Editing Photographs – is it cheating or necessary?

Editing photographs – A professional photographers view

Editing photographs is cheating isn’t it?

Editing takes too long, doesn’t it?

I like my pictures to look natural, thats why I don’t edit!

A good photographer can take a great image with any camera and so doesn’t have to edit, do they?


If you agree with any of the above then you need to read this article.


With a new year upon us you may find yourself setting on on a new photographic journey either for a hobby or a change in career.  If so you need to be reviewing your editing process or at least starting one as editing is a fundamental part of photography, it is not cheating, doesn’t have to take long and is easy!


Nothing seems to cause so much debate in photography as much as the topic of editing or post production.  Much is spoken on the subject, a few curve balls are thrown and there is plenty of misunderstanding.  I don’t think photographers actually always help novices and those new to photography to understand the role of editing and post production but also unfortunately many colleges don’t seem to help.  In this short article I will try to explain a little about why photographers need to undertake some editing and just how easily it can be done.


Many years after the introduction of Adobe Lightroom which has revolutionised the editing process the best known editing tool remains Photoshop.  Now Photoshop is a great tool, in-fact a brilliant tool and yet it does take some considerable work to understand and even longer to perfect.  Processing your images takes some time and doesn’t tend to suit your modern day photographers workflow as well as Lightroom which is easier, quicker and a joy to work with.  For colleges a course on Photoshop can tend to last for weeks on end and even then only the basic tools may have been covered and not even the essential tasks of blending changes.  A Lightroom course on the other end could potentially last no more than a few hours although the user would then need to go away and put in a few more hours of practice to get to a good level.


Why edit?


The first question that need to be answered is why do we edit – well there are a few reasons but the most fundamental is that editing completes the process of creating an image that suits our tastes.  This may be as simple as straightening an image or converting it to black and white – most people don’t consider this cheating.  Post production is nothing new, back in the days of film photographs were receiving post processing in the darkroom or lab.


You may remember the days of going on holiday and then posting your film of to some lab in the envelopes found in the back of your seat.  The guys in the lab would do all the clever work on your images attempting to make your pictures sing.  If you took the time and effort to send the same film to different labs you would have received back very different sets of images as the labs would have worked in different ways and with different levels of kit and skill.


Well now you are the one with the power to edit and it isn’t difficult, it doesn’t have to take long and it can be fun – actually addictively fun.


We also edit images so that the finished image contains all of the detail that we want it to, unfortunately your camera is not going to immediately show you all of the detail that it may have captured, it will only present to you its basic image – editing allows you to bring out all of the detail.  We are not talking about painting in something new or creating a composite image but instead working with all of the detail that the camera captured.


Cameras do not see in the same way that the human eye sees so the next time anyone says to you that editing is cheating ask them to take a photo of you when you stand in a window.  The chances are you will come out looking like a silhouette even the the photographer could see your face clearly.  You camera struggles with the contrast of you as the subject and the bright background which will be many times brighter than you.  With a little bit of editing you will be able to bring out much more detail – a bit like the images below of the boat at Dungeness in Kent


unedited image



Editing photographs


The first image is unedited straight out of camera whilst the second has had a few tweaks to it that actually took seconds.  You have probably deleted images like the first when in fact there was the opportunity to create a nice image.  Now this is an extreme case and of course you can argue that the original image should have been shot differently however we were shooting against a beautiful sky and didn’t want to lose any detail so set up the camera to make the sky look mean and moody.  Without flash to light up the boat (which you could also argue is cheating) then we were always going to struggle to get the boat coming out and looking great straight out of the camera.


I think there is a very strong argument to say that actually far from cheating and making a picture look un-natural we have produced an image much closer to what my eye originally saw as I didn’t see a boat silhouette when I looked at it.


Isn’t it hard to edit? and it takes too long


The answer to this is no!  Editing can be done in seconds, literally – since Adobe introduced Lightroom the world of editing has changed significantly and now edits can take seconds.  To start with you will need to find your way around and know where the key controls are so this will mean that your editing will take longer but the tool is pretty easy to get going with.  If you struggle follow the link below for a few pointers on getting going).  Lightroom does have its limitations as all tools do  and you may find that you want to push your editing further in which case look at using bothy Lightroom and Photoshop.


I hope this has given you a few new reasons to consider editing.  If you are starting out I would strongly recommend using Lightroom from Adobe – for an overview check out our video at the following page – Lightroom Introduction.  Editing can be daunting when starting out especially if you start with Photoshop which is a great tool but not necessarily the best one for your everyday photographer.  If you find that your style of photography uses an increasing amount of Editing then I would suggest that you invest some time and effort also into Photoshop.


If you would like more help then please contact Nick on 01245 494258 or email [email protected] to arrange a Lightroom photography course.


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