To edit, or not to edit, part 1

Over the years I have seen several different views on whether to do post processing on your photos or not. It varys from “processing is cheating” and “I want it to look the way I saw it, so I will not change it” to “it is the end result that counts and anything is allowed”.

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I must admit I tend to agree mostly with the latter and in this post I will try to explain why. First of all, every photo in the world is somehow processed, or edited. I prefer the term “edited” and will use it from now. If you shoot RAW you edit the images yourself from the raw image data. If you shoot JPEG and don’t touch your files afterwards, you let the computer in the camera do the editing. This is done by algorithms made by software engineers, which means that people in a country far away decide how your photos are going to look. That is why the same scene captured by two different cameras with the same settings can look different. And which one will be exactly as your eyes saw the scene? Probably none of them.


One of the reasons is dynamic range. Modern cameras are getting better and better dynamic range, but the eye is still way better than the best camera. So if your photo comes out with black or white areas where you saw detail with your own eye, then it is not the way you saw it. To get as close as possible you will need to edit your photo. Bring up the shadows or pull down the highlights, or maybe you even need to blend different exposures. This is what you may need to do to make the image look like the scene you saw. I can not see it as cheating to overcome the technical shortcomings of a camera.


You also make a lot of choices even before you press the shutter, that also influences how the final image will look. You choose an aperture and a shutter speed (or the camera does it for you, but the effect is the same) and also a focal length. All of these decisions are influencing how the final image will look and make it look more or less like the scene you saw. I think very few would see it as “cheating” or “wrong” to have a very shallow depth of field or to have sharpness all the way from front to back, even if we don’t see the world that way. These are edits made before the shutter is pressed, but edits none the less. And how can you avoid them?

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Read Part 2 here

This is as you probably can tell a subject that I am quite passionate about, and I have more coming soon. In the mean time you can check out my images at my Clickasnap profile or my website.

Happy shooting and editing!

Hans Petter Birkeland.

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8 Responses

  1. Yeah – a lot of good points. And in any case a lot of the stuff done in digital editing used to be done in the film days anyway – double exposing, using filters, dodge & burn, etc. No-one said that was cheating! Looking forward to part two of the blog post.

  2. It all depends for me but I surely don’t feel guilty for editing. When I learned about shooting in RAW mode, it reminded me of dark room days…only better and easier.

  3. Interesting subject. Editing is part of the creative process and there is nothing against it. But, it gives great satisfaction to shoot something that comes out just perfect.

  4. In the days of film, the prints you received were not images straight out of the camera. The processing incorporated additional colour saturation contrast adjustments in much the same way as post processing is performed digitally. There’s really no difference other than the control one has with digital to stamp their own interpretation on the image to any extreme they desire – it’s their image, after all.

  5. I see many professional photographers at sports games with high end body’s & lens and if they sit there editing there images before they send them off to go in newspapers then to me it cant be a bad thing every image needs some kind of editing to me nothing looks worse then seeing dull flat images that you know have come right out of the camera when they would have looked so much better with a little edit done to them

  6. Agreed! I started with film cameras and processing my own film in the 1970s, and did that off and on for the next 30 years. We did all kinds of things, both in camera, and in post-processing, to create the images we wanted, and today is no different. Only the methods have changed, and the flexibility of shooting in RAW gives us more opportunities. Most modern photographers say (rightfully so) that as much as possible, we try to get the images right in camera. But there’s nothing whatsoever “wrong” with saving a shot that was a little off, or enhancing an image that’s a little flat, via editing. It’s always been part of the process, whether analog or digital.

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