Learning to embrace Photoshop –

Are you a photographer who is struggling to learn Photoshop? Maybe not even struggling to learn, but struggling to accept Photoshop? That was me a few years ago. Having learned photo editing in a darkroom, that was set as the standard for me. As technology changed, as life changed, I knew I wouldn’t have access to a dark room anymore. I had a nice DSLR and no editing software skills. I had some harsh feelings toward “the digital darkroom” and felt it was imitating the real process. I guess I was really stuck in my ways, and I probably sound super old fashioned, but eventually, I came to terms with digital editing as the way of the future and I realized it was something I had to learn.

Why such harsh feelings towards digital editing? The reality is, I don’t think I understood it’s capabilities, let alone the necessity. I didn’t know that so many beautiful, natural images were the product of photo editing software. When I thought of editing software, I would think of those highly processed, overly sharp or heavily airbrushed images that have obviously had work done. As a film photographer, images like that would make me cringe, they just weren’t real. I felt like I knew what a camera could capture and what final images should like, but they were nothing like the heavily Photoshopped images that came to mind in thinking of digitally processed images.

My style is so natural, that I prefer things to look just as they are when I photograph them. I don’t want them looking enhanced or fake. I have always been a firm believer in “getting it right in camera” and not having to tweak the images much, if at all. Little did I know that all digital images require some level of digital processing. You may be thinking that you’ve taken images and uploaded the jpegs right to your computer, ordered prints or made your albums and you’re done. No editing there right? Wrong! When you shoot jpegs, your camera is handling the processing for you. It uses it’s best predictions for how vivid an image should be, how saturated, how sharp, the overall exposure etc. Often times our cameras do really well, but there are still many times when the cameras don’t do so well. That’s why it is so important to shoot in manual AND captures RAW images. RAW images can be fully processed by you, the photographer, in Photoshop, Lightroom, or any number of photo editing software out there. You can control the final outcome of your photos.

So how did I learn to accept Photoshop?

How it finally clicked for me was scrutinizing my darkroom process. Did I really only develop the film, place it in an enlarger, and process per the guidelines for each solution? Not at all. After developing the film (and waiting a day for it to dry out so I could handle it mind you) I’d have to expose it and create a proof sheet. I’d look at that proof sheet with a loupe to get an enlarged view in order to help me decide what images to process into photos. Sound like zooming in and culling so far, right? Once I decided on the photos to process, it wasn’t as cut and dry as simply sticking them in solutions and waiting. I’d have to take my negatives and place them in the enlarger, crop, and straighten as needed. Then I’d have to analyze the sharpness of the image. Was it too sharp? I could soften the image and reduce grain (now noise). Too soft? Then I’d sharpen it being careful not to introduce too much grain to the image all while looking through an enlarging focuser. Then I had to think about filters! Were my tones and contrast off? If so, I’d have to run through a series of filters checking to see which one would balance the image best. Did I blow out the sky? Yes, great, now I can use my dodging tool to make sure I don’t lose the detail in the clouds etc etc.

As you can see I was living in a fool’s paradise. It must have been all the fond memories of being in the darkroom and enjoying the process so much. It sure was not easy or cut and dry, and OH MY GOSH did it take forever! Thinking of how much processing was actually involved is what made me realize that Photoshop may not be such a bad thing after all. In fact, now I think it’s a Godsend! Sure there was a huge learning curve, and I still learn something new with it every day, but oh what a lifesaver! I can import my images in minutes, and get to work on them immediately.

There are so many tools in Photoshop that actually can make your life easier, including all those tools you had to work with manually without even seeing the image yet! Ah! Imagine being able to go back to a mistaken edit without having wasted all that time developing your image AND photo paper! Photo paper was like gold to me. It is so expensive per sheet, that if I ruined one, I was heartbroken. Now I can try different edits and adjust as needed or simply delete an adjustment if I don’t like how it looks. Phew.

Do yourself a favor please!

So, long story short, if you are worried about using photoshop, if you have any resentment towards the process because you liked your tried and true process, please do yourself a favor and give it a try! It’s a big learning curve, I’m not going to lie. My best advice to you is taking it in baby steps. Figure out what type of edits are most important to you and master those. Little by little you will build so much knowledge and practice that before you know it, you will be a Photoshop pro!

Do you have questions about getting started with Photoshop? I’d love to answer them, drop  a comment below!



Cristina Elisa Photography LLC, Film Girl Digital World, Photography Tips, Learn DSLR, Photography learning