The Photoshop Journey

By Michelle Standiford, Graphic Designer ~
As part of my job as the graphic designer here at the Loveland Museum, I get to work on many projects. Every day brings the challenges and fun of designing and creating posters, the aha! publications,  banners, exhibit signage, brochures, catalogs, and more. Some of the duties I find the most interesting are when staff members have me work on photos and do some image manipulation to fit with a current exhibition. To do this, I use my favorite tool of the trade, Adobe Photoshop. I love Photoshop. There isn’t a day that goes by that this program isn’t up and running on my computer both at work and at home. I couldn’t imagine doing my job without it.

strip of Photoshop imagesThis year, Photoshop celebrated its 25th anniversary – yes, it’s been around that long! Through these past 25 years, Photoshop has grown and advanced into a program that started merely an image editing program to one that can incorporate a variety of brushes and artistic features, web functionality, process RAW images, and create dynamic video. It’s not just for photos anymore. And I have been a part of this journey for…well…let’s just say I’ve been around for a very big part of it.

Whether you use Photoshop yourself or not, everyone is aware of Photoshop and knows of its power. You’ve seen the photos of perfectly airbrushed celebrities and the odd images that you knew just couldn’t be true, and have probably used the statement “that’s been photo shopped!” So I thought it would be fun to take a look back at how this program came about and how it has affected our lives.

Like all great inventions of the late 1980s, it seemed everything started in a garage or basement. And Photoshop was no different. George Knoll, a college professor, had a love of photography and set up a dark room in his basement. He also had an interest in a new invention of the time, the personal computer. He shared these passions with his sons, Thomas and John. John Knoll took this love of computers and began working at Industrial Light and Sound  – you know, that little company  responsible for Star Wars? Thomas Knoll took his love of photography and computers and pursued his Ph.D. While working on his final thesis on the “processing of digital images” on his Mac computer, he experienced frustration with the fact that images couldn’t display accurately on the computer screen. For those of you who remember those early computers, they were basic black and white screens. There was no in between. So, putting that thesis aside, Thomas wrote a routine to allow the computer to display gray-scale images. And the journey began.

From there, his brother John got involved and asked if the program could be extended to save images in different formats that could be used to not just display on the computer screen, but for print as well. The images printed a little dark at first, so they wrote a routine to allow for adjustments in brightness. And so began the program Display. This name was later dropped in exchange for Image Pro. They had a difficult time marketing it at first, and it wasn’t until BarneyScan, a company making slide scanners, agreed to bundle a version of the software with their scanners, that it went more mainstream. 200 copies of what is now Photoshop were shipped to users with scanners. Not a glamorous start for the great software-to-be, but it didn’t last long. With more refinement, the Knoll brothers found a partner in Adobe, and in 1990, Photoshop version 1.0 became a reality.

It didn’t stop there. The Knoll brothers maintained an active role in the advancement of Photoshop. Some of the highlights through the early versions include:

Version 2.0 code named “Fast Eddy” – Introduced paths and CMYK color management (used for printing)

Version 2.5 – Photoshop, previously only available to Mac users, is now available to PC users

Version 3.0 code named “Tiger Mountain” really set Photoshop apart from everyone else with the inclusion of “layers.” While not a new concept at the time, Photoshop made layers into the powerful tool that they are today. No Photoshop artwork could exist without the use of layers and the functionality that Photoshop gave to them. For example, with layers, you could put grandma back into the family portrait even though she could not attend the original photo shoot. Or put a smile on Uncle Bob’s face. Or add a giant UFO to the scene behind everyone! Layers are so powerful with endless creative uses!

Version 4.0 – code name “Big Electric Cat” debuted in 1996 and brought with it adjustment layers and actions thus making those layers even more powerful. They also changed their user interface to make it more in line with the other Adobe programs.

Version 5.0 was released in 1998. This is a big moment in the Photoshop history as it was when I first used Photoshop. My first experience with the program was editing photos for the Fort Collins Country Club with version 5.0, and I was hooked instantly. Besides bringing me on board, this was a big time for Photoshop as well, as they introduced yet another powerful tool, the history tool. Now users can make hundreds of changes and go back to a specific point in the timeline and start over from there. No more undo, undo, undo…. You may think that this is no big deal, but it was awesome at the time! And still is. Sometimes, things just don’t come out in the end the way we envisioned them in our minds.

Version 5.5 came out shortly thereafter and if you can remember back to the late 1990s, the big thing of the time was the internet. In this version, Photoshop added an image compression functionality making it the best tool to prep images for the World Wide Web and not slowing down all our computers. Remember, we were on “dial up” connections at the time! This was also the point in time when Photoshop was setting itself apart and become a very advanced program that primarily only those in the industry used. It was too much for the average user and version 5.5 LE was created. This ultimately led to Photoshop Elements in 2001 presenting Photoshop in a much simpler format.

Version 6.0 – The highlight from this version was the addition of blend modes. This made adding multiple objects to your photo look more realistic and made it easy to create cool affects! And it made that UFO in the family portrait look like it was really there!

Version 7.0 – There were many additions again, but the best was the healing brush tool. All portrait photographers loved this as there just isn’t a perfect model. I know, hard to believe. With the healing brush, their skin was smoothed, blemishes removed, stray hairs eliminated, and wrinkles disappeared like magic. The fountain of youth was found in the digital world.

From here on, Photoshop kept going. I won’t continue to bore you with all the additions that came out with each version, but highlights include: a variety of filters, selection tools, RAW image processing, and video editing. It just kept getting better and better; and now, we store our photos in the Cloud. If you look back at the beginning, it was like a cosmic collision that couldn’t have been timed any better. Photoshop was there when the world welcomed the personal computer into their homes, bought their first digital cameras, and opened their first web pages. None of these things would have worked without Photoshop, and Photoshop wouldn’t have been the hit it was without these advancements either. Timing is everything. And to think, it started in a basement.

Jumping ahead to present day, the Knoll brothers are living happily ever after in the homes that Photoshop built. John Knoll still works at Industrial Light and Magic on little films like Star Trek and the Star Wars movies. Thomas continues to be a part of the Photoshop team. I am unable to find any information about whether he was ever able to return to his thesis and complete his doctorate. But hey, a little distraction can lead to even greater things.

For me, I’m currently using Photoshop to enhance a large cemetery photo for an upcoming exhibit. I’m thinking a little fog, a big moon, tombstones…. We’ll just have to wait and see, as the possibilities are endless!