Post-processing has become part of the trade for photographers. Whether it’s something as seemingly innocuous as tweaking the white-balance, or something much more involved like cloning out distracting elements, it’s a powerful tool in the photographer’s utility belt.
Yet it’s still a dirty word for many, associated with cheating and deception.
On one end of the opinion spectrum, there are the purists who treat Photoshop as unseemly trickery. Then there are the ignorant observers in the middle asking, “What filter did you use?” And on the other end are the apologists, pointing out that film has been retouched in the darkroom for decades and painting digital post-processing as a natural evolution of this process.
Regardless of your stance on the topic, a simple reality remains: the best looking photos have been processed in one way or another. Should we chose not to process our photos—on principles or in search of some sort of moral high-ground—then we are putting ourselves, and the work we produce, at a disadvantage.
I’m not suggesting we should all start to drop in dramatic telephoto close-ups of the Milky Way over mid-day landscape scenes, or cut out the studio model and place her onto a new backdrop entirely. But hey, if that’s your thing, go for it.
What I’m suggesting is that post-processing is okay, if not necessary, and the only standard we should set as photographers is honesty. As long as you’re honest with the photos you produce, and don’t try to pass them off as something they’re not—process as much or as little as you’d like.
Post-processing takes skill. Post-processing subtly takes even more skill. Take pride in that, and own it.
If you want to add a dream-like Orton Effect to your landscape, or change the color of your model’s eyes, then go for. Do it to the best of your ability. But don’t hide behind vague responses when asked what was done to the image.
Personally, I believe in keeping the essence of the original scene in mind. If it was a moody evening, then boost the contrast in the clouds. If there was gorgeous golden light filtering in behind the model, then add to the warm glow.
As photographers, I think we should edit with the mindset of enhancing what is already there, not creating a new scene or feeling entirely.
As photographers, we capture life—in all its glorious variety—taking place around us. And while this ranges from highly curated fashion studio shoots, to capturing the light emitted from stars thousands of years ago, these are all events, actual moments that occurred in time.
Looking to other domains, writers would be horrified if their first drafts were published. And no architect would share their initial back-of-the-napkin sketches with clients. Likewise, photographers should take no shame in processing our work in post before we unleash it into the world.
Why would we put any less care into the art we create? We’re only doing our work a disservice to distribute it straight out of camera.
In a world flooded with photographers, post-processing allows us to further express our individual creative styles. For me, I focus on colorful, awe-inspiring scenes. And this is something I (at least hopefully) try to express both in my composition in the field and my enhancement of the scene back on the computer.
Photography, like all art-forms, is highly subjective. It’s open to interpretation, and will receive feedback across the whole spectrum of opinions. There will be those that try to discredit its worth. And there will be those that admire it and value having experienced it.
With that in mind, make art you are proud to put your name on. Make it honestly, and make it to the best of your ability using all the tools at your disposal.
About the author: Mitch Green is a Sydney based Travel and Landscape photographer. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of its author. He can be found via his website, through Instagram, or down by the beach at 5am waiting for sunrise.