To Photoshop or Not to Photoshop?

Adobe shipped the first version of Photoshop in 1990, with subsequent launches of the program in versions 2.0, 2.5, 3.0, 4.0, 5.0, 5.5, 6.0, 7.0, CS, CS2, CS3, and CS4 (and counting) between 1991 and 2008. I started editing scans of my black and white photographs with Photoshop 2.0, so I guess you might say that I’m fluent in Photoshop.

As a native photoshopper (the verb, unlike the product, remains all lower-case) I will admit to knowing the parts of the application that I use all of the time, nearly every day, repeatedly as thoroughly as anyone else. I can tell you what each letter of the alphabet will do as a hot key (possibly with the addition of another key, such as Shift, Command, or Option). And I work as much as I possibly can without relying too heavily on the mouse. Using hot keys takes less time than using the mouse, and it is more prone to accuracy.

However, with so many new bells and whistles added to each version of Photoshop (the product, not the verb), I would not call myself an expert photoshopper.  Nor would I want to be an expert photoshopper, if that entails knowing every sub-menu, function, and tool. I am an expert at communicating visually. My ability to create and read message with graphics surpasses the average citizen who has fluent verbal skills. The distinction between creating and reading visual signs – a conceptual process rooted in making meaning from the relationship between abstract symbols, and practicing a set of skills is commonly made in the beginning of foundations level digital classes. Nonetheless, I always have that one student in my class who asks, “Are we gonna learn Photoshop in this class?”

I used to try to answer this question with the distinction made above, but soon realized that student is not even fluent verbally. The blinders are on, the seduction by bells and whistles has been made long ago. Then I found this post on (or, more likely a colleague sent it to me): 15 Images You Won’t Believe Aren’t Photoshopped.

Here is a new response for that very student. Why learn Photoshop when there is so much you can do in the camera alone?

As an aside, when I was an undergraduate student, I came to photography because I was in love with Jerry Uelsmann’s work. (Note: his website is great, but the book is even better. I have an autographed copy of Uelsmann: Process and Perception that I share with students).  I wanted to make work like his in the darkroom, and I did for about a year before Photoshop 2.0 came to our school’s computer labs! Images can be fantastic and whimsical by formal properties such as juxtaposition, scale, contrast, and the figure-ground relationship, or by symbolic or semantic relationships that appear within the frame.

Digital imaging educators, let this be the first step in that old “Photoshop Class” if you will. Create an image that you won’t believe isn’t photoshopped only using the camera. Then turn off the television for a week, put down your gaming apparatus, intentionally lose your phone, and see what happens.

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  • […] reworked, edited, and added material to an old post that I created for DesignEducator for the article section of the website. var […]


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