I’ve never really considered this question until I ran across an article discussing purist photographers. A purist photographer, as described by the article, is a photographer that does not edit photos after they have been taken. What you got the moment you pressed the shutter is what you get as a finished picture. Some photographers believe touching up images after the fact is cheating. The philosophy is that poor photographers that can’t get the composition right at the time of the shoot, will attempt to ‘save’ the picture later by editing it. They also argue that editing a picture destroys the ‘true-ness’ of the original image. Um, yeah…..whatever.
I guess it could be considered cheating, but not by me. The only reason I didn't edit every picture when I first started photography was because I didn't understand how to use editing software. I try my best to get the image I want at the time of taking the picture, but only so that I have less to do in post processing. For years now, every picture I plan on keeping has gone through some form of post processing – some more than others.
Cheating aside, editing photos can be extremely fun! Sometimes I have more fun editing photos than actually capturing them. Once I started to get the hang of editing photos, the more I realized what a powerful tool it can be. And for the purist photographers out there, I can honestly say using editing software efficiently takes more skill and talent than you might think. Not only can you alter a picture to achieve a certain look, but understanding how to add highlights to certain areas and increase shadows in other areas can actually make you a better photographer. Making such corrections in post production can make you more aware of those subtle aspects when taking the original picture.
Some images simply cannot be created with a camera alone. During my 365 day photo challenge for 2014, I decided I would use Photoshop heavily for at least one month to better learn the program and how to use it. For every day in the month of October, I forced myself to create images with some degree of editing to represent the scary/horror nature of the Halloween season. One of my favorite images I created was “Mouth Man”. Obviously there is no way to capture this image with just a camera. And how fun!! This is a perfect example of how the process of editing was more creative and fun than the actual original shot.
Another photo (non-Halloween related) I really enjoyed creating was this photo of a girl with a colored iris. While the majority of the image is untouched, the little photo-shopping of the iris makes the image far more intriguing, to me at least.
You can go even further and eliminate the camera altogether! This image is purely a product of Photoshop. No camera involved at all. Obviously an image like this would be impossible from just a camera, unless it’s an absurdly expensive camera attached to some even more absurdly expensive N.A.S.A. orbiter. This is an extreme example of photo editing but it shows that photo editing, if done properly, can create amazing results. I think this holds true to editing photos in general.
Photoshop is a tool – just another piece of equipment I use for creating the images I like. I have never had a model tell me NOT to edit their photos. Quite the opposite. You would be very hard-pressed to find any retail magazine that doesn’t have some sort of editing for some of the photos in them, if not all the photos. If a simple portrait is over processed, I think it can become very obvious and fake looking. Like any other photographic tool I own, I use it just as much as I need it. I don’t set my flashes to 100% for every shot I take. Likewise, I don’t edit every aspect of every image to the fullest I can. I use only what I need to get the desired result.
The only arguments I agree with the ‘purists’ is that photo editing software can be very expensive and complicated to use. I currently use Photoshop CS4. I have VERY mixed feelings about Adobe’s Creative Cloud packages. I’ve never liked renting apartments or leasing cars and I’m not all that enthusiastic about renting my software. Photoshop is also not all that user friendly either. It is very complicated with features I have yet to discover and some of the features I have discovered aren’t all that intuitive. THANK GOD for the internet. Need to learn how to change the color of a horse in Photoshop? Google it! Better yet, search it on YouTube and get step by step instructions on how to do just that! With a little patience and a lot of YouTube time, you can learn how to get the most out of Photoshop, or any editing software. So to the ‘purist’ photographers out there, keep snapping away and let me know when you capture an unaltered image of “Mouth Man”! ;)
Keep the interesting parts of life in focus.