I’m referring, of course to post processing and the heated discussions going on between photographers on how much, if any, post processing is acceptable if we are to remain true to our craft. At one extreme, we have the purists who, like in the days of Kodachrome 64, believe that, since the image captured represents a true instant in time, a slice of reality if you will, any tampering or modification of that image corrupts this reality and eventually misleads and misinforms the viewer.

post processing

At the other end, we have the “artists”. These are the ones who, back in the day, were making composite prints and experimenting with solarization and now embrace digital processing as an integral part of transforming the captured image to their vision of a final product. At the heart of issue is whether we see ourselves as documenters of the human condition or artists for whom digital photography is a rich medium with a plethora of available tools to work with.

post processing

But why the polarity? Democrat vs Republican, boxers vs jockeys, RAW vs jpeg – why do we have to align ourselves with one or the other? I for one have conservative views on some issues and liberal views on others, I prefer jockeys but don’t rain disdain on my boxer-clad brethren. So why can’t we look at an image and, processed or not, appreciate what the maker has tried to communicate? Let’s agree that, if a photo is intended for news or documentary purposes, we expect it to be, by and large, unaltered (although even National Geographic and the New York Times routinely crop, color correct and sharpen photos since this doesn’t alter the content). But if I remove a pop can from a landscape image or remove overhead wires from an architectural photo have I crossed some ethical line? What about “enhancing” the tones in a sunset or retouching a portrait – have I crossed it now? Or compositing a subject into a background – am I now a photographic con artist out to trick the viewer into believing I saw something that no one else can? We see examples of exactly these kinds of modifications all the time in print and I for one give it the thumbs up. Photography doesn’t start or end with the release of the shutter. It goes through a sequence of events like this:

  1. Photographer has an idea or sees something interesting.
  2. Photographer visualizes final product.
  3. Shoot now or wait for better light?
  4. Shoot from here or find a better position?
  5. Choose lens, lighting, tripod, filters, etc.
  6. Click.
  7. Download.
  8. Process to achieve step 2.
  9. Print.
  10. Show the world.

So, if your “vision” is to document exactly what’s in front of you exactly as it appears, then great, click and you’re done. But if your visualization of a subject goes beyond that, then go for it. Capture the image as a starting point and use your creativity and tools to make that vision a reality. After all, is there really much difference between using a graduated ND filter and long exposure for a landscape compared to taking a series of bracketed shots for HDR processing? Either way, the final image will not reflect what stood before the photographer. So how about we not get our boxers in a bunch over this and accept that we will undoubtedly come down somewhere in between the extremes. Whatever the style or look of your images, make it your own and clients will seek you out for it.

And by the way, much to the universal horror of my fellow photographers, most of my images (including everything on this site) are shot as jpegs. But that’s a discussion for another time.