Post-processing has become part of the trade for photographers. Whether it’s something as seemingly innocuous as tweaking the white-balance, or something 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 unfair trickery. Then there are the ignorant observers questioning, what filter did you use? While on the other end, apologists point to film being retouched by developers in the darkroom for decades, with digital post-processing the natural evolution.
Regardless of your stance on the topic, the simple reality remains, the best looking photos have been processed in one way or another. Should we chose not to—on principles 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 midday 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.
If there’s one message I want to convey, it’s to be honest in your work. Be honest with the photos you produce - don't try to pass them off as something they’re not.
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 colour of the 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.
While you are free to edit your photos how you please - obviously - may I suggest you do so keeping in mind the essence of the original scene. 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, we should edit with the mindset to enhance what is already there, not create a new scene or feeling entirely.
That’s something designers and visual artists do. And something they do magnificently. They are wizards and witches at what they do, and should be highly respected. But they are not photographers.
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 events, actual moments, that occurred in time.
We are visual storytellers, yes. But of non-fiction, not fiction.
Looking to other domains, writers would be horrified if their first drafts were published. Nor do architects share their initial back-of-the-napkin sketches with clients. Then as a profession, we should take no shame in processing our photos in post before we unleash them out into the world.
Why would we, as photographers, 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 colourful, 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.