Martin Schoeller says it all: “If you want to be a photographer, be a photographer ten hours a day instead of spending five hours retouching some half-ass picture you don’t like in the first place.” - from Charlie Fish via APE.

Photoshop is an incredibly powerful tool that can be used for high levels of creativity, but at the same time it has been utilized by many to reinforce mass media's unnatural idea of what constitutes beauty. Photoshop is used on virtually every image you consume on a day to day basis and often helps to support these exaggerated ideals of beauty.


I came across a link to a website called Girl Power today and thought this a perfect example of how images are worked so much that the subject becomes a false representation of itself. Take a look at the Girl Power retouching demo. Keep in mind that this is an interactive image, so give it a moment to load and please take the time to share this with your family and friends. It's important that as media continues to evolve and shape our social identity that we ensure our children are growing up to be informed and media literate consumers.

What do you think of Photoshop? It obviously has relevance in today's photographic marketplace, but to what extent does it distort our perceptions of reality? If you're a photographer or designer, in what ways do you utilize this powerful tool?

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4 Response to Media Literacy in the Age of Photoshop

May 2, 2009 at 7:16 AM

Great article. I'm always amazed how folks outside of the design/photography community see Photoshop as a big red button that will fix what every problem you want changed. "You can just photoshop that, right?" is something I hear all too often. I think too, that with the extreme development of digital photography in the past 5 years, photography itself is unfortunately being taken for granted more and more. Again, to the folks outside of the design/photography community, a picture taken with a point and shoot Canon that fits in your pocket is the same as images taken with a pro camera.

What the folks outside of the community do see, however, is the great potential in Photoshop...so suddenly to be a great photographer equals being a great Photoshop button pusher. A great example is when you take someone's portrait, and they follow the shutter click with a smiling comment like "You can just photoshop me to make me look 10 years younger, right?."

May 4, 2009 at 6:08 AM

you're a awesome feminist boy Ryan! xoxoxo

May 4, 2009 at 8:39 AM

Spongedust, thanks for commenting. There are many button pushers out there making a great living off of photography. In the photographic industry it's possible to develop a style that merges bad photographs with intensive retouching to make marketable images. But I think we will soon see that a bad photograph with lots of pretty photoshop tricks is still a bad photograph.

As Uncle Ben said to Peter Parker, "With great power comes great responsibility." While photoshop is not exactly a power as great as that of Spider-Man, maybe it's a good idea to heed Uncle Ben's advice and be responsible with this powerful tool.

May 4, 2009 at 8:39 AM

Laura, I do what I can.

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