The Evolution of Digitally Enhanced Photo Editing Functionality
Pretty much everyone knows the story of how Facebook came to be (clue, Mark Zuckerberg, 2 rowing-obsessed brothers, etc). Or for that matter, how Steve Jobs reversed Apple’s fortunes. And how Jeff Bezos became the richest man on the planet after taking Amazon into the stratosphere. Or how Stanford alumni, Larry Page and Sergey Brin created Google. But just how many of you are familiar with how another child of modern times came kicking and screaming into this (tech-embracing) world in which we all work, rest and play. Namely, that bastion of all things image retouching, Photoshop.
Well, cast your minds back to February the 19th, 1988. Can you remember what you were doing back then? Us, neither. But nevermind, as sibling developers, Thomas and John Knoll can very much recall that day in question, we’d have imagined. As that’s the precise day when the very first edition of Photoshop was fired up in anger by the aforementioned brothers, and which almost instantaneously created, monopolised and subsequently globalised a genre of computer-orientated graphic design which hitherto didn’t exist. Shortly after that initial fanfare, Adobe shipped version 1.0 of Photoshop and the rest is history.
So on that note; here’s the history bit.
Whilst today Photoshop represents many things to many people; in many fields, worldwide, back in the late 1980s reams of code devised by a team of enthusiastic developers didn’t mean that much to anyone outside of a close circle at that stage. And little did the brothers Knoll know that some three decades on that their pioneering software would have become a synonym for all photo retouching packages and almost exists in its own verb form and function.
But it did, and that’s why we’re celebrating it here (even more so in the case of us image manipulators, who have come to rely on it more ways than we can ever divulge fully).
Photoshop Inventors Come of Age
John and Thomas Knoll were as obsessed with technology as much as they were with art during their formative years, inspired by their photographer father’s love affair with both subject matters. Not only did the family home house a darkroom but it also accommodated various home computers; of which their dad was an early adopter. So perhaps it was inevitable that his sons would dabble in something along those twin lines during their adolescence.
As it panned out, Thomas threw himself into learning all about photography (applying himself to the areas of colour correction and contrast), while John took it upon himself to master the less dark(room) arts more commonly associated with fledgling home computers (their father had an Apple II around this time). Said game-changing computer fascinated the siblings, yet both quickly discovered flaws which inspired them to generate their own resolutions to the issues they foresaw. Like limitations on greyscale images on monochrome monitors, for example.
Below is the timeline which documents when and how the brothers set about this, and so began their odyssey which led to the creation of Photoshop; arguably the genesis of digital photo editing software which still serves as the ‘go-to’ piece of kit in 2019.
1987 – John works at Industrial Light and Magic; otherwise known as LucasFilm’s special effects department. Which to those not in the loop was created for production of the Star Wars movie franchise. Thomas on the other hand was studying for his Ph.D on image processing at the University of Michigan. Crucially he’d recently purchased an Apple Mac Plus specifically to help him with his thesis, yet was disheartened by its lack of true potential as he saw it. Cue him penning his own code in archetypal hacker style.
(Still during) 1987 – During a holiday visit, the two brothers got their heads together to determine if they could do anything about the existing software impasses both had experienced, in the direct aftermath of John being bowled over with Thomas’s progress. Collaboratively they constructed a more cohesive application, which they named ‘Display’.
(Sometime between 1987 and) 1988 – Thomas rewrote ‘Display’ after being persuaded by his brother, who’d acquired a new colour Macintosh II. John was so impressed with the rudimentary features Thomas was rolling out, he started making his own requests. Such as gamma correction modes and loading/saving of other file formats to name but two. Around this time, methods of selecting certain parts of images were dreamed up by Thomas, along with tone-adjusting features, controls for balance, hue and saturation and image processing routines which would subsequently morph into what we acknowledge today as plug-ins. And which, collectively, went on to become the defining aspects of Photoshop as we recognise it today.
1988 – ‘Display’ becomes ‘ImagePro’ and the brothers consider software as a commercially viable proposition to bring to market. Buoyed by a glaring absence of any credible competitors in the field – and the belief that ImagePro was at the vanguard of anything of this ilk – they sought out investors to further their ambition.
1988 – 1989 – Name evolved to become ‘Photoshop’, although actual inspiration never confirmed. Save to say rumour has it that it was how a potential publisher described what they saw when they witnessed a demo.
(Same time frame-ish) – Siblings hit a wall when hawking their invention around potential software companies, largely because many of these corporate tech institutions were engrossed in designing their own bespoke versions of photo editing software at this juncture.
1989 (mostly) – Adobe showed fleeting interest, but had concerns on initial approach. Scanner manufacturer, Barneyscan decided to take a punt on Photoshop, and offered it as part and parcel of its scanner package. Only it was branded as Barneyscan XP. Siblings weren’t happy with direction/arrangement, and re-pitched concept to Adobe; who this time were more welcoming of idea.
1989 (Cont’d)……. Knoll siblings knuckled down and worked around the clock to ensure that impending global launch of Photoshop 1.0 would be a success, both for them and Adobe who had shown faith in their vision.
February 1990 – We have lift off! – Adobe Photoshop 1.0 (Genesis as such) finally makes leap from brainchild of Knoll bros onto the shelves of retailers; and to unprecedented/critical acclaim (despite a number of teething problems/bugs). USP being along the lines of Apple’s more modern day ethos, in as much as presenting Photoshop as easy-to-use mass-market tool, as opposed to most graphics-led software at the time, which explicitly targeted specialists.
June 1991 – Version 2.0 engineered (codename – ‘Fast Eddy’), which now included Bézier paths, pen tool, Duotones, import and rasterization of Illustrator files and perhaps most ground-breaking of all; support for CMYK colour. Previously only compatible with Mac applications, an alternative version aimed at rapidly growing Windows graphics market entered the equation. Layers also quickly followed suite.
November 1992 – Version 2.5 released (codename – ‘Merlin Brimstone’), which saw introduction of a 16-bit channel support and palette feature.
September 1994 – Photoshop 3.0 unveiled (codename – ‘Tiger Mountain’), which gave photo retouchers first glimpse of layers and tabbed palettes. Game-changing features which promoted ease of use when it came to manipulation images.
November 1996 – Version 4.0 launched (codename – ‘Big electric Cat’), and which gave rise to adjustment layers and macros as the primary difference between new, revised product and what went before.
May 1998 – Photoshop 5.0 entered the market (codename – ‘Strange Cargo’),which brandished both managed colour and magnetic lasso functionality.
February 1999 – Version 5.5 had its covers whipped off (sharing previous codename, for all you codename fanboyz n gurls out there), which ushered in the debut of Macintosh and Windows support, image slicing and additional rollover effects.
September 2000 – Photoshop 6.0 observed the light of day (codename – ‘Venus in Furs’), which brandished a user interface update, dialog box, liquefy filter and vector shapes to name but four evolutionary bits and bobs.
March 2002 – Photoshop 7 came kicking and screaming into existence (codename – ‘Liquid Sky’), and which gave the world healing brush, designed text in vector and file browser accessibility.
Photoshop: The CS Years
October 2003 – Photoshop CS crops us (codename – ‘Dark Matter’). Parting ways with numbers and instead opting for letters hereonin, latest version bagged raft of image-editing treasures including camera RAW 2, highly modified slice tool, shadow/highlight command, match colour command, lens blur filter, real-time histogram and smart guides as part and parcel of timely revamp.
April 2005 – CS2 lands (codename – ‘Space Monkey’), and which gives debut to all-new features such as camera RAW 3, smart objects, image warp, spot healing brush, red-eye tool, lens correction filter, smart sharpen and vanishing point.
April 2007 – Photoshop CS3 revealed (codename – ‘Red Pill’), which paved way for black-and-white conversion adjustment, auto align and blend, revised user interface (including alterations to curves, channel mixer, brightness and contrast, cloning, healing and print dialogue).
April 2008 – Photoshop CS4 breaks the horizon (codenames were omitted for first time in history), which comprised of whole host of new image enhancing gizmos, including dodge/burn, content aware cropping, pixel grids for editing individual pixels, new masks panel, extended depth of field, fluid canvas rotation, smoother zooming and panning and 3D animation and painting functions.
April 2010 – CS5 makes its presence felt, and with it introduces us to the wonders of intelligent selection tech, improved raw and advanced HDR processing, localised warp tool, advanced 3D options, auto lens correction and extended painting effects.
And the rest as they say is what we all like to refer to as history.
Footnote: John Knoll also went on to become Visual Effects Supervisor on the new Star Wars films.