Photoshop Is An Essential for the Serious Photographer


8201, Teton National Park, Horses Grazing in evening pasture. The difference between the light levels of the sky and the pasture was huge. Without adjusting tonal levels in Photoshop, this picture would have been impossible.


If you want to be a serious photographer in the 21st century, Photoshop is essential.

Unfortunately, there are still many people that think using Photoshop is somehow cheating.  This is especially true in the case of landscape photography.  True, Photoshop can be used to falsify photographs by taking out unwanted objects in a scene or by putting foreign objects into a picture. However, this is not the way most real landscape photographers use photoshop.

Mostly real landscape photographers use Photoshop to bring a scene back to what it actually looked like before the camera screwed it up.  For example, cameras don't see nearly as many levels of brightness as the human eye does.  This is why photographs often show what was originally a bright blue sky as blank white or why they show the gorgeous shadows at dusk and dawn as pure black.  One of the main jobs of photoshop is to fix problems like this.

Photoshop is also for correcting color balances, for making pictures as bright and colorful as they were in the real world, for correcting contrast problems, for correcting all kinds of lens problems, for resizing pictures in all kinds of ways, and for a million and one other things that are absolutely indispensable to any real photographer.  I couldn't be in business as a landscape photographer for even one day without it.

Teton Ranch RoadAnd Photoshop keeps getting better and better all the time.  Every two years they come out with an update that once again revolutionizes the world of photography.

For example, for the past several updates, Photoshop has been making both Bridge and the Camera Raw module in Photoshop better and better.  With Photoshop CS-4 they have got it pretty much perfected.

The files in your digital camera can now be downloaded directly into Bridge where you can sort, label, arrange, save them in many different ways and then open them directly into Camera Raw.  Here you can edit one or more files all in one spot.

There are several advantages to editing in Camera Raw.  For one thing, when you edit in Camera Raw, the original capture is never altered, you can always go back to it and start all over again.  It is like the old days, when your original image capture on a negative or a chrome always remained the same no matter how many different ways it was printed.  Secondly, many of the edits that are done in Camera Raw are lossless.  For example it is possible to correct exposure by one or two stops and radically change the white balance without degrading the image at all.

In the new Camera Raw I can correct exposure big time.  I can correct color balance, I can fix burned out skies and blacked out shadows.  I can adjust contrast and sharpen the picture in a new and non-damaging way.  I can reduce noise that the camera may have introduced and I can correct all kinds of lens errors.  And I can do all this in one place with a few clicks in a matter of seconds and I can do most of it without degrading the image.  And I haven't even gotten into the main Photoshop program yet.

So, if you are seriously interested in photography, you need Photoshop.  And,  you will need some help in getting started with the program.  Don't try to learn it by trial and error.   This is a huge mistake. Probably the easiest way to get started is to watch some good tutorials.  And probably the best place to find great Photoshop tutorials is Lynda on the internet.  For $25.00 a month you can watch all the tutorials you can stand, on just about every important graphics program that exists.  After the first month you will probably know all you need to know about photoshop to use it well.

I'm a book guy though.  My favorite series of Photoshop books are written by Martin Evening, a British fashion photographer who knows most of what there is to know about Photoshop and then some. He writes a big fat book on every new Photoshop edition every two years.  His books are called "Adobe Photoshop for Photographers."  If you are an total novice to Photoshop, you might want to put off buying Evening's book for awhile; he does tend to whip through the basics pretty fast and spends most of his time on the complex new stuff.  Get on Amazon and find a beginner's book that you think you can handle, read it quickly and then move on to Martin Evening.

I used to recommend that novices buy Photoshop Elements which is kind of a Photoshop light that is much less expensive than the real thing.  However, the new digital cameras are so good, and the new full Photoshop is so wonderful, that now I have a different recommendation, or actually two recommendations.

If you just want to take some great pictures of the kids and vacations and friends and what-not, I would buy the best digital camera you can afford, set it to take jpgs and use the default setup on the camera.  I would forget about Raw Capture, Photoshop, editing pictures and all that time consuming stuff.  As good as digital cameras are these days, you are going to get some pretty great pictures right out of the camera.

However, if you are seriously interested in photography and you want to take and print gallery quality pictures (and this is a real possibility, for anyone),  I would buy the full Photoshop.  But, keep in mind that this is going to be a serious investment in both time and money.

 Wildflowrs on Logan PassPhotoshop CS4 for Windows is $587.00 and $688.00 for Mac at Amazon.  You can get student editions for around $200. 00 however.  I don't have any experience with student editions and can't say if they are a good deal or not; however, my experience with other kinds of student editions is that usually something is missing.  And, you really have to be a student.  If someone reading this has some info on the student editions of Photoshop, let me know in a comment to this blog.

Becoming really proficient in Photoshop is going to take a serious investment in time as well as in money.  By the time you are done learning Photoshop, you are also going to have become a much better shooter and printer.  It all goes together, shooting and editing and printing.  You can't become an expert in one with being an expert in all three.  And it all takes some real time.

But, if you've got the money, the time,  the inclination and the passion and the determination, I can't think of a better way of spending one's time and money.  Making great pictures is incredibly rewarding.

P.S.    Now-a-days a lot of photographers are using Adobe Lightroom instead of Photoshop.  Lightroom is better than Photoshop at managing millions of picture files, it is a little less expensive and works a lot like the Camera Raw part of the full Photoshop.  Beyond this I don't know much about it since I haven't used it.   You might want to research Lightroom before you commit to the full Photoshop.