An important part of digital photography is post-processing. But to some, this is a somewhat controversial topic. Isn’t it cheating to use a photo editing software to modify your pictures? I would say no, it isn’t. It’s just a tool and It still takes a good photographer to create a good picture.
But even during the era of film cameras, post processing was used extensively. Push/pull film, filters, dodge, burn, color washes, etc. were all film techniques applied by a photographer and/or lab to alter an image. Was that cheating? I still don’t think so.
I think most people would agree that post processing is ‘wrong’ only under certain circumstances. Faking an image is one of them. If an image is intentionally faked, it can sometimes cross the boundary of what is ‘ethical’. People who photograph animals in a zoo and paste them onto a forest background, claiming that the image was taken in the wild, are cheats. No two ways about it. Their “photography” crosses an ethical boundary because it distorts the truth.
So just how much post-processing crosses an ethical boundary? At what point does your image stops being a photograph and starts being something that could more or less be termed as ‘Digital Painting’?
Heard of the ship of Theseus?
Popularly known as Theseus’s paradox, it was most notably recorded by Plutarch, in Life of Theseus from the late 1st century. Plutarch asked whether a ship which was restored by replacing each and every one of its wooden parts, remained the same ship. Even if the ship looked the same, was it really the same ship? How many boards did it take for the ship to take on a new identity?
Keep this in mind when you’re considering the ethics of post-processing. While the line is not cut in stone, it still exists, nonetheless. Especially in the minds of those who view your work.
It’s generally considered all right to touch up a portrait shot. But how far does one go? At what point does your image become a false representation? Is it acceptable to get rid of a few wrinkles but wrong, to add intensity to the eyes? Where does one stop?
If you display a heavily-edited image as an accurate representation of the subject, your critics will call you out for cheating. While post-processing amplifies great photography, it is not a replacement for good technique. If you’re a terrible photographer who over-processes your work, people will eventually pick up on it, In which case, it stops be a matter of ethics but rather, one of taste.
Some photographers tend to go overboard with post-processing and their ‘pictures’ reflect that. If the first thing you notice in an image is the fact that it’s edited, then the photographer hasn’t really accomplished his goal of capturing an image.
It is the nature of the digital beast that the images taken require a certain amount of post-processing. Some folks will swear that they do not digitally re-touch their photographs, that they came out of the camera that way.
Is it pristine picture, then? The annswer, of course, is no. The image didn’t come out that way on it’s own. Anytime you have a JPEG version of an image, it has been post-processed by the camera. Sharpening, color, contrast, and saturation have all been applied by the camera. Most D-SLR cameras have several sets of parameters to choose from. In addition, you can usually set up some custom parameters as well. So, without post-processing, the images would come our looking relatively ‘flat’.
RAW images on the other hand have no processing done to them at all, thus requiring more time and technique to post-process, but the amount of data made available, makes them worth it, in my opinion. JPEG on the other hand being already a processed file lacks the flexibility of RAW as far as post processing is concerned.
So the choice you will have to either accept the bland and boring automated JPEG processing the camera does on its own or to shoot in RAW and sweat it out. Even though it looks like a lot of trouble I like the second option as I want to present my photos in the best way possible.
Using Post processing don’t expect miracles. Bad capture can only be made slightly better. Good photo can definitely be made great. For optimum results, it is advisable to shoot in RAW and post process on a computer so that you get the best results.
8 thoughts on “Post Processing, A Necessary Evil For The Digital Age”
What are all the tools used for PP. Which one you will suggest for newbies ?
Nice example and well explained writeup.
simple explaination to a complex issue sir.
Very well explained Dr. Krishi sir…….its synonymus to a lady applying cosmetics on to her to enhance her beauty…… God has created every individual with his/her uniqueness and beauty…., we enhance our ooutlook by using cosmetics……in this case also overdoing will spoil ones beauty :)……..thank you for this lovely write up and illustrations.
Thanks Bhaktha, for a great compliment 🙂
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With proper processing from RAW, we can expect nearly a miracle.