How Photoshop could be making you a less creative photographer

It can be easy, when creating an image, to think “I’ll just fix it in Photoshop afterwards”, but that type of mindset may actually be having a negative impact on your photography.

I don’t often use Photoshop to ‘fix’ my images as there are numerous advantages to getting an image right in-camera, as I explain in this video, where I replicated an old photo of mine and show you how to achieve the same image without any Photoshop.

Photoshop is a great tool for photographers, but how much we need to use it comes down to how willing we are to solve problems while shooting. As you’ll see in many of our photography tutorials on Visual Education, I prefer to get things right in camera rather than relying on Photoshop to correct or change things afterwards.

I’m not saying I don’t use or don’t approve of Photoshop. I simply prefer to solve problems throughout the shoot, and there are multiple advantages to this approach. In the video you’ll see one example of an image I shot for a client that many people think includes some CGI. In fact, most of the post-production work in the image was to remove the lighting stands visible on the floor and tweak the colour of the shot.

The final result is also far more realistic than I would have been able to achieve had it involved CGI or Photoshop work, and it was much easier to think about how I could get the image I wanted in-camera than have to do hours and hours of work after the shoot.

Before example of a creative portrait image
After example of a creative portrait image

1. Realistic & creative results

While Photoshop affords many creative opportunities that sometimes aren’t possible to achieve in-camera, it can do the exact opposite and actually limit our creativity, especially when it comes to achieving realistic-looking results.

Over the years I’ve shot many images that involve elements of motion, whether it be glasses smashing, paint splashing or even models falling. All of these images are completely real — we’ve actually smashed glasses in the studio and thrown paint on models. By actually creating and shooting these shots, rather than just comping bits together, I’ve been able to achieve the most realistic results possible.

Wine glasses smashing
Model with paint splash over back

What this means though, is that I have to think differently about my imagery and take the time to think about the possible problems and how to solve them.

For example, our flying tea food image shot as part of our food photography course involved many different challenges, which we overcame by thinking logically and working methodically (we also used some specialist, but readily available, equipment to get the final result).

Other examples include many of my splash images. For for example, the Clinique advertising-style product image I shot as part of our product photography course, the water sculpture image from our live show and liquid art and motion image shot during another live workshop. Even the sports product shoot in our advertising, product and still life course was put together from just two shots.

2. Time

The second advantage to getting images right in camera is the time it saves you after the shoot. Instead of spending hours and hours, or even days, retouching and perfecting the shot in Photoshop, much of my work involves just simple colour and contrast adjustments. Yes, there might be a pole to remove here or a flag to remove there, but those tasks take very little time at all compared to actually creating a result.

The shoot

The image I replicated in the video above was one that I shot before the days of digital and Photoshop, and I used that image on a lot of my marketing material at the time and also sold it many times over as a stock image.

When many people see that image today, they immediately think it’s a composite image, or that it required extensive Photoshop work when in fact, it didn’t have any Photoshop work at all. So how did I actually shoot this ‘floating’ leaf?

As you’ll see in the video, I worked very methodically, tackling each challenge of the shoot as it came. This involved using a hidden wire rod to hold the leaf, a custom made tray to contain the water, and various implements to get the ripples in the water, not to mention flags, coloured gels, pieces of acrylic and glycerine.

Fixing the leaf in position for the shoot
Filling the tray with water for the shoot
Adding 'water droplets' to the leaf
Lighting setup for the leaf shoot

This just goes to show that there is a lot more possible in-camera than you might have thought. This particular shoot only used two monobloc lights and could easily be done in a small space.

The key to all of this is problem-solving. You don’t need to rely on Photoshop to create eye-catching images if you think about how you can solve the problems you face on a shoot, and you can find hundreds of examples of this in our photography classes on Visual Education.

Original leaf image
The original image, captured in the days of film.
Digital leaf image captured in camera
The digital image, captured in-camera with no Photoshop work.
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