Is Retouching Cheating? A Fine Art Photographer’s Perspective

Photographer, YouTuber, and educator Serge Ramelli must be a glutton for punishment, because his most recent video reveals his opinion on a very controversial question: is retouching cheating?

Let’s get the conclusion out of the way first: Ramelli believes that it is not cheating to retouch your images, and in the video above he uses several of his own photographs and a little photo history to illustrate why.

Now, it’s easy to write off Ramelli’s point of view since at least some of his business is based around teaching photographers how to process their images in Photoshop and Lightroom. But he doesn’t heavily process all of his images, and much of his point made by using those photographs. What is the difference, he asks, between retouching an image and using a fast aperture lens or an ND filter to create an effect you could never actually see in real life?

This panorama is made up of several 2-minute exposures that were converted to black-and-white. Does using an ND filter count as cheating?

Excluding reportage or documentary photography, Ramelli believes that the point of photography is to create work that people enjoy. Over-processing a photograph until it looks unnatural often leads to the opposite effect, but great fine art photographers from the film era onwards still spent hours in the darkroom ensuring they captured the feeling and effect they were going after.

“Retouching is an art, it has been around since photography was invented,” concludes Ramelli. “Don’t feel bad about using it. Concentrate on the effect you create with your photographs—do people enjoy your work, do they get some emotion out of it? That’s all that matters to me.”

Check out the full video above to hear Ramelli’s thoughts in full, and then feel free to weigh in on this conversation in the comments.