Someone in one of my LinkedIn groups asked this question and recieved a torrent of information.

Most of the replies broke into one of two camps:

  1. You should get everything correct in camera
  2. To be a “pro” you need to use photoshop

First lets put aside the term “pro” and say instead that you are sereious about your photography. You may or may not sell your images, but you are proud of what you produce. Lets further stipulate that we are talking about printed images, as viewing on a screen, especually via a website (facebook or your own site), introduces too many complications to deal with here. And to keep things simple, lets not deal with reportage and photojournalism, as the post production for those images has very specific requirements.

First, you should try to get the best digital file out of your camera as possible. The better your initial file, in terms of sharpness, dynamic range, colour balance, etc, the better the final image will be. Software can enhance in image, it cannot really repair a bad image (we are of course not talking about repairing damaged prints and the like). Garbage in, Garbage out. Once you have this optimized digital file, every image can be made better. By better, I mean the final image will more closely match the photographers eye, and will communicate what the photographer wants to say more clearly.

Do you need photoshop to be a photographer?

I don’t think you need specifically Adobe Photoshop, but to get serious prints[1] you need to use some kind of image manipulation software. This image manipulation software must have a number of features to be able to work efficiently.

  • It must be able to work on selective areas. Some parts of the image need different approaches. For example, you may want to do some micro-contrast adjustment on some foreground rocks, but not on the distant sky.
  • Layers, once understood, make things so much easier to organize and tweak. This is one area Adobe gets very right. combined with adjustment layers and masks, you can work on an image and fine tune all of your adjustments
  • an easy way to script (automate) processes used on a regular basis. Again, Photoshop leaves the competiton behind in my experience.

Of course there are many other important things to consider, and some of these considerations will be different for different photographers and artists. For me, Adobe Photoshop comes the closest to what I want and lets me achieve my results in the least number of steps. Unfortunately for the sake of competition, most photographers agree with me.

So do you need Photoshop to be a photographer? Kinda, until something better comes along….

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Serious prints communicate the intent of the photographer more clearly than a straight print. It is a hard term to define, but every great classic print photographer, from Ansel Adams to Ernest Haas did some post processing. And this was in an era when post processing was much more difficult than it is now.
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