How many times have you been told or read somewhere that editing pictures take away from the art of photography? I hear it every day somewhere online. But is using Photoshop cheating as a photographer?
I wanted to whip out our magnifying glasses and investigate whether editing photos is actually destroying the art of photography and is it just a lazy process we’ve come to use instead of improving basic camera skills.
If you’re someone who’s on the fence about this issue or is an absolute purist to photography, then you’re going to want to stick around for the conclusion of this case!
Why is this even an important topic to investigate? Does it really matter to photography or is this a completely overblown conversation?
One viewpoint on this is that in a world filled with fake news and disinformation, photographers who use editing software are contributing to this society of embellished information and skewering the reality that is around us.
On the other side, some say there two types of this art now starting to emerge, one is pure, and the other is edited. But you can both be called photography? Or should there new be a new sub-genre made for those who love to edit?
You might not think we start this far back but the absolute truth of the matter is that photographs have been edited in some manner or form since the 19th century. OK, they didn’t have Photoshop or Lightroom back then but their own primitive methods.
Photographers would have to physically cut out aspects of their photos from a print and replace it with something else and then re-shoot the composite to make it look new.
It was famously done with Thomas Hicks’ portrait of Abraham Lincoln in 1860 where he used the face of Lincoln over the image of politician John C. Calhoun.
As years went by film photographers will tell you that standard darkroom techniques such as dodging and burning (which increases and decreases exposure in shot respectively – just like in Photoshop) would regularly be used to help them perfect the exposure.
They could also add tints to the image just different chemicals and dyes in the process, just in the same way you can add colour filters to your shots in a digital camera.
Image: FAKE! Lincoln’s head was composited in afterwards.
Image: FAKE! General Grant didn’t sit on the horse for the photo.
Image: FAKE! Mussolini had the horse handler ‘edited’ out to look more powerful.
Image: FAKE! John Lennon and Che Guevara never met.
Image: FAKE! Fairies don’t exist.
If the foundations on what we refer to as purist photography is actually riddled with techniques where photographers would change elements of their pictures after they’ve been captured by the film, then can we really be sure that pure photography is so pure?
But let’s think about this further. After a bit more digging, we’ve found a stack of photographs, some of which you may recognise, that have all been edited in some way after they were taken.
Now we have to ask if edited images we thought were pure beforehand and which haven’t altered our perception of the world are a bad thing for photography? No one made an uproar upon finding out, no one said they shouldn’t be doing this, so why is it happening now?
Is it a case that photography has gotten so competitive that people are looking for ways of putting people down? Or is it just a simple fact that there are envious folk out there who wish they had the skills to improve their editing?
Either way there will be a line of transcendence that everyone will draw for to decide how much editing is too much in our own opinions. And I think that’s what matters, it’s a personal opinion and it should stay that way. There is no need to call people out on it.
If the original image was taken on a camera, then to me it’s a photograph.
Every photo carries a message and if that original message is completely changed via editing, then maybe it does become another form of visual art or mixed media but small retouching tweaks have to be expected or allowed at least within the purist’s remit.
As long as you enjoy what you do – does it really matter? Not to us, we love editing photos that’s why we’ve got hours of Photoshop tutorials across all our online training courses that you can find here.
Hopefully, we’ve not upset anyone too much, but we think it’s important to discuss these issues, but hearing your thoughts on the matter is just as important too.
Let us know whether you think you should edit your photographs.
Have you ever considered it cheating? Why do you edit your pictures? Are you trying to achieve something that you couldn’t in camera because it was impossible or for another reason? We love to know your stance on this.