Post Processing: How much is too much?

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I was reading a magazine today and I came across this news item about a photojournalist being disqualified from the Danish Press Photo Awards for excessive manipulation of photographs using Photoshop. He was asked to submit the original RAW files for some of his pictures and there was an unbelievable difference in the original and the post processed version. The comparison of both pictures gave two very clear messages – 1. RAW is raw power. 2. You can be a photographer without a camera (almost) if you know Photoshop well.

I mean, there really is a limit to things. There was a time when I used to spend a lot of time thinking about this very issue… whether the extent of digital photo manipulation that exists today is ethical. My mentor convinced me that Photoshop is what can be called the Digital Darkroom, with RAW being the digital negative. It is very important in the field today, and not post processing your images using Photoshop (or other programs like GIMP for example) is absolute stupidity. Fine, agreed. Post processing is needed, and ethical. But to what extent?

With the kind of capability that Photoshop puts into the hands of anyone who knows how to use a computer, is the art of Photography turning into the art of post processing? I’m sure all of us have at one time or the other taken a picture with the thought in mind that this or that flaw can easily be corrected in PS, so why bother trying to correct it now. But what when that thought stays for every picture you take? What when you frame pictures keeping in mind the extent of adjustments you can make later, and so don’t bother with them while clicking?

Photography is an art… an art that has the power to bring people face to face with the raw realities of life. And at the crux of every art is a creative thinking process. When we become dependent on PS to such an extent that the creativity that goes into taking the picture starts getting overshadowed by the effort put in PS, that is when the line is crossed. Of course there are some concepts that require extensive use of PS, but those are clearly not being talked about here. I am simply referring to correction of pictures.

I myself often had the same thought process as stated above, of taking pictures keeping in mind the adjustments that would need to be done later. There isn’t anything wrong with that unless you do it all the time. And I used to wonder why some people are always ranting about getting the photo as perfect as possible while clicking it. But today, I somehow feel a lot more respect for all those wonderful photographers who have the spirit of practicing the art as it is meant to be practiced.

My thoughts at the moment are mixed, as might be apparent from the construction of this post. And I really don’t know if Photoshop is a blessing or a curse. It may be a blessing for those who can use it to overcome their lack of talent in the actual process of taking a picture, hence being a curse for ones who are brilliantly talented in making beautiful pictures without needing PS.

To conclude, I will say that most of us rely on PS to a significant extent. And most of us have defined our own limits to the extent of post processing permissible. But somehow, I still sit here wondering, hoping for a satisfactory answer (or maybe just an intelligent heated discussion) to the question… How much IS too much?

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  • rommel uro

    both are forms of art. mastery of photoshop does not require mastery of photography. one can take bits and pieces of photos here and there and come out with something.

    a photographer who makes use of photoshop for aesthetic purposes is okay. but when the digital editing produces an image far from the original or 'real' image as can be seen by the naked eye, the image then becomes a 'fake' photograph BUT a 'real' digital creation.

  • rommel

    re photo contests: we can have two types of categories. (1) raw or natural or straight 'photography' AND (2) digital editing. my thoughts on (2): you don't even need a camera to do that stuff. you can take take a number of photos on the web, do layering and what-else-is-there with Photoshop and you have your 'creation'.