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News & Insight

Is Photoshop Ruining Landscape Photography?

By Anthony Thurston on March 14th 2013

Let’s face it, Photoshop is as much a part of photography as a camera to most photographers nowadays. People use Photoshop to do everything from basic retouching to advanced composites that stretch imagination. In a recent article by Declan O’Neil on Digital Photography School he makes the argument that Photoshop is ruining landscape photography.

O’Neil’s article begins with a story about how the winner of one of Britain’s most prestigious photography awards had his award and $16,000 in prize winning taken back after it was discovered how much Photoshop he had used on his submission. He goes on to discuss the main points to the battle over the future of Image manipulation, including thing like when enhancement crosses over into alteration.


My Thoughts

I think that on a case by case basis Photoshop can and has been used excessively, but overall I feel that it has not ruined Landscape Photography. Though there are some great parallels with the current fight over retouching advertisements.  For example; we all know the story about women who have issues over their appearance due to always seeing retouched models. These women can’t look as good as the models simply because the models have been so ‘shopped that it’s not even natural anymore.

The same can be said about budding landscape photographers. They spend all their time looking at over ‘shopped images and they think that their work is inferior. When in reality their SOOC (Straight Out Of the Camera) image may be just as good as these retouched images had been SOOC. O’Neil makes the point that there is a difference between removing a power line and changing the color of the sky from grey to orange and purple. The former is acceptable in his eyes, the latter is not.

What do you think? Is Photoshop ruining landscape photography? Let us know in a comment below. 

[via Digital Photography School]

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Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Argle Bargle

    It’s art. Art is subjective. You like it or you don’t. If it can add something to the image or push the limits of imagination why not? I personally like those highly detailed, silky seascapes even though I know it’s not reality. It’s still a beautiful image when done right.

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  2. Sachin Myneni

    Photoshop is not ruining landscape photography. Over enthusiastic photoshoppers are. Of course everyone is entitled to their opinion about their own image, but when I see so many overly over done clouds, sunsets, HDRs, I just get numb to images of that genre.
    I hope as photoshoppers get better, they will learn when to stop on an image. But there will always be new photoshoppers..

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  3. Jason Langley

    A compelling image is still a compelling image regardless of how its made. If the rules of this contest were broken, thats a whole other thing. Do I think technology is ruining art? Hell NO! Maybe technology is smashing preconceived notions and conventional thinking, but thats what its supposed to do. I welcome change and revel in the possibilities. I think its quite ironic when anyone who fancy’s themselves an artist poops on another’s idea of art . Everything changes, everything.

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  4. rhyder

    I’ve just checked O’neal’s and your websites….I wouldn’t consider either of you qualified as an expert on Photography……O’neal’s work is about adequate landscapes, I don’t see anything outstanding at all. There is nothing there that hasn’t been done by thousands of other photographers.

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  5. rhyder

    Have you ever heard of a DARKROOM? That’s where I first learned to manipulate an image. The “reality” is changed as soon as the light passes through the lens for Christ’s sake. There are very few things that you can do in Photoshop that you can’t do in a film darkroom. Do some research before you publish an article like this. Do you have any inkling how much manipulation was done before digital? All the great images are altered in some way…even if its just a contrast adjustment.

    You mention SOOC…What a joke..,you ever use in camera settings??? Who are you to try to put your “rules” for what a photograph is?? Have you ever shot film?? You need to sit down and do your homework on the history of photography.

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  6. John A. Spears

    I wonder if you know what a red filter does to film?
    Ansel spent a lifetime honing his photography and darkroom skills.
    All we have to do now is buy software and push a button.

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  7. esdsix

    I support Photoshop and Photography, both go hand-in-hand as an art. However, either one becoming limited is no longer a freedom of the art & its creativity, which should always remain boundless. Declan O’Neil imo, is pursuading a limited approach where standard is standard and nothing pushes beyond the boundaries. I can understand considering a contest and its rules which should be followed. Nothing should stand in the way of creativity overall, otherwise we limit our ability. I respect his opinion as his own personal belief, but that alone does not apply to everyone’s perception who push the boundaries beyond standard and stale.. We’re in this to have fun, to be unlimited in our creativity, the only acceptable standard. : )

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  8. James

    Stripping David Byrne of his title and taking away his prize is itself an expression of excessive altering of reality. Declan O’Neill needs a reality check. I am reminded of New York banning 32 oz drinks. There is always someone forcing their values on other people. I am also reminded of reading an article whereby an individual said ring lights are not natural and do not exist anywhere in the known universe and therefore should never be used in macro photography. “It’s unnatural.”

    OK boys and girls, especially for all you that are crying that you lost your photo contest, your first grade spelling contest, and everything else in your life, here is another reality check:

    All of photography is fake. All of photography is an alteration every step of the way. None of it exists anywhere in the known universe on its own accord. It’s a 100% alteration of light through a lens which is a 100% alteration of sand. A lens is an optical device which transmits (alters) and refracts (alters) light, converging or diverging the light beam. A lens creates anamorphic distortion. It produces unequal magnifications along the two axes perpendicular to each other. – the film/sensor plane. Its the result of taking a three dimensional object (your favorite mountain top) and projecting it onto a two dimensional surface (the film plane or digital sensor). This is a primal example of altering reality. We should stop right here, but…

    The light then lands upon silver halide. This is film for you toddlers. When a silver halide crystal is exposed to light, a sensitivity speck on the surface of the crystal is turned into (altered) a small speck of metallic silver (these comprise the invisible or latent image). If the speck of silver contains approximately four or more atoms, it is rendered developable (altered). Areas of the emulsion receiving larger amounts of light undergo the greatest development and therefore results in the highest optical density. Then the film needs to be developed (altered) to bring out the latent image. You then go into a darkroom (light is forbidden here) and a print is created from an enlarger (the film days version of Photoshop) as we once again alter the light from the negative. The paper (altered trees) and toner (altered dirt) are all altered artifacts.

    A show of hands. Do we need we go into digital imaging, I mean altering? I saw a hand go up in the back. Light hits the sensor (sensors are heavily alerted sand). Photons are captured (directional alteration) into photo buckets via micro lenses. The photon quantity is converted (altered) into an electrical signal. The electrical signal is run through an analog to digital converter (altered). The output of the A/D converter is a series of ones and zeros (seriously altered). For you toddlers they look like this: 01101000110110101011. Take a close look at those ones and zeros and tell us what has not been altered and also show us that pristine mountain top. I heard someone mumble the word raw. Sorry, all raw files are partially cooked (I meant altered.)

    Now children, wasn’t it light that made the mountain top visible to your eyes? Shame on you for all that altering of light. No cookie for you. You used a camera.

    I have to say a word about Ansel Adams. Check out his photo Moonrise. Moonrise was Ansel’s most difficult negative of all to print. Using simple pieces of cardboard, Ansel would painstakingly burn in (darken with additional light from the enlarger) the sky, which was really quite pale with streaks of cloud throughout. He was careful to hold back a bit on the moon. The mid-ground was dodged (light withheld), though the crosses have been subtly burned in. I strongly suspect that if Ansel Adams were around to compete with David Byrne and submitted “moonrise,” he would have won and then been stripped of his prize. If this BS keeps up some day Photoshop will go the way of the 32 oz drink.

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  9. Mark

    That’s like saying Acrylics ruined painting. Or pastels ruined drawing. It’s all just tools to produce ART. Photoshop has helped photography take a step up not down. It is MORE creative not less. It might not be as “simple” or “pure” as it was 30 years ago, but I’m a heck of a lot more creative now then I was then and that is okay by me anytime.

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  10. H William

    The whole issue boils down to one fact… photography art? If it is then all forms of manipulation of the image is fair game….Picasso and others did not paint reality, so why do photographs have to picture reality? Bottom line…they don’t if photography is art in the same way other visual images are art!

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  11. OCULUS

    These were the same arguments hurled at the Hudson River School artists 150 years ago–the clouds, the light, the foliage is unnatural! The Catskills never looked so good, but they sold very well, thank you.

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  12. JakeJacobs55

    Art should not be given constraints. The artist should have full command of his pallet and be able to choose his colors, and brushes as he/she sees fit on canvas or the monitor.

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  13. txmama

    Photoshop is another form of art. I do most of our postprocessing from sessions and the husband does the photography. While his SOC work is amazing and would sell as is, minor touchups and my creativity in composites, etc. adds something he can’t do in camera. Our clients seem to want what we do so ultimately the bottom line (dollars coming in) decides what we do in PS. I have seen it over used and as for competition I would like to see them have two categories, SOC art and PS art.

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  14. Gators1

    Just think of how bad the trees feel when they see other trees all saturated and contrasty in photos. This has to stop!

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  15. Dan Speicher

    Im not sure that removing power lines is better than changing colors. In my world of journalism and documentary work, both are serious no no’s. However, coloring an image would be seen as better than removing an item from an image.

    Regardless, Im sure that it was a stunning print

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    • tech_e

      Agreed in journalism and documentaries. However, if you had a beautiful landscape and the purpose of the image was to capture the natural beauty, would it be wrong to remove unnatural and ugly power lines?

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  16. Gordon Radford

    Hmmmm,…this article just barely touches yet opens the “can of worms”…….We can go on for years debating……I gave up film recently as being tired of not being appreciated…..or being involved with art shows that “lump” all photography, (analogue and digital) into the same category. If you have ever shot film, you all know it takes much greater skill. Yet so many fail to realize that. Of course, it still takes skill to shoot digital well.

    Changing the color of a sky? That was possible with graduated filters in the film days. Quite of lot of what photoshop and other software apps provide is merely an easier way to accomplish what could have been done in the past.

    For those of you accomplished BW printers…..think about Split Filter printing……kind of like HDR is now….combing Over and Under into one image..(of course that is a simple analogy)…

    I could go on for hours……But is Photoshop ruining landscape? It is all in the eye of the beholder…Overprocessed stuff?? Again, thats’ up for opinion. The more I do HDR the “less” I do…..But changing/enhancing colors? No…..Removing a power line? No….Adding elements to the scene that were not present?? Yes….That is when it is crossing the line. And to me, that image is no longer a photograph, but a form of digital art.

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  17. Spong

    Have to love the self appointed elitists who Pontificate about what are good or bad images. At the scene of a crime the ideal is Forensic accuracy,but even a rudimentary understanding of the fundamentals underlining photography – at best such images are only an approximation of reality. By their wisdom the ideal photographer would be a mindless robot making “accurate records” of the pristine landscape. What rubbish!
    The universally acclaimed works of art, down through history, are inspired interpretations of the real world. The Sistine Chapel, Mona Lisa, etc. etc. Ansel Adam’s iconic creations are not real mirror images – he manipulated the heck out of them in the darkroom and they are monochrome!
    Perhaps the Photoshop critics should get over themselves and leave the rest of us to our madness.
    I love Photoshop, it has been the best investment I ever made; it has provided a good living for my family.

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  18. Jules

    What I find interesting is that Photoshop did not start this debate.  Ansel Adams – the art historical landscape king (with his Club f64), hyper manipulated his prints. If you have ever seen originals up close in real life, the chemical, cropping, tinting, and “over-processing” in the darkroom is obvious. And he was not the only one well known for all sorts of tricks with the chemistry to create the image he wanted, not what may have actually been present. Dodging and burning was done in the darkroom (and even cutting of negatives to make composites) from the 1860s on. There is always a fine line . . . but would those prints not be considered “photos” because they were dramatically altered?

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    • tech_e

      Great point… and examples of why, in my previous response, I feel that all types of manipulation require different skillsets. I can do some great things with Photoshop that others may not be able to do. That might make my image artistic in my mind. But I would never be able to do the things Ansel Adams did in image processing. He was an artist in that sense. I believe they are all legitimate; people should just be aware when the processed image is either “unreal” or took great skill to achieve.

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    • Adrienne

      I think this is a great point too. Photoshop is just a tool, just like a lens, a filter, dodging/burning, chemicals, cameras, papers, inks, etc. Your job is decide which tools you want to use for each image that you create. A beautiful image will speak for itself regardless of the extent that it has been altered. Our world is beautiful as it is, but we’re not building real life mini eco systems–we’re capturing a representation of what’s real in 2-D form–and representation is relative. A digital camera can’t even capture all of the shades and tones that the naked eye can see anyway so the capture is “altered” from the get go. I have no problem with the concept of listing out all of your resources for creating an image for a contest for the education of it but I don’t think it’s necessary for everyday images. Plus just because you’re a photojournalist doesn’t mean your images don’t get altered (cropped/dodged/burned) by editors before print either. Again, a good image will speak for itself.

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  19. BradyMitchell91

    Photography literally means “Light drawing” so once you stop drawing with light and start writing with 0’s and 1’s you are deviating from photography and into the realm of graphic design. The mating of the two arts is not necessarily a bad thing but I personally don’t think that heavily PS’d conceptual landscapes should be judged directly against a traditional darkroom print. Part of what makes a film print beautiful (to me at least) is that it is a moment witnessed and recorded, part of my appreciation is that the landscapes exists in the real world. What makes a conceptual landscape beautiful is the perfection and novelty.

    TL:DR- Both conceptual landscapes and traditional landscapes have separate strengths. They are separate but equal.

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    • Shmaw Shank

      Naive. Darkroom techniques can be easily used to drastically alter the appearance of a landscape so that it looks not only nothing akin to reality, but literally impossible to exist in reality.

      Photography as an art form is not truth. Period.

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    • C Frank Clock

      I agree with Brady. I take pride in my camera skills, rather than my computer skills. Is it real, or is it FAKE?
      Cheat if you want !!!

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    • tech_e

      Great response with your first line. That’s a great, accurate way to explain it. I do like Photoshop work, but agree they should be judged differently.

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  20. Nathan Hess

    Ruined landscape photography? Meh. Good decision to revoke the prize? Hell yes. There’s a point where you use so much photoshop that you’re not a photographer anymore, you’re a graphic designer. If you want to photoshop in clouds and shadows and whatnot, then go join a digital painting competition. If you can’t fulfill a photographic vision without extensive use of Photoshop, maybe photography isn’t for you…

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  21. Timothy

    If there were an oil painting competition, someone getting disqualified for using some acrylic would be reasonable. If the photography competition is documentary style, using photoshop too much should absolutely disqualify you, but if we’re examining the piece as just art then it should be clear to all of us that using photoshop can enhance the colors, values, and composition. Obviously, photoshop is just a tool. Just a means to an end. It can be used skillfully or poorly, but if the end result is great art, who cares what the process is, unless you’re studying the process in order to become a better artist and learn the tools they used.

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  22. Rruttan

    Saying that PS has “ruined” landscape photography is a bit strong, but it has led to some unlikeable results.  For instance, a lot of landscape images done as HDR images fall into being chintzy; they have the same ‘turn-off’ effect as black velvet paintings of bullfighters and Elvis.  There are I think certain basics that need to be thought through. Just as abstract painters really need to know the basics of how to draw, photographers should understand the basics of exposure & composition before tarting up images in Photoshop or any other program.  In a sense, this is developing your understanding of and respect for the craft and its history.  Of course, this is an entirely personal matter.  I’ve probably admired and even envied many pictures as a result of the Photoshopping.  So I’m aware that some may think I’m farting dust (!) but I think that it matters to honour the craft.  Where one goes from there is a matter of personal aesthetics and interesting discussion.  Happy clicking!!

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    • tech_e

      Good points but keep in mind also that in some cases, the camera actually inaccurately manipulates an image anyway. For example, the human eye can look at a dark tree or barn and see the detail as well as the clouds in the sky. The camera, adjusting for the dark areas of the image, may overexpose & wash out the blue sky. HDR, while maybe going a little overboard, helps to create that image more like what you would see. In this case, you could argue too much manipulation on the image, but it may more accurately represent the true scene.

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  23. Jerry


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  24. Nitish S Murthy

    In my opinion, Yes. I like photography which comes straight of of the camera with lesser adjustments like color correction/conversion, cleanups during post-processing. Doing more than that would be digital painting, the way i see it.
    If a photograph is digitally manipulated beyond post-processing, make a mention and strip the EXIF off it since It belongs to ‘Manipulation’ category and not in ‘Photography’.

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  25. dxpack

    I could find an example of very well executed Photoshop work which I deem is a “bad” photograph. This is very well executed Photoshop work that I deem is a “good” photograph. It requires judgment to know the difference and judgment is subjective. The award was subjective. If the judges determined this photograph was the winner, whether or how much Photoshop was used to achieve it is entirely irrelevant. At the end of the day, a photograph is nothing more than a bunch of dots. If your judgment of “good” photography demands replication of the original view, well that is firstly impossible, but at minimum you should demand only unedited RAW files. (The exception is journalistic and documentary photography, but even still some processing is necessary so you do have a line, even if it is blurred.)

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  26. John W Smith

    Landscape photography is new technology applied to landscape painting. Unless the photography has a photojournalistic or legal-documentation purpose, then it’s art and people need to get over themselves.

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  27. Tony Guillaro

    They need to get over it!!! Quit living in the past and get with the times already, I bet the people complaining are farting dust…. Photography is ART people, Its your vision do with it what you want!!! 

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  28. Ryan Cooper

    I have a strong belief that there are two sides of photography. One being photographers who’s goal is to capture events, history, etc as they are such as journalists. Their job should be to make the original photo depict the scene exactly as it was in real life. (If this means post processing because the camera is unable to capture reality properly then so be it.)

    The second are the photographers creating images for their aesthetic beauty.  For these photographers the end result is all that matter and they should feel free to make any creative decisions that they want. We wouldn’t get made at a painter for “painting” an unrealistic landscape, we should apply the same logic to photography. Furthermore, I always have to wonder why photoshop takes all the heat? How is painting a sky red in photoshop worse than putting a red filter on your lens? Or making a model slightly thinner in photoshop different than shooting her with a longer lens to make her “appear” thinner?

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    • Leandro Lenz

      I totally agree !!!!!!!!!

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    • Nicolas Meier

      Well said!

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    • tech_e

      Agreed but depending on the situation, it should be disclosed. There are legitimate reasons for untouched photography and untouched photography contests. Sometimes, it’s just enlightening and amazing that this world can be so beautiful without any manipulation. When looking at an image in a magazine or contest, I’d like to know if it was manipulated with a filter, Photoshop, or not manipulated at all. To me, they are all different works of art. Taking an amazing unaltered photo should be noticed. Using filters require skill and knowledge of the filters and content. And, Photoshop alterations require a different skillset. It’s still an acceptable work of art, but someone who spends time capturing a unique scene because they waited hours until just the right moment at dusk or dawn shouldn’t be overlooked because someone else took a regular shot and then added the lighting, color, or fog in Photoshop. Again, I perform and respect all 3 examples, but I think in the event of professional, advertised, or contested images, it should be disclosed.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Apologies, software must have glitched when I tried to attach the link to the original article in the post. Post has been updated and the link is working now.

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