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'Looks Photoshopped'

The Call of the Troll

(image not produced on Photoshop)

"Looks Photoshopped." 

Two words you see every day on social media (if you frequent any pages or groups that encourage photo sharing). Two words that annoy the hell out of me and probably any photographers/artists/graphic designers who sees them. It's such a nondescript, passive aggressive attack on someone's work and it does nothing but flag up the commenter's inability to understand or constructively address something that is beyond their capability.

For those that haven't yet experienced this joyful recognition of their arrival as a photographer/artist in the publics eye, this is how it goes: You post an image that has had any level of photo retouching or used any form of filter, no matter how minuscule (or god forbid you posted a HDR image), and someone pipes up "looks photoshopped." What does this even mean? There's never any modifier like "looks photoshopped, I think you've added a sky from another shot," or "you've applied too much of the tom, dick, or harry filters," so you're left hanging when you ask them to explain (I've never seen a good response to asking for clarification yet). Odds are they are trying to insinuate that your photo is too good (or just well past their capabilities) and therefore must be fake; you must have added in 500 different elements from other photos to create your image. Now, that isn't to say that some images are clearly composites (multiple layers of added content) and whilst they can look great, they can be overdone too, so there is ground for judgement there. But these comments are often or not on a standard non-composition photograph, so what's the issue? The issue is simple; a lack of understanding of the subject and technology that screams out with every syllable of the phrase. They have heard of Photoshop (generally from those terribly obvious superimposed images that get shared around as jokes) and are now using the additional "ed"as a vague but implied informed criticism  to suggest "they know" what's going on. It's like the people who claim computer games cause violent behaviour and they use Call of Duty as the scapegoat. Chances are they've never even seen the game, but they "know" it's to blame. Even calling "photoshopped" flags you up in this uninformed yet happy to critique bunch. There are dozens of photo-editing software and apps out there, so sticking to the one you've heard of is just highlighting the lack of knowledge you're approaching with (when has anyone ever seen "that photo is Microsoft photo editor-ed"). Maybe it's just that Adobe Photoshop is the general go-to of photo editors and is a victim of its own success (like all brands of vacuum cleaners get called Hoovers), but it's still a good way to showcase your general ignorance.

It's annoying to see the comment posted, even when its not aimed at you (to date, I've only had it once and I was instantly angry, as I exclusively use lightroom to slightly retouch my photos—generally to get best image clarity). I've started learning how to use Photoshop in the last few months as part of a graphic design course and only produced three images on Photoshop. So, so far I've only had the one comment (on a lightroom edited image), but I get annoyed whenever I see it on anyone's work. Forget encouragement or acknowledgement for someone learning how to create something better than you can, it's a simple "it must be fake" from an uneducated member of the public; an "I don't know how or what you've done but I'll use this word so it sounds like I know" from someone who probably struggles to take a photo on their hand-me-down iPhone 5. Being good with technology or even just having the pure creative ability to produce something that looks better than you can manage shouldn't warrant this level of unquantified criticism. It's also not fair for Adobe (who produce all manner of useful software and apps). Photoshop is a tool used to produce some stunning work (some I wouldn't be able to even get close to with years of study), and it's a shame, because its name is becoming a weapon to be used by the dull, unqualified, destructive elements to try to drag down creatives.

I happily call out people when they use their rallying cry. I ask what it is about the image they think is photoshopped, or even if they can tell me how to tell it was edited on photoshop (generally in polite terms as "I'd like to learn this amazing skill you have"). So far I've had no responses. It looks like some of these non-composite images have as many layers as the commenters have brain cells. I think it's high time all creatives need to reclaim the phrase "looks photoshopped" to mean "looks like you have learned some complex skills and applied them well with the right tools—I salute you." 

So who's with me?

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