Photoshop CS6 blurring the boundaries

With early adopters and review websites waxing lyrical about the new blur features in Photoshop CS6, I’m already witnessing a wave of faked bokeh and lens blurred images flooding the likes of Flickr and 500px.

Is this just a fad or is it where the future of the photograph is headed?

Every year or two, Adobe launches it’s latest iteration of the de-facto image editing programme, and every new version has more features that we have waited so long for…or have we?

I’ve worked with Photoshop in a professional capacity for nearly 20 years and I’ve always considered it to be the “perfect product” for my needs. It does just what I need it to and it does it brilliantly. I’ve no need for warping someone’s legs or “tilt-shifting” my cityscapes but Adobe keeps pumping out new versions that solve problems we never knew we had. A bit like how washing powder has been giving us “whiter whites” for all those years! (how did we ever survive?)
Take the last release of Photoshop CS5 for example. I thought I’d seen everything possible, but it came with a plethora of features Adobe that they told us were invaluable but in my opinion have questionable place in the field of photography. The puppet warp feature in CS5 being one such feature for example. It allows the digital artist to “bend” reality by producing images of models with extra long legs or unbelievably perfect curves (see Kate Winslet pic). The question is…did we ever need such a tool? I doubt it somehow but some may disagree.

Keeping it real

I am by no means an elitist or a stranger to post processing. On the contrary, I use it often in my own images to remove dust spots and straighten horizons in my landscapes. These are features of photoshop that have been with us for years and it’s a progression of what we used to do the old-school darkroom. I agree wholeheartedly with many forms of digital “manipulation”. I just don’t agree with the increasing over-use of certain features that encourage us to turn every image we take into a special effect or create something fake (you only need to look towards the software giant’s marketing of Photoshop CS6 when they brand it as “Beyond Belief”).

From Adobe’s perspective, I fully understand the need to keep adding new features in order to maintain sales but should they really be encouraging us to turn our images into special effects?
This leads me to the latest version (CS6) and the new lens blur feature. From everything I’ve seen written about it. you can now create a fake lens blur akin to that of an expensive 600mm prime lens. Should this be encouraged? If social media and tech review sites are anything to go by, then this is exactly what we should be doing. Take this quote from Mashable’s for example;

With carefully placed blur, you can make people think you have an expensive Digital SLR, when all you’re using to take your pictures is a smartphone.

Is this what lies ahead for the future for photography? Are we to practice Photoshop fakery over genuine photographic skill in the field? I hope not, but if my experience of teaching students in the past few years is anything to go by, it’s more about Photoshop and less about photography. No one want’s to learn how to use filters or how to pan an action shot anymore. In fact, it’s more common for me to be asked how to darken a sky or create a motion blur in Photoshop! It’s disappointing, but the fact is that students feel the only way to get their work noticed is to Photoshop the their work to death.
But it’s not only amateur photographers that feel the pressure to use Photoshop. On the contrary, fakery is increasingly being discovered in areas of photography where it is considered taboo to use Photoshop. What I’m talking about here is photojournalism and esteemed wildlife photography competitions. Only last year for example, a scandal of epic proportions erupted in the Swedish Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition when the winner was discovered to have faked his winning entries in Photoshop.

It’s anyone’s guess just how many faked photographs from competitions and newspapers are yet to be uncovered, but the fact remains that Adobe, and it’s latest version of Photoshop aren’t making the job of detecting them any easier. Indeed, CS6 just handed a whole new set of tools that are sure to encourage photographers to create even more sophisticated fakes and fool us all the more.

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