That gorgeous fashion model on the billboard? Not quite so gorgeous in person. The extraordinary science photo of our galaxy? The original was less dramatic. That Facebook picture of your brother-in-law golfing with the President? They’re not actually fairway buddies.
From fashion spreads and films to product packaging and news images, Photoshop helped transform our view of the world—and our trust in what we see.
Seeing is Believing
“Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?” snaps Groucho Marx in Duck Soup.
The film quip was prophetic. In the Photoshop era, your eyes may mislead.
Even knowing that images are easily manipulated, it’s natural to believe what we see. Photoshop introduced an unprecedented tool for shaping emotions, opinions, and actions, from art and advertising to propaganda, from science to selfies.
Left: Credit: © Newsweek LLC Right: Credit: © Time Inc.
Newsweek and Time covers, June 27, 1994
Newsweek and Time hit newsstands on the same day with the same cover image - a mug shot of former football star OJ Simpson, but with one glaring difference. Many accused Time of altering its image to make Simpson “darker” and more “sinister” in a racist ploy to sell magazines, a claim Time vehemently denied. The difference was especially noticeable next to Newsweek’s untouched cover.
A New Normal
What happens when perfection becomes the norm?
By erasing blemishes and flaws in the images we see daily, are we creating a new, unobtainable standard of beauty? Is there a connection between the Photoshop era’s perfection and increasing rates of anorexia and plastic surgery?
Left-Protesters outside Seventeen’s headquarters, New York, May 2, 2012 Right- Seventeen “Body Peace Treaty” spread, August 2012
Photoshop Software Makers and Users
Corset, ca. 1900Makeup, 1950s
Blurring the Lines
We expect news photos to be authentic. We accept that advertising images are doctored. Between those extremes lies a hazy middle ground in which fantasy and reality sometimes overlap.
What are the political and cultural implications as photo manipulation gets easier…and separating truth from fiction gets harder?
Center: © Ken Light Right: © Owen Franken/Corbis
Left-Composite image made from 1971 Kerry photo and 1972 Fonda photo, February 2004 Center-John Kerry, Mineola, New York, June 13, 1971 Right-Jane Fonda, Miami Beach, August 1, 1972
This Photoshop forgery was released during the 2004 presidential election. It was made to look like an old newspaper clipping and even had a phony Associated Press photo credit.
Left-White House Situation Room, mission against Osama bin Laden, May 1, 2011 Right-White House Situation Room doctored photo in Di Tzeitung, May 9, 2011
Tweaking Images to See More Clearly
Doctoring photos can distort reality. But it also can sharpen reality, an invaluable tool in labs, police precincts, medical offices, and elsewhere.
Forensic photography “ages” missing children, projecting how they might look today. Manipulating images can reveal cell structures, enhance satellite photos, or help plan plastic surgery.
Left-Jaycee Dugard, 1991 Center-Age-progression image of Jaycee Dugard, 25 years old, February 2006 Right-People magazine cover of Jaycee Dugard, October 26, 2009
Joe Mullins, Forensic Imaging Specialist, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children
Eagle Nebula's “Pillars of Creation” Left-Hydrogen Light, Sulfur Light, Oxygen Light Right-Final composite image, retouched 2014
Zolt Levay, Imaging Group Lead, Space Telescope Science Institute
Marx Barnes, 1977 (Recovered/Located)Morgan Nick, 1995 (Missing)
Visual artists reinterpret the world around them, capturing reality—or creating new realities.
Which is also what Photoshop does.
The ability to manipulate images easily and effectively gives us a powerful new artistic tool. Today, if we can envision it, we can probably portray it.
Kodak KLI-6003 Trilinear CCD sensor array, 1993Better Light digital scan back, ca. 1994 Kodak DCS 460 camera, 1995
Bert Monroy, Times Square, 2011
Stephen Johnson, Trees, Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, Moss Beach, California, 1994
How Does Photoshop Work?
Photoshop was an inspired marriage of math and art.
Digital pictures—like all computer data—are simply coded series of 1s and 0s. Numbers. Manipulating those numbers changes the way the computer draws the image.
The calculations involved are complex, but Photoshop's user-friendly interface lets people alter an image without ever seeing the math behind it.
Courtesy of Bert Monroy
Photoshop layers panel (Times Square detail, by Bert Monroy)
Layers allow multiple images to be individually edited and combined to create the perfect composition and enable flexibility and customization. Artist Bert Monroy’s Times Square piece has over 750,000 layers and is an astounding 54,000 x 10,800 pixels!
Bert Monroy, Artist, Creator of Times Square artwork
Credit: © Adobe
Photoshop 1.0 code, 1990
Photoshop 1.0 was written primarily in the Pascal programming language for the Apple Macintosh. It was released on February 19, 1990, as a high-end product, priced at $600. Photoshop 1.0 had only 100,000 lines of code compared to current versions, which have over 10 million.
United States Patent and Trademark Office via Google Patents
Gregg Wilensky, United States Patent No. 8,605,940 B1, December 10, 2013
Photoshop’s user-friendly interface lets people harness millions of lines of complex code and hundreds of powerful algorithms based on advanced mathematical concepts. Patents, like this one for Photoshop’s selection mask function, protect the intellectual property of these codes and algorithms.
No Computer Needed
We have been doctoring images since the birth of photography.
In the pre-digital age, people used many techniques, from airbrushing printed pictures to overlaying film negatives, from double exposures to literal cut-and-paste jobs. But no technique was as simple to use as Photoshop. Or as hard to detect.
Left: Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images Right: RIA Novosti/AFP/Getty Images
Left: Kliment Voroshilov, Vyacheslav Molotov, Joseph Stalin, and Nikolai Yezhov, Vyacheslav Molotov, 1937
Right: Voroshilov, Molotov, and Stalin (censored)
Censorship was common throughout the former Soviet Union and communist China. When Nikolai Yezhov fell out of favor with Joseph Stalin, Yezhov was arrested, executed, and removed from photographs.
National Media Museum/Science & Society Picture Library
Elise Wright, Alice and the Fairies, July 1917
Cousins Frances “Alice” Griffiths and Elise Wright maintained until the 1980s that the fairies in this photograph were real. Really, the fairies were constructed by Elise and secured in the ground with hatpins.
A Power Tool
Digital images are made of tiny picture elements (“pixels”). Photoshop lets users manipulate these almost limitlessly.
Photoshop’s strength springs from a user-friendly interface that lets people easily harness million of lines of complex code, and hundreds of powerful algorithms based on mathematical concepts such as the bi-harmonic equation and vector space color model.
John and Thomas Knoll grew up developing photos in their dad’s darkroom. So when Thomas got a Macintosh II in 1987, it was natural for him to try improving its photo handling abilities.
The result? A program called Display, which he and brother John (employed at special effects pioneer Industrial Light and & Magic) expanded into Image-Pro, forerunner of Photoshop.
Left-John Knoll Right-Thomas Knoll
John Knoll and Thomas Knoll Co-Creators of Photoshop
Display, ca. 1987Barneyscan 35 mm slide film scanner, ca. 1989
From Prototype to Professional
The Knoll brothers’ photography program was promising…but not profitable. They licensed one version to a scanner manufacturer.
The big break came when Russell Brown, Adobe’s art director, became interested. Brown persuaded Adobe to help refine the Knolls’ software. Adobe released the expanded product—Photoshop—in 1990.
Photo by Joel Grimes/Courtesy of Russell Brown
Russell Brown as Shakespeare, ca. 2015
An early promoter of Photoshop, Russell Brown quickly became known for his theatrical tutorials, touting the program as an essential design tool for professional publishers, photographers, designers, and artists. He fostered a uniquely playful relationship unique interplay between developers and users that has greatly contributed to Photoshop’s popularity and success.
Photoshop Rivals Left-Aldus PhotoStyler 2.0, 1993 Right-Letraset ColorStudio 1.0, 1989
Credit: © Adobe
Evolution of the Photoshop toolbar
With each new version, Photoshop adds new features to its creative toolkit, underscoring the evolution of the product itself. Key milestones include: Photoshop adapted for Windows (2.5), layers feature added (3.0), history palette added (5.0), Photoshop optimized for the web (5.5), and healing brush added (7.0).