Among photographers there seems to be a perpetual question about the editing process. “Is it Photoshopped or not?” seems to be the issue. The quality and clarity of the image is secondary to how the image was processed. I was recently denied admission to a juried show because the requirement that no digital photo should be edited in Photoshop beyond cropping. The fact that my images are panoramas and stitched in Photoshop made them ineligible for this show.
Where this issue seems to stem is from film, or former film photographers, who feel that to use Photoshop or other imaging software is somehow “cheating” and all the imaging should be done in camera. Of course in film, the editing was done via filter choice, film choice, and darkroom procedures. How this differs from digital editing is that it much of the processing editing was done by the photo labs and the photographer had little input, other than his/her choice of film type or lens or filters for the lens. In the past, few photographers, other than professionals had the means of darkroom editing and had to rely on the labs to get it right. By taking the darkroom editing out of their hands they somehow felt it was solely their creation and did not have to acknowledge the roll played by the lab in the creation of their work. Professional photographers often worked closely with the labs, dictating editing steps and even using airbrush experts to create their work, if unable to do their own darkroom work. Ansel Adams said “You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”
The fact is that digital images are all edited. When shooting in the Jpeg mode, most edits are done in camera by the camera’s software. The “preset” edits for jpeg images were developed by the Joint Photographic Experts Group (jpeg). People seem to be unaware that the digital camera is actually a “computer” designed for image capture. The software in the camera makes adjustments based on the parameters set by the user, and the developers of the software standards. When someone declares that they did not edit their work, but are shooting in Jpeg, they are letting someone else edit their work.
If photographers want more control of the final output, they usually shoot in camera raw. The camera raw image is often flat and in need of adjustments. Many people who have upgraded to a DSLR camera find that they are disappointed in the outcome because they are looking at unedited photos and they are used to looking at jpegs. I can not tell you how often I have heard complaint from amateur photographers when they first shoot in camera raw that they got great photos from “the old camera” but lousy ones now.
When someone proudly declares that they did not edit their work in Photoshop, I have to wonder who did edit their photos. Did they chose not to edit because of some misinformation about the digital process and felt that letting the “Jpeg guys” do it is somehow purer or better than doing the work themselves? Or is it just a way to cover up the fact that they do not know how to use Photoshop and are trying to make this ignorance into a virtue?
Either way, you can make beautiful photos. But when the photographer takes control and does his/her own editing a true work of art can be created. Is it any less a great photo because it was edited by the artist instead of the computer software in the camera? Does doing the editing oneself make it better than relying on the software? I do not think either case is true. The image should be judged on its own merits, not how it was composed or created. It is time to end this debate and accept that some artists prefer to have control over the process while others are content to accept the image as created by the preset software. Yes, images are created in the camera and influenced by many factors. Be it lighting, composition, focus, aperture setting, shutter speed or digital editing it is the combination of factors that make a great photo. Just because many of those factors happen to be done outside the camera does not invalidate their influence on the final image. Why should artificial lighting be allowed in a juried photo for a show and brightening and contrast in Photoshop not be?
To quote Ansel Adams again, “There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.”