Commentary # 40: April 2010
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Twenty Years of Photoshop, and Years of Saving Time

April 2010

- by Craig Wassel

On February 10th, 2010, Adobe Photoshop celebrated its 20th anniversary. In those twenty years, Adobe software engineers have developed some of the most groundbreaking, useful and powerful tools and concepts in image editing. It is not difficult to argue that it is the industry standard.

To me it is interesting how the world’s view of Photoshop has changed over the years. As its power and sophistication have grown and digital photography has emerged, the term “Photoshopped” has become part of pop-culture jargon. When we hear it, most of us think of an image that has been heavily edited, or even possibly manipulated with the sole intent of fooling the viewer and telling a photographic lie. Many a photographer has soap-boxed about how much time is wasted in front of a monitor massaging images, and article after article has been written on the ethics of digital editing.

My Photoshop use only reaches back only version 5.0. Still, I have twelve years of experience running it. While thinking about Photoshop’s 20th anniversary and my twelve years of use, it struck me funny that the way I think about and use it has gone in completely the opposite direction of the “Photoshopped” stigma. When I first installed version 5 in 1998, I was most interested in what cool looking things I could create or what I could manipulate, and that is mostly how I used it. It was a toy – a very expensive toy. Back then, I was not scanning any slide film or prints to digital files, my photography business had not grown any legs, and quality digital cameras were not affordable or even available in the consumer market.

All of that changed in the last twelve years. I do scan some slides and prints to digital now, my photography business has legs, high quality digital photography is affordable, and I shoot primarily mid-high end digital cameras.

And: Photoshop is no longer a toy for me. I don’t use it to create or manipulate; I use it to automate.

Some of the most frequent questions I get are, “. . did you Photoshop that . . ?” and “. . can you Photoshop that in or out for me . . ?” and “. . how much do you use Photoshop . . ?”. It would be easy to take offense to such questions, as if they suggest that Photoshop does all the work and there is no artist or expertise behind the lens.

I am not offended, though. I just take it as a sign of the times. The truth is I am a heavy, heavy Photoshop user. It DOES do a lot of work for me, but not in the way that most people think. For my photography, I estimate 90% of the editing I perform with it is automated; I create custom actions that convert color digital images to monochromes, monochromes to sepias, apply copyright information, and just about everything in between including cropping. Yes, even cropping can be turned into a custom action that can then be automated using Photoshop’s batch processing tool. That allows me to do things like create a folder of dozens or even hundreds of cropped 8” x 10” digital photographs simply by making four mouse clicks, and then walking away while Photoshop does the rest without me. And that is just one example.

Critics who question Photoshop’s overuse, and the honesty of some of the images users create with it certainly have a point. For me, though, Photoshop has gone from a creation/manipulation toy to a productivity tool. As a photographer, it is one of the most important, indispensible time saving applications I have, and I can’t imagine being without it. The hours and tens of thousands of mouse clicks that custom actions and the batch processing tool have saved me over the years are simply incalculable and invaluable.

So here’s me thanking and congratulating Adobe, and wishing Photoshop a very happy 20th anniversary. I anxiously await what advances will come by the year 2018, when I will mark a 20 year anniversary of Photoshop use.

" . . . Advances in equipment and in technology have always made the impossible merely difficult and the difficult little more than routine. The area that we can all concentrate on now is being creative. I for one welcome everything that helps me to make my work better, and technical gizmos that free my thoughts from the boring mechanics of photography allowing me to be more of an image creator than a picture taker are welcome additions to my kit . . . "

~ Neil Turner ~

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" . . . The hours and tens of thousands of mouse clicks that custom actions and the batch processing tool have saved me over the years are simply incalculable and invaluable . . . "

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