February 08, 2010, 4:30 PM — Adobe Photoshop is so intrinsic to our daily digital lives these days, you might find it hard to believe that the program is just two decades old. In the 20 years since its introduction, Photoshop has changed the way we see the world, altered our sense of reality, and transformed the way we express ourselves.
Stop for a moment and take a look around you. Nearly every image you see today--in ads, on billboards, in magazines, on Websites, and in newspapers--was touched in some way by Photoshop. Its influence is so great that the program has even earned a place in the vernacular: The verb to photoshop has become shorthand for the act of altering digital images. (Adobe bristles at such usage of its trademarked application name.)
Who knew that the software begun as a way to procrastinate in the face of a looming Ph.D. thesis would have such an impact? When Thomas and John Knoll, the brothers who created what we now know as Photoshop, suspected the software could be more than their private diversion and went looking for investors to fund the development, Silicon Valley for the most part said, "No thanks." Eventually, Barneyscan, a small slide-scanner developer, agreed to a short-term license. Only 200 or so copies of the application called Barneyscan XP sold, but it represented the program's first commercial connection to photography. (Today, Photoshop geeks brag about not only having used Barneyscan XP but also owning the original floppies of what was officially Photoshop version 0.87.)
Finally the folks at Adobe saw it. To its credit, the company licensed the software without hesitation in 1989. Adobe Photoshop 1.0 was released in early 1990. Available only on the Mac, it was one of the platform's first "killer apps."
In its early days, Photoshop was searching for its true purpose. Like a child prodigy, it was good at so many things--from digital doodling to prepress production--that it didn't know where to focus its energy. Customers seemed to respond in kind. The program is so deep and all-encompassing that Adobe says most customers use only five percent of Photoshop's features.
But despite its other talents, photography has always been the beating heart of Photoshop. The Knoll brothers' father was an avid amateur photographer. In his father's basement darkroom, Thomas learned about the image essentials that would end up at Photoshop's core. As Photoshop evolved, so did the market it served. Scanning prints and negatives transitioned into doing everything digitally, and the equipment for producing digital photographs became more powerful and plentiful. As a result, more and more photographers saw the potential in Photoshop--and with their influence, digital photography became Photoshop's main mission.