Was this Photoshopped?

I stopped counting the number of times I have been asked the question, Was this photoshopped? while discussing my photography, and I’m not always certain what it means. In an effort to get to an understanding of the question, this article offers food for thought.

First, Photoshop, a series of software programs by Adobe allowing users to process and edit their digital images, has become somewhat of a standard for digital imaging software. Before digital photography became prevalent, not that long ago, photographers processed, edited, and produced their images in the darkroom or at a lab using various processes and chemicals. Photoshop mirrors many of those processes digitally, such as dodging, a process to lighten areas of an image. Although many photographers still use film, digital photography—carried out with digital cameras, computers and monitors, and digital imaging software to process and produce the images has become the new standard —thus eliminating the need for film and the darkroom altogether.

In addition, different digital imaging software packages accomplish different things during the digital photography workflow. Some software is all-inclusive and does everything from generating the raw images from the camera to assisting with the printing, while other types of software accomplish a specific purpose, such as adding an aged effect to the image. Digital images, with the exception of those taken with super fast and easy point-and-shoot cameras or cell phones, typically require some type of editing. Even if the photographer shoots all of their digital images as JPEGs, they usually have to load them from the camera onto the computer and edit them in some way before producing them for web or print. Some cameras, including many point-and-shoots, come bundled with simple editing software, while other cameras, such as digital SLRs, require more sophisticated software to process the images. Many serious photographers shoot their images in RAW format (comparable to negatives with film), which allows for more editing, and, theoretically, achieves a better result. During the digital photography workflow, basic edits are accomplished with digital imaging software such as Photoshop—these edits change or improve upon functions that were not or could not be optimized during shooting such as lighting, color, composition, etc. Additionally, for more advanced users, abundant software packages exist that offer numerous functionalities and effects.

A number of high-end photographers very skilled with digital imaging software use Photoshop and other software programs to create dream-like fantasy photographs, while others use similar techniques to create false impressions—sometimes with good intentions, such as for advertising, and sometimes with bad intentions, as when paparazzi alter celebrity photos in unflattering ways for monetary gain. Along those lines, a popular connotation of the term “photoshopped” refers to images altered in such a way as to create a new image/photograph that is nothing like the original. For example, a photo of a woman floating over a body of water or a photo of a dog’s head fused onto the body of a human. The very nature of digital photography allows for these types of combinations, either to create a unique piece of digital art or to create a false impression.

So, getting to the heart of the question, Was this photoshopped? requires some explanation of its intent—Is the person posing the question wondering whether the photograph was shot in film or digitally? Are they inquiring if the photograph was put through an extreme editing process that substantially altered the original image? Was there another intent to the question?

With all of that said, in reference to digital photography, the answer to the question, Was this photoshopped?, almost has to be yes, taking into consideration that Photoshop is somewhat of a catch-all term for all digital imaging software. Therein lies the rub—although the answer is yes, what do you mean by “photoshopped”?!


Friend or Foe?

Alligator and two turtles at Magnolia Plantation

Friend or Foe

A bunch of spectators, including me, looked on in awe at a peculiar companionship between an alligator and two turtles at Magnolia Plantation.  At times, during this spectacle, the turtles stepped onto the back of the alligator to sun themselves, unaware of the potential danger lurking there.

Turtles are, in fact, part of the alligator diet, yet they exhibit a strange camaraderie when the alligator is not in the mood for a meal. Springtime is the perfect time for them to share a sunny spot on the shoreline, taking pleasure in their mutual habitat.

Perhaps what struck observers of this strange amity is the dichotomous relationship they were witnessing between a friend and a foe—a relationship present in all of nature—the ability to exist in harmony in conflict with singular ambitions.


Smoky Mountain Wildflowers

by Susan DeTomi

Smoky Mountain Wildflowers

Wildflower Waterfall

Two weeks ago, I visited Great Smoky Mountains National Park, between North Carolina and Tennessee, for the first time, catching the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage in all its glory.  Starting at Oconaluftee River Trail in the lower elevations many varieties of Smoky Mountain wildflowers including Crested Iris, Thyme-leaved Bluets, Foamflower, and Blue Phlox dotted the terrain while elk meandered across the pathways and trotted out to a stream to have a long cool drink with their comrades.

Fearing the car ride up the mountains would be like so many other white-knuckle trips I’d taken to lofty peaks in the past, I mulled over whether to trek to the other side or play it safe in the low-lying area around the waterfalls. The well thought-out decision to make the journey did not go unrewarded, as surprises greeted us around every twist and turn—clusters of red and yellow Columbine and Bleeding Heart sprouted from craggy cliffs; Bishop’s Cap lined up along the slope in perfect unison; White Trillium peeked through bunches of Fire Pink; and whole cliff sides were sprayed in purple, as in the featured photograph, Wildflower Waterfall.

A fellow seeker of flora and fauna that day boasted about the unique ecosystem of the park, a part of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, referring to its extraordinarily diverse population of plant and animal life.  According to the National Park Service, “over 17,000 species have been documented in the park, and scientists believe an additional 30,000 – 80,000 species may live in the area.” Considering this, a one-day visit only whetted my eagerness to see more of this spectacle, and I’m already daydreaming of a Summer or Fall sojourn to take in a little bit more.


Search or Serendipity?

Search or Serendipity?  Someone remarked recently that great photographs cannot be found by searching or hunting for them. At first, it made sense, but when I really thought about it, I’m not sure I agree. There are many times when planning a photography adventure for the sole purpose of photographing particular settings turns out extremely well.

Planning a trip doesn’t necessarily mean that the resulting photographs will be mundane; on the contrary, time and money can be saved with planning by ensuring that aspects such as weather and lighting will be advantageous for the photography. In addition, routes can be mapped to save time and gas that might otherwise be wasted looking for specific or for intriguing locations. That having been said, there is another side to that argument, which may hint at the intended spirit of the remark.

The reverse argument favors the idea of serendipity—finding that amazing photograph when you least expect it—unplanned, uncharted, and completely spontaneous. I’ve taken many surprising photographs resulting from chance encounters. More often than not, however, I find the unexpected during a planned trip. One such photograph titled, Stained Glass Tree, was taken on a visit to a popular waterfall. Although the waterfall was stunning, the real beauty that day was a scrubby looking maple glistening at the edge of a cliff overlooking the waterfall, sunlight illuminating its multicolored leaves while patches of blue sky peaked between every crevasse.

So, what is the best approach? There is no one right approach, but the message in this is that whether you plan a photography adventure or not, make sure that you remain open to all of your surroundings, not just your intended destination. You will be surprised at what hidden gems can be found.


Springtime in the Lowcountry

Springtime in the Lowcountry

Springtime in the Lowcountry

He witnessed the beauty for a moment and then looked away.
When he turned his head back around… it was gone.


Spring finally arrived in the South Carolina lowcountry (low-lying region along the coast) as plantations and gardens awash with color boast abundant varieties of flora, including azaleas, irises, wisteria, dogwood, and others. The lowcountry possesses an ethereal beauty that is unlike any other, bringing thousands of visitors to the area every year just to witness the fleeting spectacle.

Walking around Magnolia Plantation with my camera last week, I bumped into one such visitor carrying a point-and-shoot camera and a bewildered expression on his face. We greeted one another, and then he confessed his extreme frustration at leaving his good camera equipment at home, lamenting, “I just didn’t expect this. I’m not sure how impressed I was with anything…until I saw this—right here, right now! This is amazing!”


Saturdays at Charleston Farmers Market

As an artisan of the Charleston Farmers Market with my photography business, Susan DeTomi Photography, I meet amazing people every Saturday. I interviewed some customers last year, both local and from all around the world. This video illustrates why people love the market and keep coming back every year. Come visit us on April 13, when the CFM season begins, and every Saturday after that from 8:00 am to 2:00 pm.

Enjoy the video!


What is Fine Art Photography?

When photographic images are referred to as “fine art,” it raises questions—perhaps because it gives an impression that fine art images are somehow superior; more artistic; even gallery-worthy. Still, there is a history and an established meaning of “fine art images” in the world of photography.

Advocates such as S.D. Jouhar, founder and Chairman of the Photographic Fine Art Association in 1961, strove to establish a new classification of photography created as art, defining “fine art” as “creating images that evoke emotion by a photographic process in which one’s mind and imagination are freely but competently exercised (Jouhar).”

Along those lines, fine art photography was distinguished from commercial photography.   Jouhar strove to classify photography as an art rather than a craft, one of the prevailing perceptions at the time. The new definition also encompassed the “technical” perspective from which the photograph was created, emphasizing “fine perception” and “technical execution.”

Clearly, characterizing photography as fine art was intended to promote it in a new and positive way that would benefit all photographers. Even so, common misperceptions exist about the use of this term, suggesting it may be a means to elevate a photographer’s status.

Investigating present day photographers for the meaning of “fine art photography,” Alain Briton provides a note-worthy analysis of the term in his essay, “Fine Art Photography Top 16” (Briot, 2010), excerpted below:

  1. “Become an expert in light
  2. Compose your images carefully
  3. Study colors and contrast
  4. Create images that represent what you felt, not just what you saw
  5. Focus on quality not quantity
  6. Master both art and technique
  7. Master all the aspects of fine art photography (composition, conversion, optimization, printing, curating, and exhibiting)
  8. Optimize your photographs using layers in Photoshop
  9. Make the final print your goal
  10. Mat and present your work in a professional manner
  11. Focus your work and effort on projects
  12. Share your work with others and build an audience
  13. Do not try to recreate the wheel
  14. Create a personal style
  15. Do not expect success overnight
  16. Do not overestimate talent” 


Briot, A. (2010, June 5). Fine Art Photography Top 16. Retrieved February 15, 2013, from Nature Photographers – Online Magazine: www.naturephotographers.net

Jouhar, D. S. (n.d.). Dr. S.D. Jouhar (1901-1963) – A Retrospective. Retrieved February 15, 2013, from wwwsdjouhar.com


New Topics on Photography!

I’m expanding this photoblog, Impressions, to feature articles on a variety of photography-related topics in addition to continuing with its original focus—to display photographs by Susan DeTomi highlighted by creative writing.

Customers approach me to discuss all aspects of photography, so adding those discussions as topics for blog postings seemed like the perfect way to share them! Please stop by to leave your questions and comments.


Ode to Angel Oak

Angel Oak, John's Island

Angel Oak

I, Susan DeTomi, wrote the haiku that follows, relating my infatuation with a tree—yes, a tree—a Southern Live Oak, specifically referred to as the Angel Oak located in Johns Island, South Carolina.

The Southern Live Oak is a magnificent tree with curving branches that reach out in every direction and then arch up again toward the sky, and the Angel Oak is the granddaddy of them all.  Measuring 65 feet tall with limbs stretching out to 180 feet at their widest point, tip-to-tip (according to Wikipedia), the Angel Oak has been around for 300 to 400 years and has quite a following. Each time I visit the tree, I witness the awe and admiration surrounding it. Visitors from all over the world are snapping pictures and can often be seen hugging the tree, hoping to absorb some of its strong life force.

And so I wrote this haiku, a sort of ode to the Angel Oak, untitled, which speaks for itself:



Riding a Butterfly

"Rding a Butterfly" poem & Clouded Sulphur photo

Clouded Sulphur at Bear Island

Riding a Butterfly
If I hitched a ride from a butterfly,
holding tight, wings fluttering beside me—
I wouldn’t have to ramble through brush,
woven with prickers, every pest in tow,
to catch a glimpse of one perfect flower—
gardens and meadows alike, we would go.
My flighty host would alight each blossom,
sipping sweet nectar from a very fine straw;
the flowers would shower us with pollen,
the wind gently blowing the seeds to sow;
the bees would encircle us for hours,
all the while, putting on their jealous show.
- Susan DeTomi


April Showers

Couple under umbrella at Middleton Place

April Showers

Although it seldom rains around Charleston, when it does, there is almost a refreshing sense of renewal in the air. Instead of wanting to run indoors, it makes you want to press your face to the sky and feel the cool droplets splash on your skin.

Strolling around Middleton Place last week, dodging rain showers throughout the morning, I turned a corner to find this couple, framed with azaleas, sharing an umbrella while live oaks formed a perfect canopy over their heads.


The Boneyard

Botany Bay Boneyard

The Boneyard

The Boneyard seems like a befitting theme as Halloween approaches, yet the boneyard captured in this picture doesn’t quite match the one that comes to mind, the image of a graveyard, scattered with headstones tended by splintered black trees, stabbing their craggy limbs into the steel gray sky. This graveyard belongs to Mother Nature—a graveyard of trees slowly being reclaimed by the sea—trees that are now just remnants of what they once were. This place possesses a haunting beauty, a dichotomy of life and death that transcends elements of nature into the supernatural.

Despite the outward forces of destruction, life is teeming in and around the boneyard at Botany Bay Plantation: surf continues to batter the shoreline, pelicans fly in symmetrical formations overhead, and the sun shines so brightly you can scarcely steal a glance at the Carolina sky. The sculptural tree relics of the boneyard contrast starkly against the life-giving blues of the sky, and, still, this place of turbulence is much more than a ghostly apparition. A diverse wildlife population flourishes nearby, including endangered species such as Loggerhead Sea Turtles, Wilson’s Plovers, and Least Terns. After spotting one of the rare Painted Buntings that inhabit this coastal area, I am reminded once again that life goes on


Edge of the Hurricane

Hurricane Irene at Kiawah Island

Edge of the Hurricane

On the edge of Hurricane Irene, in the early evening of August 26 just before the sun started to go down on Kiawah Island, SC, a rainbow emerged between a thick band of eerie gray clouds enveloping the shoreline and the sun-streaked sky.

The rainbow lingered for a few moments and then disappeared into the night, stealing the last rays of sunshine with it, leaving behind a mere notion of its presence. After taking her respite on this coastal paradise, Irene, too, set her sights farther East and tumbled along towards more prominent shorelines.


Little Armored One

"Little Armored One"

Little Armored One

After chasing several varieties of dragonflies on the Edisto Nature Trail a couple of months ago, I heard something rustling in the dead leaves to the left of the walkway, where I spotted a small patch of gray peaking through the mélange of brown. What could this naked, hairless patch of gray be connected to? A snake? Some type of reptile?

The rustling continued until, up popped two ears, alert and erect, followed by a pointy snout. The little body emerged, scaled and practically hairless, followed by a long, segmented tail. It then became clear that this little critter was a baby armadillo, somewhat resembling Piglet from Winnie the Pooh. It brought to mind a family trip to Florida many years ago when I saw my first armadillo, only that earlier siting was a full grown one, sizable in comparison to this little baby and fully encased in a shell of “armor”.

The critter continued foraging through the dead leaves, waddling along, while intermittently poking his head down into the leaves. He was so small, I could nearly fit his entire body in the palm of my hand, but of course I did not, fearing the mother’s retribution to me and to her baby. So I left him there, alone, to find his own way, his mother nowhere in sight. Afterwards, my discovery left me wanting to learn more about this little creature that I stumbled upon in the forest, so I did my own digging…

It is no wonder that the armadillo is such a prehistoric looking creature, as its most recent ancestor existed 60 million years ago; however, it was much larger than the present day armadillo, which typically weighs between 8 and 17 pounds. According to Audubon, the nine-banded armadillo is the only species of armadillo living in the United States, although there are 20 different species of the mammal in Latin America. The name armadillo is of Spanish origin and means “little armored one” due to the hard shells on its head, back, legs, and tail, which do not harden until the animal is fully grown. Armadillos make their homes in shady areas such as forests and brushland. They mainly eat a wide range of insects and larvae, including earthworms, spiders, snails, cockroaches, ants, wasps, flies, beetles, and such, searching for their prey by burrowing and digging into ground litter. They often become road kill victims on the highway due to their natural instinct of jumping upwards when faced by a predator, which doesn’t help them much when approached by a moving vehicle.

Although the armadillo is associated with negative connotations, being the only other mammal to carry leprosy other than humans and often being implicated as a nuisance to homeowners and golf-course operators alike due to its burrowing behavior, I prefer to think of this creature in a more whimsical way. Rudyard Kipling said it best in, “The Beginning of the Armadillo”, a story about how a hedgehog, who couldn’t swim, and a turtle, who couldn’t curl up, became an armadillo, who could do both. The Mother Jaguar in the story remarks at the end, “But it isn’t a hedgehog, and it isn’t a tortoise. It’s a little bit of both, and I don’t know its proper name.”

~ Susan DeTomi


Welcome to Impressions Photoblog!

Welcome to Impressions, a photoblog featuring the photography and writings of Susan DeTomi. Some posts feature photographs from Susan DeTomi Photography highlighted by creative writing and others feature articles on photography-related topics. This blog allows me to express and blend two forms of art that I truly enjoy—photography and writing.

The photographs featured in some of the blog posts represent a small sampling of the photographs I take for fun and in connection with my photography business, Susan DeTomi Photography, based in Charleston, South Carolina. Although I specialize in color, nature, and macro photography, I also have a collection of black-and-white photography as well as new media art. You can visit me at the Charleston Farmers Market in Marion Square on Saturdays, 8:00 AM to 2:00 PM, to view or purchase my work, which includes matted and/or framed fine art images and cards created with archival materials.