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Photo Enhancement Debate

Photograph Enhancement

For years Photography Course has provided free photography lessons and in 2009 we started bringing you Digital Photography Lessons and lessons on Digital Photo Editing. We’ve gotten quite a few comments about photo editing and would like to open the topic up to the Photography Course community. A few points from a designer before you cast your votes.

Photo Enhancement Debate Venice Italy

Photo Editing Pros

It is rare that a photo gets by me to be published without first going through Photoshop Levels in order to get the right exposure. It’s probably even more rare that a digital photograph gets by me without getting cropped and resized and optimized as most of my work is done for the web. Some traditional photographers would argue that you should be able to get the exposure and the cropping right in the shot. I would argue that Digital Photography is more now than just what you do with your camera. If you’re doing photography without the digital aspect, its like you’re playing football without pads or protection.

Portrait Photo Enhancement

It’s rare that you find someone that actually wants you to keep those zits, bruises, or loose hairs in their portraits. And on this point you can’t attach photo editors with the line “You are lying in your photographs.” Well yes, it’s a portrait, of course I’m lying.  Do you think people really dress up that way every day or smile that much in real life? I realize not all portrait photographers strive to be liars but this is a topic for a separate occasion. For those who are into idealizing portraits and removing blemishes the Photoshop Clone Stamp is a must have.

Photo Editing Cons

Often times photo editing is taken to the extremes using the same tools I’ve mentioned before. People take the Levels tool and push values over what is normal or even possible. A good litmus test for over done digital photographs is that you can see grain and texture in photographs that doesn’t belong there. In my opinion, the best photo editing has been done when people cannot even recognize that anything has happened until you show them the initial file.

Photo Enhancement, Right, Wrong, or Indifferent. You Decide

Your chance to tell the designer where he is wrong. As a Photographer, Designer, or Photojournalist where do you stand? Vote now and Submit your comments.


  1. I think it is ok to do some editing and color corrections in Photoshop. It is ok to add to the original image but don’t take the original image and completely change it to make it something that you didn’t capture in the camera.

  2. Would just like to say one more thing on the subject…..I wish my ancestors had available all of the computers and cameras we have now…..I wouldn’t have to spend so much time trying to restore their old images.

  3. Did not many a manipulations occur in the darkrooms of old? …and every time you attached a different lens or filter….didn’t that change the range, aspect, depth of field, or color of the original shot…..come on…..I say it is the end result that matters….if the end image is beautiful, interesting, thought provoking, or inspiring…..then kudos to the creator no matter the process. My grandmother could bake a cake that was fabulous….one that was cooked in a fireplace….I can bake that same cake in a modern oven…and it taste just as good….do I feel guilty….Nope

  4. hi all
    i take it that all the people out there who object to photo enhancement don’t have digital cameras, because with auto everything they have nowdays it’s point and shoot in fact isn’t the same with film cameras as well. if you want to be a purist i think the only camera for you is a pinhole camera as you would not want a lens getting in the way.
    i take photographs but i build pictures on my computer, taking up to a dozen or so different elements from different photos and combining them to create a new picture.
    my hobby my way

    now go away, i’m about to create yet another masterpiece

  5. While looking for a class to teach me how to use my new canon rebel xsi, I couldn’t help but to comment on photo manipulation. When I first started getting some photo magazines (I will not mention the names) I was amazed at how beautiful the photos were. After reading how many were made to look a certain way and looking at the original photos (they usually show the photos before they have been enhanced) I was really disappointed. I felt like the photos were better suited for a computer magazine then a photo magazine. Sure, it showed me how talented they were on their computers but showed little talent in their photography skills. The whole art of learning to handle your camera is to learn how to prevent that tree from growing out of aunt Doris’s head. That part brought a smile to my face since I have ended up with such photos. 🙂 I don’t see any problem with using some photo enhancements, such as red eye fixes) as long as your not taking a picture and then ‘creating’ your master piece from your computer and not your camera. I personally would much rather look at a photo that shows your talent of photography with your camera only, then one that has been ‘enhanced’ with computer software. After all if you take a persons photo and then take away the wrinkles, the moles, maybe that cow lick that’s plagued them for a lifetime, whiten their teeth and so forth you are no longer looking at the ‘real’ person but a totally different person altogether. Its gone from a photography talent to being a computer genius with some photo software. So…for us “bozos” who need the extra help right now, its fun to play with. Go for it. Just don’t take a good photo and turn it into a computer generated photo. I want to learn to be able to hang a photo on my wall and know that I did that with my camera….not my computer. I think with a lot of practice and learning we will not ‘need’ our computers to ‘fix’ our photos, but we’ll know how to shoot them right to begin with. After all if you take a scenic photograph and publish it and a person asks you where you took that photo, do you want to tell them where its located, or do you want to go into the whole conversation of how it exists but not quite like the photo looks, and what you added, took away, etc, etc. As I started out writing this I want to remind folks how disappointing it is to look at a photo and be amazed at how talented the photographer is only to be disappointed when you find out that the original photo really isn’t that good, but they are very good with their computers. I get computer magazines for that sort of material. So fix the red eye or crop the edges, lighten/darken the background but keep the computer enhancements to a minimum so people can see your true talent as a photographer. Brian, I enjoyed reading your response, and if each of us weren’t a little different we would be very boring people. We can all learn from each other. God Bless!!

  6. At the risk of being crucified, I’m going to join the raging debate of whether or not post-processing photographs (photo-editing) is acceptable. Let me kick off by saying that photography is in a constantly-evolving state of transition. It always has been, and I can’t really foresee a point where camera manufacturers and photographers will agree that no further improvements are necessary. Post-processing photos is simply a part of this on-going transition, and like it or hate it, it is here to stay. What those who hate or disagree with it can do, is simply ignore it or, at best, tolerate it. Luckily, post-processing our photographs is not compulsory, and those who are totally against it can take heart in the fact that their photos will remain as natural as they were shot. I think it is an odd fact that most of these guys are pretty good at ‘getting it right’ straight off the snap, and tend to forget the bozos like me who struggle at times.

    Those who do utilize post-processing, can be largely (and loosely) grouped into two categories: those who wish to do so, and those who have to do so. The first group are those who desire to try and better their images, or are trying to achieve a unique effect. I think it is at this point the ‘purists’ step in to try and defend the honorable name of photography. Their main argument is that once you manipulate an image, it is no longer ‘pure’ or natural. Try telling that to Aunt Doris who, in the original photo, has a tree ‘growing’ out of her head, or to Uncle Harry who once had two devilish red eyes instead of his sky-blues. Of course, post-processing, while being limitless in its capabilities, has its acceptable boundaries. Even the purists will leap to the defense of getting rid of red-eye, so when does manipulation start becoming manipulation? I think, by and large, that reasonable post-processing should be acceptable (lightening, darkening, cropping, cosmetic touch-ups, color effects etc), as long as the original subject-concept is not distorted to a point where it is something else entirely. Those who do whole-scale changes to their images usually have a definite aim in mind, (HDR imaging for example), sometimes with amazingly good results.

    The second group are more commercially inclined, magazine editors spring to mind. In order to sell magazines, their photos are usually very striking, with obvious intentions. Post-processing for this group is almost a pre-requisite necessity. Who wants to buy a mag that is filled with blotchy-faced models, or under-exposed pics, or worse? Sure, professional photographers usually get it right, but not always, and the editors do not always see it as the photographer does. We, as a demanding and discerning buying-public, want the best, and good editors give us that, with the aid of post-processing. I wonder how many purists have a pile of glossy mags, that they believe are filled with totally unmanipulated images? I’ll bet they don’t, so are they not, in a left-handed manner, supporting the very concept that they rage against? It’s like those who discourse against tree-felling, while putting another log on the fire……

    All in all, I believe post-processing is here to stay, and will probably get better, way better before it is outlawed and banned forever! For my two cents-worth, I enjoy a little bit of processing now and then. I don’t make it a life-habit, but I’ve accepted it, used it, and, I have to admit, I kinda like how some of my images are much better for it.

    Okay, I’ve had my waffle, so now go ahead and crucify me!


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