Why You don’t need to use Photoshop as a Street Photographer

Street photography is an intriguing and beguiling practice. Everytime I go out to take street photos, I leave the house with a different attitude, or emotional feeling about what I’m about to do. This can be a little stressful, or it can be a full-on hopeful attitude of, “today, I’m gonna get a great shot.” , That’s probably a good attitude, but it can put a photographer under too much pressure if taken seriously.

We should walk out into the street with basic camera equipment. A decent lens of personal choice, a camera that will handle light and darkness and allow us to control those deep shadows and bright highlights that we street photographers are attracted to.

The problem is that when we’re on the street things move quickly. What we look at causes us to think, ask questions, and then it’s gone. Other times, we take fast shots of fleeting ideas that sprint across our path, or we wait on a corner and stare at a pretty cool looking object that only needs the long stride of a marching ant to set the composition up. Click! and they are gone again.

Missed Opportunities

How many times have found yourself pondering a scene on the street, thinking about it too long, and finally when you make a decision and take a shot you get that feeling that just about caught the tail end of the rabbit as it disappeared into the shadows?

I try my best to get the shot in the camera. Hopes that I have, when I get home I’m brimming in the knowledge that even though I’m tired, even though it feels like I didn’t really get the great compositions I was hoping for, I’ll probably find a little gem in camera that I forgot all about.

But then there are those shots that look surprisingly good when they come up on the computer screen.

Customize Histogram and Properties panels

Those are the ones that need a little tweaking, and so we put them through Photoshop, then do our best to save them or turn them into something that’s worth looking at.

Photoshop is often a life saver for a street photographer. we can’t always get it right with the depth of shadows, or maybe we went over the top with ISO and need to clean up that edging noise that, maybe looks like intentional grain, but is in fact small explosions of bright pixels that got mashed up in the shot.

Using Photoshop is an easy fix – thank God.

When I first started using Photoshop felt like I was moving into the field of fakes, a photographer but a messed up one who needs to fix everything he photographs. I kept wishing that I’d calm down out there, and adjust my triad of control so that I’d be sure to get what I wanted.

Photoshop is Your darkroom

In the end, I realised that Photoshop is about the same as the old time dark room that analogue photographers would use.

If you check out the tricks and dodges and burn techniques of darkroom photography, you’ll see a lot in common with the use of Photoshop.

It’s basically an extremely cool piece of kit that every digital photographer should use, or at least try, and get into to find out why it’s so important to use Photoshop.

Some days I use Photoshop only to adjust the contrast and the exposure levels on a photograph.

Knowledge about Pixels is Knowing how to control a Digital image

Other days, I’ll find I can spend time manipulating a digital photo, and spend that time learning about what exactly happens to the pixels when we change things on a digital photo. That’s an important part of modern digital photography – we’re not dealing with printed ink on paper anymore, it’s those pixels that we use and manipulate to get the image we desire. You should know something about what happens when you adjust one of the controls in Photoshop.

Photoshop gives you a lot of immediate information about what happened when you took the shot. You’ll see up in the top right corner of the Photoshop browser a histogram. It’ll give you basic but important information about you photo.

What to look for in Your Photoshop Histogram

The first thing I look for is whether I got the light and darkness to sit in the middle, and did I keep the balance between shadow and light level enough not to create a monster of a condensed spike on one side of the information/ picture.

The image below shows how there is way too much darkness on the left side of the histogram.

Left is dark pixels, right is light pixels. The Photoshop image shows a curves adjustment being done on the blue channel.

Below is the basic Histogram on photoshop. Set to RGB colours. This histogram shows you how all colours make up light and darkness. There are no heavy spikes left or right, even though it shows more dark shadows on the left, it’s a fairly balanced look for a digital photo.

How to Use the Histogram Panel in Photoshop CS6

As a street photographer you’ll probably like those dark shadows. So you go for them, try and catch them in all their lovely depth and glory. A warm day, a cool day, two different types of shadow, but we do have to be careful not to overwhelm the frame with so much shadow that it’ll be hard to adjust a bad shot in Photoshop without destroying any off balance highlights.

I called this article “Why you don’t need to use Photoshop”, for a good reason.

I believe that photography is done in the camera, on the street or in the studio.

You Need Photoshop as a Support to your Work

Photoshop is a support software that allows us to tweak and adjust, or if the desire grabs us, to create something fictional out of shots that we have taken. Camera first, learn everything about working with “manual” setting – once you get a few things right, you don’t go back to the “P” setting – ever. In automatic mode, “P” setting, you control zilch. How can that be creative and fun?

Learning Opportunities

There is a lot to learn by only using the camera, and to not accept shots that are way off balance. Better to try and go back to the street and try again, find a corner where you feel the same vibe as before, or similar, and go for it, find the shots you want and practice your craft of street photography like a monk on speed.

If you try Photoshop, which you do for free. Normally one free month’s use of Photoshop software gives you plenty of time to test it, and decide for yourself, without parting with a penny. It will help you develop an attitude of being a street photographer who needs Photoshop to adjust, and store work on the Adobe cloud, and more, but to always stay focused on the camera.

Beginner Photographers

If you are just starting as a photographer, or have been using cheap free software to adjust the light and darkness on your digital photos, then you’ll get a big rush out of using professional level Photoshop software to work on all of those “nearly a gem” photos.

Street Photography is a place to go. We live in a digital age, and we are often bound hands and feet to a computer. For me, Photoshop is the one on computer software that has made sitting at my desk working on images an absolute enjoyment – I dislike a lot of what the internet and computers stand for, what they have changed in out lives, but Photoshop is a big positive contribution to using a computer in a quality way. It offers the opportunity for pure creativity in a digital world.

It offers you the opportunity to learn something really interesting, useful, and possibly a way to make money with your photography or graphic knowledge. That last one is always up to you, but the opportunities to create and sell images is a broad market that requires knowledge of digital manipulation with Photoshop.

Find out what Photoshop has to offer you, take a look, have a try, and see for yourself how valuable Photoshop is to Street Photographer.

If you try Photoshop for Street Photographers , and decide you don’t like it, you simply cancel your subscription and there are no questions asked why. There is no risk in trying quality for free.