Editing.. Is it okay? Should I be ashamed?

General Photography

So, I was recently talking with someone regarding somebody they knew who was also a photographer. I checked out their work and I was really impressed with the level of post-production that had gone into the final product.

It had a really unique, classy feel to the photo.. quite hipster but very tasteful and in-line with what’s currently popular.. so I said to this person, I would love to know how they achieved the final result, maybe what software they had been using or the sort of plugins they might have that helped them get the image that they ended up publishing.

The response I received was that the photographer claims they do not edit the photos. Now as a somewhat experienced photographer, I knew that this wasn’t the case at all. There are a few ways to tell. Firstly, all the metadata on the photo was hidden (this is on Flickr).. that for me always raises a few questions, usually that’s because someone doesn’t want to reveal maybe the camera they used, the software it was edited etc. (a magician never reveals his tricks)… another way to tell is that well.. it’s just not possible to have some of the results that were in the photos (e.g. scribbled lines across face, multiple flying items and other obvious additions).

So it lead me to the question… WHY would someone claim that this is not edited? Well, I think that there’s a sense of shame that comes with heavily retouching images or even lightly retouching. Some photographers or critics will claim that you “need to get it right inside the camera”.

Now, Adorama’s Mark Wallace goes into detail that it’s rarely possible to get it “right inside the camera” as we are living in a digital age, but image manipulation has been going on for years.. even in print. Different developing processes revealed different results. Think about Instagram.. It’s one of the world’s favourite point, shoot, filter and publish applications on the market with over 300 million active users. Why? Because we are quickly able to produce many different styles but most of these styles are based on film, in fact sometimes even film defects.. things like light leaks or poor contrast and vignetting.

Bobby Darin in developing room (1961)

Bobby Darin in developing room (1961)

So we know that the world is a big fan of images that have received some sort of “filter”.. now what is a filter?

Well that’s pretty simple.. it’s a precomposed layer or set of adjustments that have been created and is automatically applied to an image of your choice.. However, that has been created by someone, most likely in some image development software and real-life examples would have been used as an example and then replicated as best as possible.

Fact is, there’s no one film-produced photo that is identical to the other.. when film is developed, there are so many factors that come into play that can affect the end result.. the right amount of chemicals, exposure to light, maybe the film is damaged or was exposed to light? So in a way, Instagram will never give you the same affect.. but still, we love it.

Right now, this style is REALLY popular. But we need to look at the “bigger picture”.

Personally, I think there’s two very distinct differences between Editing and Retouching.. I’ll explain.

Retouching: For me, retouching involves the adjustment of levels, maybe brushing in some skin softening or additional exposure and other localised adjustments. The idea for me is that we are not really “adding” anything on top of the photo, merely enhancing or adjusting what we have in front of us.. directly from the camera’s RAW file and to a degree, spot / heal tools.

Editing: Now editing, I feel that this involves the ADDING of something that wasn’t originally in the image. Things like light leaks, additional objects, removal or large manipulation of backgrounds or scenery. For example, overlaying a semi-transparent layer that has a certain gradient to imitate a fading photograph.

Now does that mean that one is worse than the other?

I really don’t think so.. actually, I think used correctly and together you can achieve incredible results. I have always admitted and have been very open that my images go through post-production.. I mean, I even offer Retouching packages on my business website that allows people to send me their photos to have them edited… so I have no shame in this.

My personal belief that it is more important to know the reasons why you are editing rather the image and be comfortable with that, than it is to not edit your photos at all and maybe never truly get the result you are looking for.


There’a photographer that I’m quite a fan of, his name is Terry Richardson. He’s a celebrity photographer and takes a ton of images on his mobile phone or a simple point and shoot camera.. most of the time, you can see the flash bouncing back in a mirror and even see Terry caught in the reflection. Yet he’s taken photos of Rihanna, Miley Cyrus and other huge stars?

Why? Well.. he KNOWS what he wants to achieve, he’s very comfortable with his process and some of the biggest names in showbiz and music gravitate to him because of this.. they know what to expect, they know what’s involved and he’s very transparent about it.

So, the question was.. is it okay to edit and should you be ashamed?.. My answer stands at firmly NO. Just make sure you’re honest, you don’t have to necessarily give out all your “secrets” but you have to admit that some amount of editing is performed.. and yes, turning an image black and white when it was shot in colour… is editing ;)!

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think!


20th December 2015

1st February 2016