To Photoshop or not to Photoshop?

Yes, I know I promised a post about the garden, but the discussions going on in the garden-blogosphere have just been too interesting.

First, David Perry at A Photographer's Gardening Blog posts about the craft of composing the perfect picture in his post You Silly Goose, of Course it Matters When You Shoot It. He talks about picking just the perfect time, just the right focus, being patient (do read the post, it's worth it).

"There is an immense difference between ‘taking a picture’ and making a picture." He says. And I say "Yes, he's right. Those pictures are amazing!" And want to sign up for a digital photography class right that moment. Or at least learn a little better how my amazing camera works.

Then, today, a GardenRant post by guest-ranter Joseph Tychonievich of Green Sparrow Gardens proclaims: Stop the Photoshopping. Joseph tells his story of seeing how the photos for gardening catalogues are made, and has a rather funny picture of a single daffodil to be photographed against a green background with perfect lighting. That daffodil will then be photoshopped to perfection and combined with a generic garden picture for inclusion in the catalogue. And I read that post and say "Yes, he's right. It really is ridiculous where all the photoshopping is taking us. I want to show my garden and my plants the way they really are."

But then I stop and think. Because really, David's photos are works of art. Expressions of creativity. He does with his camera what artists used to do with paint and paintbrush. And I'd love to learn more about this art. Besides, very often, the garden looks so much more vibrant and yummy for real than through the camera's lens. A close-up of a single plant is easy enough, but try to show four or five plants, and you lose the vibrant red of the California Fuchsia blossoms in the sea of greens. And yes, changing the contrast, saturation, or other aspects of the picture using software is quite helpful at times. Those finches I photographed through the window would have been small dots without the magic of my computer.

As for the catalogues, well, maybe it's not realistic to expect they show the real plants. There isn't a fashion photograph or any other advertisment that hasn't been photoshopped heavily. And who knows, if you buy that daffodil, and look at it on a March morning, just as the rosy morning light is touching its petals, it will look just like the photo, for one precious minute.

Meanwhile, I'll see whether I can improve my photography skills, and I'll continue to enjoy the different ways in which different people share what they find in their gardens.


(lol) good post - I get very irritated when I see obviously and not so obviously photoshoped pictures in plant catalogs, and I love to the the more "natural warts and all" pictures of real plants that folk put on their blogs.

As for Davids work - well as you say, it is a beautiful art-form.
So in my eyes something very different.
Gail said…
A very good read! I never seem to be able to photograph the garden and have it look at all like the scene i see! gail
Well, I have no problem when someone is photoshopping to create a wonderful work of art. But when I buy a plant in from a catalog, I want to know that when it grows and blooms I have some way of knowing how it is actually going to look when it blossoms.

If the color has been enhanced in the catalog, and when the day lily blooms it doesn't have any purple at all just a little wash of sort of orangey mauve, I'm going to be pissed off, especially when the photoshopped picture induced me to pay $35 for a day lily.

So as far as I'm concerned, they can just stop the photoshopping already. I no longer purchase items from that particular company.

This is a very good post.
Wild Flora said…
Thanks for raising an interesting issue. It made me stop to think about how I use Photoshop and other photo-enhancing software. (Picasa, which is free from Google, now comes with some useful tools.) I do a lot of cropping to eliminate distracting elements. I have tried using the "sharpen" tool to fix a photo that wasn't well focused, but sadly that tool isn't as magical as I sometimes need it to be! If I knew how, I'd be tempted to use Photoshop to take out those distractions (someone's foot, for instance) that seem to creep into photos when you're not looking. But mostly I use it to improve bad lighting.

Now that I think about it, I think I probably should be more careful about that last bit. It's one thing to put more light into a photo that's too dark, but while you're doing that it's easy to make changes (like increasing the color saturation or the contrast) that change the color of the flowers. In future, I'm going to try to take more care to make sure my photos show the plants as they really look.

I also agree wholeheartedly with the commenter who says she likes to see natural pictures of real plants. Let's all learn to appreciate our gardens (and everything else about ourselves, for that matter) as they really are!

All in all, I'd say that whether it's ok to use Photoshop or other software depends on where and how it's used, and for what purpose.
I make adjustments to my photos all the time, but only to adjust color, brightness, or contrast, or to adjust clumsy cropping on the original photo, or to apply subtle levels of sharpening. I don't expect that plant catalogs are any more honest in their depictions than other forms of pornography, so I always approach them with a skeptic's eye!
Country Mouse said…
Enjoyed the post and comments - I laughed at LostLandscape's pornography comment! Like others I make those adjustments - straighten, crop, sharpen a bit, and sometimes adjust light. (I sometimes take two or three pics with different settings for light and keep the one that matches reality closest). I use PaintShopPro as I find Photoshop to be a very unfriendly daunting program and what I need to do I can usually figure out in PSP.

Let's not forget the digital camera is also making adjustments, whether on its own account (auto) or due to your manual settings - so it's not like a photo right out of the camera is in some way virginal.
Susan Tomlinson said…
Before photoshop, there was Ektachrome, which provided supersaturated colors. Many "natural" photographers used it.

There's probably line you can cross with photoshop where the photo goes from being "tweaked" to being a piece of fiction. FIction in and of itself is not a bad thing--if everyone knows that it is fiction. It's when it' presented as non-fiction that it's a problem.