My photo blog (shameless plug: lightproofbox.com) has been getting some traffic from StumbleUpon lately which brings with it little waves of attention. 99% of it is positive. But invariably there are a few people who don’t seem to have anything better to do than to say trite, mean things (anonymously, natch).

Hey, I’ve been around long enough to know there are jackasses out there who, while not doing anything risky or creative of their own, will always be willing to bash what everyone else is doing. I let it roll off my back.

But the one that makes me laugh is when they claim a photograph has been “photoshopped.” Well, duh. That’s like looking at the ocean and denouncing it by saying, “Wet.” Photoshopped? Let me think… Um, yes, please!

I modify 99% of my published photos. Of the thousand I’ve posted to Flickr there are maybe a half-dozen that I posted as-is from the camera. My earliest photos had the least “work done.” Later, as I became more experienced with digital post-processing, I edited quite heavily (probably too heavily in many cases). Lately, as my skill, confidence, and ability to pre-visualize with the camera has grown, I’ve been able to get what I want with minor adjustments or black and white conversion but I still sometimes edit heavily.

I think that most people who cry foul over a photo think that it’s a complete fake (reasoning: there’s no way I could take that photo, therefore no one could, therefore fake) and that the photographer is trying to pass it off as if it weren’t. (Keep in mind I’m talking about art not journalism.) Like I’m using Photoshop to pull a fast one and it’s the duty of these sharp-eyed photo-police to point out to everyone that the photo isn’t “real.”

News flash: no photos are “real.” At best, they’re a cropped, 2-dimensional representation of something real. Photographs are stories. Every one. Some of the stories are simple: we saw a famous landmark. Some can have a much deeper, even spiritual, impact. A single photograph can tell different stories to different people. And the last time I checked, stories don’t have to be “real” to have real meaning.

By John Watson

John Watson is the original founder of Photodoto. If you're interested in what John has been up to, you can browse his personal blog.


  1. Perfectly said. Love it. I’ve found that with the extra traffic that social sites like stumble or digg you have to take the good with the bad.

    The Good: More traffic – woohoo!

    The Bad: Annoying, immature, unhappy trolls who love to complain, be negative and otherwise mess with general well-being – boooo!

  2. Reminds me of that old story about Picasso; Someone complained that his pictures weren’t real. He asked the person what he meant by real. In response, the fellow took a picture of his wife out of his wallet, and said “this is real”.

    Picasso squinted at the image and said “so you mean your wife is two inches tall, two dimensional and black and white?

    This has been something I’ve been working through, and haven’t come to a conclusion on. I have gone through a period where I didn’t even go into photoshop, but did all my tweaks in lightroom. Now, I’ve been going to photoshop again. We’ll see what happens when Lightroom 2.0 is finally released…..

  3. I got an email recently from someone who wanted to know if I Photoshop my photos. I haven’t replied yet but I’ll be telling him that, “No, none of my photos are Photoshopped.”

    Now, if he had asked about the GIMP, then that’s another story. I might change the byline on my blog to “No photoshop here” or something.

  4. Funny how everyone has their own take on what photography should be. I think many have this magical impression that photography is done entirely in camera. Much of it is, but styling (whether color correction or more aggressive edits) is an integral part in enabling a photographer to give their own interpretation and voice to an image. I wouldn’t worry about the nay sayers and stick to portraying the world as you see it.


  5. My best advice is to not spend time worrying about people who make comments like that. Clearly they don’t understand, and they aren’t willing to come up with any legitimate questions. They think they know everything, and that’s why they just flippantly make rude comments. If you know that you’re doing good work (which you are), then keep it up and soon enough real praise will come.

  6. Excellent post and right on the money.

    Now if they’d said your shot was “over-Photoshopped”… Them’s fightn’ words! Actually, I’d probably just tell them that they can’t comment unless they prove that their monitor has been color-calibrated! 🙂

  7. My friends always claim im cheating by using photoshop. When will people realise photo editing in the manor has been around since the first camera. Editing has simply moved on from physical wet manipulation to the digital dark room.

  8. I heartily agree with your sentiments… Somebody with more money than I can afford a camera that can make a lot of the adjustments, on the fly, that I can only afford to do in Photoshop. Does that make the wealthier photographer’s more “real photographs” than mine? Better, maybe (presuming he is wealthier due to his skill), but that doesn’t make his images more “real” than mine. 🙂

    The only “true photograph” by such a strict definition, I think, would be a slide shot with a pinhole camera!

    Journalism aside, the art of a photographer is the FINAL image, no matter how it’s produced…

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