A Few Thoughts on Photoshop

My blog has been sadly neglected of late, as I pour all my energy and free time into editing material for my book on Rajasthan. I have learned to both love and hate Photoshop - love, for its amazing capacity to rescue photos from the brink. Hate, for the toll it takes on my time and my eyesight. Just answer me this - if my camera can process a RAW file into a pretty passable jpeg in the blink of an eye, why can't PS do the same thing, but to TIFF format? Endless messing about with slider controls is not how I want to spend my evenings. Still, nothing good comes easy.

There's some really impressive photographic work around these days. I often dip into the web to see what other people are up to. Anyone who recalls the horrors of early digital photography could only be astonished by the quality of photographic art which is being produced now, using the powerful combination of digital capture and high-end image editing programs. There seems almost no limit to the capability of the medium, or indeed to the freshness of the ideas which continue to spill forth. I used to loathe Photoshop for making a lie out of the photograph, there is a fine line between tidying up a picture and falsifying it. I am however an unquestioning convert to its artistic use in creating pictures that cameras alone simply cannot make, unlocking a whole new world of artistic fantasy. It's also a relief to find that it's not all cheesecake out there, and some of today's most accomplished proponents are producing edgy, challenging ouevres.

How far can you go then, before a photo ceases to be a photo and becomes a work of fiction? It's a difficult question, depending as much on the context as the content. Today not even hard-line feminists would question the tidying-up of flaws in a glamour photo; it's the nature of the genre. Photo-documentary is another matter entirely. I personally wouldn't lose sleep over erasing an ill-placed telephone wire or an intrusive shadow, but the audience for this kind of photo expects truth. I'm wary even of using RAW files, because it's so easy to succumb to the desire to over-saturate colours or meddle with contrast for pictorial impact alone. It's not a new debate, all this was equally possible (though more laborious) in the traditional darkroom. It's about integrity. We want our pictures to be noticed, but we also want them to be honest.

A parting thought: the camera always lies. Even if we take the utmost care to reproduce colours, tones, contrast as close as possible to the orginal scene (to do so accurately is in fact a physical impossibility); even if we leave the content entirely unedited, warts and all; it is still a selective view. What we exclude from the frame is often as telling as what we include. The moment of clicking the shutter was the right moment to convey the thought which we had in mind, when all the elements came together in the way we envisaged. There is interference even in not interfering; it's the nature of the beast. That's why we call photography an art...