Is Photoshop Cheating?

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How many times have you been told or read somewhere that editing pictures in Photoshop takes away from the art of photography? We hear it every day somewhere online.

Therefore we wanted to whip out our magnifying glasses and investigate.

Does editing photos destroy the pure art of photography?

Is it just a lazy process we’ve come to use instead of improving basic camera skills?

Is using Photoshop cheating?

If you’re someone who’s on the fence about this issue or is an absolute purist to photography then you’re going to want to stick around for the conclusion of this case!

Get the skinny with our YouTube investigation on whether using Photoshop and other editing software is a negative process to photography. 

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There’s Two Sides To Every Story

Why is this even an important topic to investigate?

Does it really matter to photography or is this a completely overblown conversation?

Here are the two current points of view on this debate:

  • In a world filled with fake news and disinformation, photographers who use editing software are contributing to this society of embellished information and skewering the reality that is around us.
  • On the other side, some say there two types of this art now starting to emerge, one is pure (no editing) and the other is edited. But you can both be called photography? Or should there be a new sub-genre made for those who love to edit in Photoshop?

Let’s look at some facts to start to clear up this mess…

Editing in the 19th Century

You might not think we start this far back but the absolute truth of the matter is that photographs have been edited in some manner or form since the 19th century.

OK, they didn’t have Photoshop or Lightroom back then but their own primitive methods. Photographers would have to physically cut out aspects of their photos from a print. Then they would replace it with something else and then re-shoot the composite to make it look new.

Copyright Thomas Hicks 1860

It was famously done with Thomas Hicks’ portrait of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 where he used the face of Lincoln over the image of politician John C. Calhoun.

As years went by the process of editing continued using different technology. Film photographers will tell you that standard darkroom techniques such as dodging and burning would regularly be used.

They could also add tints to the image by adding chemicals and dyes in the process. Just in the same way you can add colour filters to your shots in a digital camera or with Photoshop’s adjustment layers.

Pause for Thought…

If the foundations on what we refer to as pure photography are actually riddled with techniques where photographers would change elements of their pictures after they’ve been captured by the film. Then can we really be sure that pure photography is so pure?

Let’s think about this further. After a bit more digging, we’ve found a stack of photographs, some of which you may recognise, that have all been edited in some way after they were taken…

Fake Photos Exposed

Copyright Bob Gruen 1966

This supposed photograph of two revolutionaries, John Lennon & Che Guevara, never took place. After circulating online for many years the overriding error is that Guevara died in 1967 and Lennon didn’t cut his hair this short until 1970. 

Copyright Elise Wright 1917

Sherlock Holmes author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle famously tried to convince the world that Elsie Wright’s playful fairy portraits were real. It took until the 1980s before Elise and her sister admitted that they were all fake. 

Former Italian leader Benito Mussolini was renowned for portraying a heroic image of his leadership. This is just one of many examples where Mussolini would have elements of photographs doctored to make him look more powerful.  

Same horse but a different rider. Another leader obsessed with self-image was former US President Ulysses S. Grant. Can you see how he has been edited in place of Major General Alexander M. McCook on his horse? They even gave him a new background!

Therefore, now we have to ask if edited images we thought were pure beforehand and which haven’t altered our perception of the world are a bad thing for photography? No one made an uproar upon finding out, no one said they shouldn’t be doing this.

So why is it happening now?

Is it a case that photography has gotten so competitive that people are looking for ways of putting people down? Or is it just a simple fact that there are envious people out there who wish they had the skills to improve their photoshop skills?

Is Photoshop Fact or Fiction?

Every photo carries a message and if that original message is completely changed via editing then maybe it does become another form of visual art or mixed media but small retouching tweaks have to be expected or allowed at least within the purist’s remit.

Either way, there will be a line of transcendence that everyone will draw to decide how much editing is too much in our own opinions. And we think that’s what matters, it’s a personal opinion and it should stay that way.

There is no need to call people out on it. If the original image was taken on a camera then surely it’s a photograph? As long as you enjoy what you do – does it really matter? Not to us, we love editing photos that’s why we’ve got hours of Photoshop tutorials across all our online photography courses.

Is Photoshop Fact or Fiction?

We think it’s important to discuss these issues, but hearing your thoughts on the matter is just as important too.

Get in touch and let us know whether you think whether you edit your photographs, and have you ever considered it cheating? Why do you edit your pictures? Are you trying to achieve something that you couldn’t in camera? We’d love to know your stance on this.

And if you want to know more about Photoshop and how to get started on your photo editing journey then we’ve even got an entire online Photoshop course dedicated to teaching the secrets of digital artistry.

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Find us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and we’ll share out some of the best parts of this debate to see if we get a clearer answer.

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