Do I Edit My Photographs?
Dealing with a thorny question
“Edit” is a vague term. Why? Editing encompasses many things, from simple cropping, to RAW image development, to extreme manipulations such as adding unicorns to the background. I’m often asked if I edit my photos, but the answer depends wildly on which photos I’m working on. There’s not one answer but there is an opportunity to roughly define some types and practices of editing. Here’s a run-through of the basics as I understand them.
(Uberly) Basic Editing / Global Adjustments
This is pretty much what we do on Instagram, or any other mobile editing app for that matter that applies the adjustments on a jpeg file. This entails cropping, rotating, adjusting brightness, contrast, clarity, etc.
Adding filters or tints may fall within this definition however, I personally consider that as tampering. I see it like coloring with crayons over a perfectly done water-color painting. Tampering.
However, if it’s just for social media snapshots and quality of the largest format of the file does not matter, it may be acceptable.
Post Processing / RAW Conversion
This is the equivalent of film developing during the pre-digital days. Everyone did this because they had to. Cameras were in no way instant back then. Especially if you considered photography as an art form. So yes, you (or your parents’) baby pictures were absolutely ‘edited’ because the guy at the 1-hour photo lab had to develop the film from those old cameras. Nowadays, more advanced cameras produce both Jpeg (which is similar to what most smartphones produce) and RAW files.
Jpeg files are ‘flattened’ photographs with less information that combines a simplified version of the camera’s bare recording of light and the camera’s presets of how your photos should be rendered in terms of color and contrast depending on whether you set it to ‘portrait’, ‘landscape’ or ‘neutral’ modes. The camera companies set the specific color palettes and contrast standards for these specific shooting conditions. Yes, the camera determines those for you.
RAW files are bulkier chunks of information containing the bare recording of the image alone. They are bulky in a sense that they record a significantly wider range of light and color information than the lazy jpeg.
RAW files are what are used in post processing which is why it’s alternatively referred to as RAW conversion. With this, more masterful rendering of a pre-envisioned photograph can be done without drastic and unrealistic changes such as adding elements that were not originally present in the original shoot.
This is the form of editing that people loosely refer to as Photoshopping wherein the Photoshopper adds make-believe elements. It can be as simple as adding lines on the abdomen to make a person look like all the other false persons in the fitness magazines. It can be as brutal as adding the tail of the milky way to a blank night sky. Photoshop can be a complex and labor intensive process to ensure small “perfections”. It is an art form in and of itself but, as a photographer, it is NOT part of my workflow.
Yes. I edit my photographs. I post-process them because I shoot in RAW and apply my envisioned treatment to the file in completion of a process I consider to be in the realm of fine art. RAW conversion allows me to be able to control all aspects such as exposure, contrast, color, sharpness and noise levels to a considerable extent that allows me to sleep at night thinking that I did everything ethically possible to make my photograph entirely my own artwork.
How To Face the “Editing Question”
Here’s a quick tip. When someone asks you the dreaded question, assess if the person is learned in photography. If they are NOT, take it as a complement. People who do not know the process usually ask the said question because they’re probably wowed by your images but also keen to know more. Take the opportunity to talk about your priorities and passion. Ask about their photos too!
If the person is well versed in digital photography, the question could be an entry point to constructive criticism; they may perceive your photo as half-baked or failing short somehow. They have an opinion: find out what it is. Take it positively and find out what to improve. Either way, you leave the situation with a smile.
Thanks for reading!
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