One of the first questions I get asked when people look at my photographs is “did you do something to the color in Photoshop?” The answer is always going to be yes. Why? Well, I shoot in a format called RAW. This format captures the most data when taking photos but leaves the photos looking “flat”. This is because the camera has made no color or contrast decisions for you. When you shoot JPEG the camera makes all the color decisions based on certain algorithms and what it thinks you are going for. You could say that ALL images go through color changes or contrast adjustments. Some the photographer has creative control over and others the camera has the control. I prefer to control this on my own using the RAW format.
When I shot film (Fuji Velvia) this question never came up and let me tell you, the images were very saturated with color. I think most people just assume that you use Photoshop to make a bad image good. One phrase that I repeat to myself often is “garbage in, garbage out”. It is vital that the image be the best it can be at the time of capture. This limits post processing time and ensures that you have a good product to start with. Photoshop is used to make a good image the best it can be. Generally, not always, if I have to spend more than five minutes on a photograph in Photoshop I just scrap the image.
What is the difference between Photoshop and the traditional darkroom? I say it is the amount of time you spend processing. In the traditional darkroom you could spend hours dodging and burning or playing with the paper exposure times for a single image. It takes a fraction of that time in Photoshop to make the same adjustments.
So, the line between an image being OVER processed is really up to the photographer’s vision and what he/she is attempting to produce. My goal, in most cases, is to render the image as close to what I remember seeing at the time of capture as possible.
Ansel Adams, one of the greatest photographers of all time, used what he called the Zone System and his final products looked nothing like his starting images… He would have loved Photoshop!!!