Living in the ‘digital’ age is fantastic isn’t it? Instant visual gratification, information at our fingertips constantly available and updated everywhere to name just two examples. Of course, all this constant refresh of information has meant visual processes have needed to be speeded up significantly. With new more powerful computers and software becoming available almost monthly this is just about achievable. But does it have it’s downsides? Does the need for everything to be done much quicker and be seen to be better value for money have an negative effect on the creative industries and the quality of the output.

As a proam photographer as well as having a full-time job as a graphic designer for the past 17 years I’d like to think I have a more rounded perspective on these questions; I think a good example is to look at one area which I think gives a good example of pros and cons to the question asked above.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times I get asked to ‘just Photoshop’ a, shall we say, naff image. It’s really quite funny and is almost a bit of an ongoing joke with the clients past and present.

What this does do though, is throws up a number of points and questions over the role Photoshop or other photographic software plays in the creative and marketing industries.

With budgets squeezed, especially over the last few years, there has been a noticeable increase in the use of photographs taken by our wonderful clients and customers. This is completely understandable given the need to put out marketing collateral hasn’t diminished but the budgets to accomplish this has. What really intensified this was the advent of affordable DSLRs or even half-decent compact cameras/smartphones with ever-increasing quality. But having a good camera doesn’t guarantee a good photograph.

Often, graphic designers find themselves being supplied with ‘lesser’ quality photographs than they’d really want to work with. Moreover, these images need a lot more work than should be necessary by way of adjustment in Photoshop just to be ‘useful’. Having used Photoshop for 20+ years, I’d like to think I know my way around it fairly well. And yes, I can ‘just Photoshop’ images to make them useable.

But this isn’t what Photoshop was invented for, was it?

And surely this isn’t what we want to aspire to?

Let us not forget the rather incredible Photoshop fails where companies decide to edit professionally taken images. However, they do so to the point where legs have been chopped off and so on. You have to wonder why they felt the need to edit them, and then do it so badly. In fact you can google Photoshop fails and you’ll see there are way to many to list.

Photoshop is a fantastic piece of software. There are others too, like Lightroom, CaptureOne Aperture etc. and I’ve used them all but in this instance I think it’s important to recognise the benefits using a professionally shot image gives when used in tandem with a great piece of software.

In an ideal world, professional photographers should be the port of call for any photographic requirements. Be it a family photo shoot, an annual corporate report for an FTSE 100 company, or a sales brochure for a local business. Conversely, I can also appreciate the argument that commissioning a £1000+ photoshoot may not make a solid enough business case to actually happen.

That said, surely it’s a false economy to save money on the photography aspect of any marketing requirement given the ever-increasing visual world we are in. Surely everyone wants to make themselves look as good as possible? Given the speed at which many pieces go live these days, Photoshop technically makes it more affordable to use professional photographers.

To try and illustrate this, I would like to come at it from a personal photographic perspective.

I personally use photoshop to process from RAW and to simply enhance my images where I see fit with the occasional removal of a lens flare. “But that’s just the same as what you’ve just been saying” I hear you cry…

Well no, it’s not. I’ve tried to show what I mean with the above images. I used Photoshop to enhance the image. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was:

  • sharp:
  • neither over nor underexposed;
  • compositionally the best from the day and;
  • the light was stunning.

I could not have achieved this on my iPhone or compact camera.

“But you have messed around with it”, is one statement I received not so long ago. Well yes, I have. But this is no different to the methods used in the darkroom (yes, I’m old enough to remember losing days to get one image).

Do I think using the software requires less skill? No, I don’t, it’s a different kind of skill. However, what it does afford you is more control, and it’s much more time-efficient. Therefore, it makes commissioning a professional the obvious choice if the decision is purely down to money.

My point is a simple one. If you start with a good quality image, you can manipulate it to achieve a certain mood, or increase it for large format purposes, or crop into a detail yet still retain the sharpness and colour intensity you desire. This is simply unachievable with low quality imagery, (despite the invention of Photoshop etc.).

East Lancashire Railway – The Great Marquess 61994

In conclusion, given the economic benefits afforded, the flexibility it allows, and the time in which photographs can be supplied for use, then I can’t understand why anyone would ever consider not using a professional. I know I certainly wouldn’t.

When used for its correct purpose, Photoshop is simply another tool in the designers or photographers toolbox and shouldn’t be an obstruction to gaining a commission. As for the bigger question, I’d like to think that any advances made are always a good thing but perhaps we should still try and make time to ensure skill sets aren’t lost and we take pride in what we do and not just settle.