How much we edit our photos, or whether we should even do it at all, is a conversation that I see some up almost daily on social media. I say conversation, it often turns into quite the heated debate.
In this video, Sean Tucker shares some of his thoughts on the history of editing and post-processing in photography. It’s been going on since the dawn of photography, and Sean mentions many historically great photographers, like Elliot Erwitt, DFan Ho, Ansel Adams and others as examples of photographers who, pre-digital, were doing a lot of post-work.
There are a lot of “purists” out there who believe that however the shot was taken in the camera is exactly how it should stay, but are they right? Or are they just ignorant?
Personally, I’ve always been of the belief that those types of people just don’t get it. Many of them started with film, and believe that they were amazing photographers because they’d get their prints back from the one-hour lab, all well exposed with great colour. What they likely didn’t know about were the massive amounts of correction that these automated film developing machines could do when making their prints.
These machines would use densitometers to determine whether the film had been over or underexposed and then expose the paper accordingly in an attempt to compensate for bad photography to make what the machine thought was a “good” exposure and give decent looking well-exposed prints. Some of these machines were also able to automatically colour correct if, for example, it detected you’d used tungsten film when you should’ve used daylight.
Such photographers also tend to completely ignore the fact that you could actually choose to shoot one of god knows how many different types of film stocks in order to give your photos a completely different look and feel – a choice that doesn’t really exist for photographers today. And no, Fuji’s film simulations don’t count.
Their photos were edited and post-processed, but they just left it up to a machine to decide, even though they didn’t realise it.
They also don’t realise just how much work went into images made by those who had their own darkrooms, developed their own film and made their own prints. Retouching isn’t something that’s just come with the digital age. If these people actually took the time to research it, it’s been going on since photography began.
Sure, I believe that we should absolutely try to get things “right” in-camera. But there’s only so much a camera can do on its own. It needs human intervention afterwards in order to make the images look the way that human first envisioned. And that’s always been the case with photography.
Some of my images have required a lot of post work to get them just the way I want them. Others have required very little. As long as I’m not trying to pass them off as documentary, what does it matter? When it’s not claiming to be a factual representation of events, why do people seem to care so strongly about what others choose to do with their own images?
And even for documentary, what does “in-camera” really mean? If two photographers are shooting identical cameras and lenses, both are saving out to jpg, but with different picture profile settings in their cameras, and both shoot the exact same composition, are they both telling the truth? Is one lying or cheating by having their camera process it differently than the factory defaults?
Do as much or as little post work on your image as you like. I don’t care. But don’t tell me what I need to do to mine.
What do you think? Do you edit your photos? Or is how the camera sees it the way it is and that’s that? If you don’t edit your images, why?