I often get that question when I share an image. What it frequently means is something like, “Did you really climb to the top of the mountain in the pouring rain;” “Was the beach truly that shade of pink;” or “Did that gorgeous image really come from you?”
The digital revolution gave rise to imaging editing tools to deceive, as well as to achieve. News reports and scandals about altered images educated the public on the power of tools such as Photoshop to alter our visual documentation and art, and the public learned to pose the question, “Did you Photoshop it?,” as a challenge to artistic integrity. Even fellow photographers joined in and began indirectly shaming their peers by preemptively proclaiming, “I never do more than slightly tweak the exposure, contrast and color.” Their not-so-hidden message is the use of Photoshop makes the photographer suspect and their work inferior.
My answer to the question is a resounding, shameless, “Yes!” I do Photoshop images. I use numerous applications to remove wires and annoying obstacles, direct the viewer’s eye and add emotion to my images. Being truthful in what you represent your image to be is mandatory, but the use of Photoshop or any other application is not the source of all photographic evil. Would you tell a painter a particular paintbrush is forbidden? Would you think less of a sculptor who used a certain chisel? Ansel Adams once said, “Photography is more than a medium for factual communication of ideas. It is a creative art.” This was true in the age of chemical darkrooms and remains true in the age of digital darkrooms. Photoshop and its kin are wonderfully powerful tools to help achieve the artist’s vision.
With the exception of news or documentary photographers, all photographers are artists creating an impression of what they saw. Does that landscape image straight from your camera look or feel exactly like the beauty that drew you to it? Doubtful. Your post-processing techniques are part of rendering your art in your own unique style. If that takes dodging, burning, removing, tinting, saturating, I say go forth and raise your visual voice.