Touching up can be a touchy subject

I am of course referring to touching up photos, or to put it another way, editing them.

I have a good friend who I am lucky enough to tag along with sometimes when he goes wandering looking for places to shoot.  He is of the opinion that if you don’t shoot it right then touching it up on the computer is as good as cheating.

Personally I disagree.  I don’t do anything fancy when I edit mine, I don’t have enough know how, or the cash to get decent editing software.  But I do what I can and so far I’m pleased with the results.

For instance the before and after photos below were taken on a family day out at Eglinton Park, near where I live in Ayrshire.  I used Picasa 3 to do the editing.  It’s basic to say the least but it’s free and effective for minor editing.



... and After

… and After




... and after

… and after



... and after

… and after


I feel that the editing of these 3 photographs gives them a more atmospheric look.

The next one I used a feature I don’t often see much difference with … the auto correct.  But in this case I feel it has brightened the skies and really brought out the blue of the sky and the pond.



...and after

…and after


These are just my own thoughts on the matter, as always.  I’d love to know what you think.

To edit or not to edit, that is the question!










2 thoughts on “Touching up can be a touchy subject

  1. While I agree with your friend about getting it right in camera (eg. appropriate exposure, accurate focus etc), I disagree with them if they think that’s enough in itself. If you chose the wrong shutter speed and the photo is blurred as a result of shooting a longer exposure handheld, you’re never gonna get a perfectly sharp image by trying to fix it with software. Many things cannot be fixed after the fact (although some can be), so the goal should be to get it right in camera as a starting point. But it’s only a starting point, at least in my view.

    My main reason for this opinion is twofold. Firstly, the camera does not record exactly what you see, even if you’re shooting RAW. With film cameras, this is also the case. Just as different films record the light in different ways (thus photographers’ preference for particular films back in the days that was the only option), so the light is recorded slightly differently by different cameras’ sensors. So even if one’s goal is to record exactly what was there, a little post-processing would be necessary.

    Secondly, for many of us, photography is about sharing what we saw when we were there taking the photograph with others. But our eye sees things differently from the camera sensor. For one, we have the capability of perceiving quite a wide dynamic range – ie. a wide range from bright to dark. We may see all the detail in a scene with bright and dark areas, but on the sensor or film, there may be detail lost in the bright or dark areas. A bit of post processing can rectify this (assuming you’ve shot it in a way that retains as much detail as possible in the problem areas – which will vary depending on if you’re shooting digital or film).

    Not only that, but what gets to our brain isn’t even necessarily exactly what was before us. What we perceive is filtered through a lot of physical and psychological factors – such as what we’re focusing our attention on and even what we’re thinking about when we look at it all. The camera, on the other hand, does not think or imagine. So when we get home, we may notice the scene looks different in the photographs than how we remember it. Processing can bring the raw image closer to the way we actually saw it at the time.

    Beyond that, photography is also about expressing oneself, not just documenting (even documentary photography is filtered through the photographer’s worldview and dictates how we frame, what DOF we choose etc). So post processing can also allow us to add our impressions and to help others feel the mood we are trying to express that we saw in the scene when we pushed the shutter release.

    The fact is, there is no high-level professional photographer that does not manipulate their images in some way after they have captured the shots (if there is, I guess they’re art photographers and there’s some conceptual reason for not editing). In the days of film domination it was dodging and burning in the darkroom and using different chemical processes for the purists, and airbrushing in some fields. Nowdays it’s usually Photoshop, Lightroom and other image editing software.

    For me personally, I photograph for people to feel something when they see my photos, even if it’s just that the photos are aesthetically pleasing (although at least with photojournalism I aim to tell a story and convey some kind of mood or tone so that the response is both emotional/abstract and intellectual/concrete – although I lean more to the former than the latter). If the light at the time was flat and the image is flat as a result, I’d rather add a tiny bit of punch in post and have people want to look at the image than to present a dull-looking image. if nobody is drawn to look, then there is no point in even having taken the image.

    Most of the time, I aim to edit in such a way that the photos look natural (ie. the lay person would not think they had been photoshopped), although for some assignments I do play around with different ways of more extreme editing if it is appropriate to the style of the shoot. So in the end, it comes down to the style and purpose of the photos as to how much editing is appropriate. But the question is “how much should I alter the images” not “should I alter them at all”.

    That’s my attempt at being brief! It’s a big topic…


  2. Great pics, from a fellow (former) Shire dweller! Retouching is down to the individual. I always retouch photos and I probably go over the top sometimes but it’s an artistic process. You’ve got to ask who are you taking the picture for, if it’s for your own enjoyment then edit (or don’t edit) until your hearts content! For some very good free software that can do a bit more than Picasa check out GIMP. Dodgy name… But it can do a lot of the stuff Photoshop can do for free.


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