A friend of mine recently told me she wants to ask for photo editing software as her upcoming birthday/Christmas present but that she has some hesitation. She feels like she is somehow cheating by editing her photos. She has a very fancy SLR camera her sweet husband bought her for Mother's Day last year, she's shooting in manual mode, and being very purposeful with her photos. Yet, that last step still feels like cheating to her.
It's really given me a lot to think about in the last week. At what point is it cheating? I initially poo-poo'd her concerns but the more I thought about it, the more I saw her point. It does seem like if you really know what you are doing with your camera, you shouldn't have to edit your photos.
Then I remembered something I recently read about my photography idol Ansel Adams. Ansel Adam's famous black and white photos are not SOOC (straight out of the camera) shots, they were tweaked in the dark room during development. Here is a quote from Wikipedia:
"Adams generally used selenium toning when processing prints. Selenium toner acts as a preservative and can alter the color of a print, but Adams used it subtly, primarily because it can add almost a full zone to the tonal range of the final print, producing richer dark tones that still hold shadow detail. His book The Print described using the techniques of dodging and burning to selectively darken or lighten areas of the final print."
I feel like editing your photos, whether it is a minor tweak using a simple editor or a major overhaul using Photoshop or Lightroom is today's version of finishing that print in the darkroom.
Does every photo need to be edited? Not at all. But if I'm going to take the time (and money) to print something for hanging on my wall or putting in a scrapbook or frame, I want that photo to be the best it can be.
I've been amazed at some of the before and after editing samples I've seen over the last year. The best ones bring out the color and make the photo pop in a way that is just really really tricky to do SOOC, even for the pro's. And since I'm far from pro, I'm happy to have the tools at my fingertips to help me achieve that look as close as I can. That's a big reason I'm spending time on my Lightroom workshop.
Here's an example of my homework assignment from last week:
SOOC landscape (the beach in Cancun from our trip in May):
Edited version, done in Lightroom:
The second photo may seem a bit much compared to the original, but I swear that is what the tropical waters actually looked like. The sheer quantity of reflected light was too much for me and my camera to properly expose. (I blame my skills more than the camera.) In Lightroom, I was able to adjust the exposure, the white balance, and bring out just a bit more of the blue. But honestly, the thing that fixed the color the most was just tweaking the white balance. I didn't go adding crazy amounts of blue, they were already in there, I just tweaked the photo to let them shine.
So what's your opinion? Photo editing: cheating or not?