How much is too much Post Processing in Photography?

Dec 15, 2002

We live in the age of Instagram filters and Photoshop®. Most images we see are processed in some way and altered. But how much is too much post processing in photography? As it turns out, this question is at the center of a lively debate in the world of photography.

What is Post Processing in Photography?

Post processing is editing a picture after it has been taken, usually with software like Photoshop® or one of the many other post-production applications or plug-ins available today. Post processing can include adding effects, like in the pictures in this blog, or small fixes like rotating an image so it’s level, cropping the image to create a new composition, varying highlight and shadow details or adding or removing brightness.

Experienced photographers can get their camera to do more things while they are taking the picture. They know their camera settings like the back of their hand. But that is only the first step and doesn’t mean that they don’t use post processing techniques to bring an image to the finish line and take it from ordinary to extraordinary.

Pictures Representing Reality

Purists argue that photographs are meant to represent reality, that they are reality, and therefore shouldn’t be touched up or enhanced. But pictures have never been reality. They are only an interpretation of reality.  

There is no finer example of this than Ansel Adams, the original black and white photography master manipulator. His photographs express the essence and emotion of a scene not necessarily the reality of what was in front of his camera.  

Long before there was Photoshop®, photographers such as Adams and Weston altered their images. They just used razors, bits of paper to burn and dodge, brushes, and experimented with different chemicals, mixing ratios, types of paper, and timing.

The apparent size, shape and color of objects, as well as the distance between objects, can all be manipulated by the photographer with focal length, framing of the picture, and the angle at which the photograph is taken. Experimenting with exposure times can turn day into night or night into day.

So long as you use post processing to create an interesting and engaging image, there’s no such thing as too much. The only thing that matters in photography is the quality of the image.

Be creative with post processing in photography, but remember: The more you learn about your camera and how to use its many different settings, the more you’re likely to get from post processing. Or, the better the image is out of the box, the easier it is to deal with in post.

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