To Edit or Not to Edit


that is the question.

Maybe not as fundamental as Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” but one that every digital photographer must answer for themselves.

Asking and answering this question is part of my continuing “Find Your Eye” journey. This week we have been asked to determine which aspects of the photographic process inspire us. Is it the process of image capture? Post-processing? Sharing the results with others?

By carefully exploring what truly inspires and excites us during each step of image-making, we can concentrate our energies on the aspects that support our inner creative desires.

For me, the editing process has always been a core component of my digital work. This interest began nearly a decade ago when I transitioned from paper arts to a keen interest in digital creations.In the beginning, I created digital art pieces using the images of others as my starting point. My first love was editing – the reverse of most photographers. I didn’t come to digital photography as an art form until much later in this journey. Therefore, image capture and post-processing naturally go hand in hand as equal partners in my artistic process.

I certainly do not intend to get on a soap box about this issue. I recognize that many in the photographic community consider SOOC images to be the Holy Grail – I respect and admire their commitment to this standard.

In addition, it is not my intent to try and convince any one else of the “rightness” of my position on this issue. For me, editing software is a tool, equally as important as my camera, that I utilize to create my images.

The image above is a good example of how I use post-processing to further my creative vision.

In Photoshop, I cropped, straightened and corrected the perspective distortion caused by shooting up at the window. I increased the mid-tone contrast via a High-Pass filter and the color saturation by layering a copy of the image and blending with “Soft Light”. I finished off my adjustments with an overall Levels adjustment.

Will these adjustments be to everyone’s taste? No, of course not. Art is subjective after all. But the edited version expresses my unique vision of this scene, playing up the beautiful texture and color of the brick and the window with its patterned grid overlay.

We each choose the combination of steps that are meaningful to us as we create images. Those that inspire our creativity and fill us with excitement. Post-processing gives me another avenue of exploration, experimentation and expression for my art.

What I hope for is that the photographic community is large enough to encompass all methods, whether our images are straight-out-of-camera or straight-out-of-Photoshop. That we are open enough to see the beauty in the final image, regardless of its method of creation. That we do not create artificial boundaries, judging some methods as better or more worthy than another.

Each of us has something to say. May we all be heard.


Posted on August 30, 2011, in Photography, Photoshop and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 23 Comments.

  1. I love your honesty . . . so many people get caught up in the whole edit, not to edit thing and I too believe there is room for both. I try not to do too much processing but I am the ‘queen of crop’ a lot of the time and recognize that in myself.

    • Kathryn,
      There are times when I feel like any shot that is not SOOC is automatically “less” in the eyes of some in the photographic community. I understand the importance of getting the shot right in camera – in my two college level photography classes that was the focus of our training. I understand that photojournalism has a no-edit standard to which it must abide.

      But I’m making images for myself that satisfy my own artistic preferences. And post-processing is one of my loves. I think we should use the tools that make us happy and enhance the creative experience.

      PS: I love cropping too. A square crop is one of my favorites.

  2. Hi Brenda,

    First I have to say that I do like your final edited image very much. You took a (forgive me) fairly ordinary SOOC photo and turned it into a work of art. I also appreciate your explanation of your feelings on the subject of editing.

    It was interesting to learn that you were creatively using digital editing even before you got into photography. My experience was just the opposite. I took my photos with film and sent them away for development and printing. In fact, most of my pictures were taken with slide film, so what you saw really was what you got. In fact, that’s what I liked about slides — they were full frame and the color was so much more true than the prints that came back from the processor.

    So it’s not that I think SOOC pics are superior to “SOOP” ones, it’s just that that’s what I’m used to so that’s what I try for without even thinking about it. Also, I don’t really know how to use Photoshop well, though I can do some basic tweaks. I would not have been able to do what you did to the image above. I’ve seen some other fine editing from students in this class as well. I’d like to learn those techniques! I’m sure I’d enjoy it more if I could do it better.

    The thing is, art truly is in the eye of the beholder, and an artist can make art from anything, in any way. Who is to say it’s wrong? It’s all a matter of personal taste and inclination, I think. We each have to follow our own guiding star.

    So keep on editing, Brenda, and don’t feel like you have to defend or apologize for it. It’s obviously right for you.

    • Lee,
      Please don’t apologize for the length of your comment – it was very thoughtful and heartfelt – and I greatly appreciate your input on this issue.

      I can readily admit that I would NOT have made a good film photographer. I am not a technical equipment whiz and my strengths do not lie in getting it right “in camera”. I greatly admire photographers who have those abilities. For me, the image is the raw material, my starting point. Sometimes, I get to what I want with just a few steps in post-processing; with others, the transformation to the final product is more complex.

      As our two stories demonstrate, we each bring to this art form our different backgrounds – mine in software; yours in film – so our current process reflect our experiences and the roads we have followed to get to where we are today. I would certainly like to improve my “in camera” abilities just as you would like to learn more about Photoshop – Hopefully we can learn from and support each other.

  3. Wow, that was long. Sorry…I should have just done my own post! 🙂

  4. I like your take on the debate — I tend to think it’s a moot point since so much was done in the wet darkroom of film to alter photos to the artistic intent of the photographer. In other words, same as it always was — just new tools.

    What makes photos interesting is the sharing of our vision — of what we saw. And that may or may not have been captured in every detail in the sooc file. Sometimes what captures my attention about a scene doesn’t always transfer to file even if I have perfect exposure, etc. Photoshop just helps me show the viewer what I saw or felt when I was there taking the picture.

    Anyway, great discussion. I’ll be starting in the next session of Kat’s class so I’ve really appreciated these peeks into the course! ; )

    • Jessica,
      I agree – it really should be a moot point – we each use the tools that help us reach our vision for the image. Each of us has different skills and interests and talents that we bring to the table – and all should be allowed. Thanks for weighing in.

      I can guarantee that you will love Kat’s class – I have learned so much!

  5. What a wonderful example you shared: you took a so-so image and made it beautiful. I think that takes a lot of creativity. I agree that post processing is just another tool for us to use, or not. Sometimes my images really ask for adjustments and it’s fun to see the changes I can make. Back in the day, I had my own darkroom and would spend hours with those messy chemicals. Yuck! Now it’s so easy and there’s so much that can be done with a click.

    Your closing paragraph is so spot on: we all need to be open to see the beauty in the final images, however they are made. Another interesting post, Brenda!

    • Gina,
      Oh yes – I am SO glad to be a “digital” photographer – I would never have been able to handle darkroom processing. Clicking, however – THAT I am good at. 🙂

      Thanks for contributing your 2 cents worth on this issue. I really do think we need to embrace it all – from SOOC to SOOP and all the variations in between.

  6. I think you’ve done a beautiful edit and it really adds so much to the original photo. The main reason that I mostly stick with SOOC is because I don’t know much about editing and my love is the actual taking of the photo. But i think that this “Find your eye” course is helping me to consider editing a bit more.

    • Leanne,
      I think that was the purpose of this assignment – to discover the parts of the photographic process that really speak to us creatively. For me, it is editing. For you, it is the actual moment of capture. Knowing what we love about the process can help us strengthen those areas. But it also helps us identify areas in which our skills may be lacking and that we have the desire to improve through further study. It can show us new paths of exploration.

  7. Brenda,

    I ‘ve really enjoyed reading this post and all the follow up comments.

    You are right, “Each of us has something to say.” What we all see through the many lenses out there is varied and beautiful and needing to be shared.

    While editing photos is not necessarily what inspires me most about photography, I appreciate what it means to you…because your photos are simply stunning, in my opinion.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and inspiration!

    • Deb,
      As individuals, we each have our own reasons why we love to make images. And because we each bring that unique combination to the table, we focus on those aspects of the process that are meaningful to us. And the best thing that can happen is when we learn from each other in such a way that our own experience is broadened.

  8. I like your description of how you came to photography Brenda, because I think that may be an important key to how we think and approach our art. We bring with us all of the past rules and expectations we’ve learned. We bring with us all of our past experiences. Sometimes, when we’ve learned one way to approach things, it’s hard to see things from a different angle. I come to photography from a background in more art and design, and that informs what I focus on and what I love about this art form as much as my experience with initially learning on film. Thanks for sharing such great insights, and making us think.

    • Kat,
      Thanks for another thought-provoking exercise. It is certainly true that my path to photography has been an unusual one – except for family snapshots, I didn’t grow up with photography; I didn’t shoot with film or have a darkroom. I still don’t like the technical aspects or care about equipment. But I have created a way of working in this medium that has brought immense pleasure and creativity to my life. And that is really the whole point, isn’t it?

  9. I think it’s interesting that you began bu editing other people’s images. I’m new to editing and get frustrated at times, because I don’t know what else to do. I’ve just finished my 365-and before I set off on another similar journey I thought it might be good to pause, take not of the numerous tutorials and “cool things” I’ve seen out there and self-teach.
    I like the edits you made on your image and definitely feel they add, but if someone is a SOOC shooter, I appreciate that too. We do all have soemthing to say, and everyone enjoys being heard.
    Well said Brenda.

    • Susan,
      There are SO many resources out there for learning about Photoshop and the editing process. Most of my training came via community college classes in graphic design but I have also learned so much from magazines, books and online tutorials. When I first began my foray into digital, I taught myself Paint Shop Pro using books and online resources. I can personally recommend NAPP (National Association of Photoshop Professionals at as one tremendous resource both via their magazine, books and online training. I have also attended several of their seminars.

      Editing is a skill that can be learned and then becomes another tool in your image-making toolbox. I think you will enjoy the journey.

  10. Genius — I love this photo, especially the richness of the colors and the drape of the black cord across the top. Genius!
    It’s funny because, as a writer, editing is never NOT an option. I write. I edit. I edit some more. I’m a writer who loves editing because that’s when I really see the whole — sometimes the drafting sends me into a panic. I recently hid for quite some time from Chapter 23. So, the debate you bring up here, in the photo world, seems foreign to me. I say keep doing what you are doing. You’re great at it.

    • Lisa,
      For me, not to edit would be completely foreign as well as I consider the image the raw material for my creative process. However, for many photographers the image is the point, the end result. Getting it right “in camera” is the goal. I suppose my way of working is more like writing, where I take the image and polish it till it is what I want it to be.

      I trust that Chapter 23 has been pummeled into submission.

  11. Hi Brenda,

    as another post processor lover I can relate to what you are saying. I also have the goal to ´get it right in camera` but only to improve the quality for printing purposes. For the ethical part of it I liked the comment from Lisa Ahn above. I also took a writing class here and editing is an essential part of the process. I use all available techniques to get the end result I want, I never really understand why the image has to be SOOC view, photography is all about `manipulation` just by choosing yhe frame and the light and the exposure. Or waiting for the right combination of factors to occur. The only time I feel editing is not allowed is in a news photo.

    • Monique,
      You bring up an important point – that the capture process itself is one of manipulation – we choose what to include and what to eliminate and through that act “manipulate” the image that is in front of us. For me, the edit process is fun – like you, I can spend hours tweaking and experimenting with my images until I get something that speaks to me. Thanks for weighing in with your opinion.

  12. I’m a firm believer in using all the tools at our disposal. Post-processing allows image correction when it is needed but, more importantly, provides a way for the photo-artist to enhance an image to become the work of art he/she intended.

    I especially appreciated Lisa Ann’s comment above comparing editing a written document to a photograph–presented in that way, it seems almost essential to at least consider an edit in view of how an image can be improved.

    • Wanda,
      You expressed so well my feelings on this issue – post-processing allows me to create the artistic image that I see in my mind. I think we should all be permitted to use or not use editing tools as it fits with our unique artistic vision. Thanks for joining in the discussion.

I greatly appreciate your comments!

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