A world-renowned landscape photographer once said about post-processing:
“Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.” – Ansell Adams
If I’ve heard this statement once, I’ve heard it a thousand times….
“It’s not real; it’s been photoshopped…”
Firstly I very seldom use Photoshop to edit my images; I use Lightroom (smart ass).
But is it cheating?
My first knee-jerk reaction would be to shout a resounding “No!”. However I have thought about it a little more, and I have come up with a more subdued, reserved answer.
It depends on the style of photography, the audience, and the “message” the photograph is meant to convey.
For example is a photograph visually representing an event?
There are only really two styles or categories of photography that have relatively strict rules regarding post-processing images, Journalism and Documentary.
Even so, by definition “post-processing” refers to enhancing or altering an image. If we consider this to be “cheating,” then by definition cropping an image is cheating.
A photojournalist may not manipulate an image from the “truth,” that is one of the “rules” or “guidelines” with regards to this type of photography.
But let us ponder on this for a moment…It is also quite common for two people to look at the same image and interpret it each in a different way. If the photographer intends that the image be an accurate factual visual representation, would it still be cheating if the photographer enhances the image, emphasising that point beyond a shadow of a doubt?
Let me go back to my original knee-jerk reaction…..No, in my opinion, post processing an image is not cheating.
In my humble opinion (apart from photojournalism) post-processing an image is as much an integral part of photography as composing a shot and pressing the shutter.
The whole process is photography.
Photography is an art form, and there is no disputing that it is. The photographer’s prerogative is to enhance an image as he or she sees fit to convey the intended meaning, mood, or obtain the desired reaction.
Before I take an exposure, there is always something about that scene or subject that draws me in, something that lures me into taking the shot. In most cases, I will try to compose and capture that feeling, or intent, that compelled me to take the image in the first place.
So when someone looks at one of my processed images and asks…
“Did it really look like that?”
It did to me.
Keeping that in mind, I don’t go “ape” when it comes to processing any particular image. My main aim is to simply enhance what is already there. Sure I’ll use the “spot remover” to remove dust spots, and occasionally go into Photoshop to use the spot and healing brush tools to remove certain distracting attributes, but on the whole, the idea is to do as little as possible to an image.
Sometimes a photographers intention is not to make an image look real such as with Fine art or conceptual photography. In that case, we should look at an image in the way it was intended.
So, develop your own style and show everyone how the world looks through your eyes.
Don’t be afraid to experiment, be outrageous, daring, and most of all don’t “cheat’ yourself out of your creativity.
“Cause I’ve always said I prefer your lips red, not what the good Lord made…..but what he intended.” – Roger Waters