About Photo Editing and Sows’ Ears

March 7, 2010

You can’t make silk purses out of sows’ ears, but of course you can try. Technology allows anybody with a computer and photo editing software to substitute to at least some degree the skill of the Photography Craft with extensive editing. If the image was previsualized and executed poorly, all the editing in the world will not make the image a good image. That freshly cobbled together “silk” purse made from sow’s ears will still smell like pig.

Seeing poor or mediocre images photoshopped into something “good enough” has always been very frustrating for me. You can see those images everywhere, including on magazine covers. I have been using Photoshop since the mid-1990s as an image editing tool. I have never used Photoshop to try and “fix” images that could and should have been done right in the first place. I limit image editing generally to image optimization (color balance, curves, sharpness), file and color space conversion, and to sizing. Do I do some retouching? If required, sure. We retouched pimples when we were custom printing, and we did take out the occasional power line. Do I do nonsense like changing a person’s shirt color, do I give someone a digital facelift, do I change the position of their hand in post-production? No way I will do that — there are plenty others who will gladly spend time piddling with a computer. Why would I invest any effort in a poorly created image? I am a photographer and not an image salvager.

The more you get everything right when you take the photograph, the less you have to “fix” later. Use your eyes and “see” — it’s what real photography is all about. The image is created in the Photographer’s Mind right before he takes the photo. It is the technical skill that allows a photographer to “get it right.” That does not mean that every picture comes out as intended or that every picture works and is a masterpiece, but it ensures that the quantity of “keepers” is maximized. A picture taker just snaps away while relying on luck.

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