Is Post-Processing “Cheating”?

Fall on the Suwanee
Fall Colors on the Suwanee River

Our photography workshop on Saturday went very well. We discussed the various basic settings on digital cameras, and how to use those settings. We found through our hikes, classes, and workshops that many people use only the AUTO setting on their SLR so we run this workshop once a year for those who want to take the next steps, but have questions of what does what.

One question in particular stayed with me: “Is using post-processing cheating?”. By post processing we mean using Photoshop, Elements, or any of of the other programs to edit, crop, adjust settings, color, etc.

The answer is: No. In the film days, photographers did cropping, color or light adjustments, and ‘repairs’ in the darkroom. In addition, many used the processing to achieve special effects. By using a digital camera and digital program, you replicate what they did, and a whole lot more. When shooting in RAW, you will have to use a computer program. JPEG and other formats do some ‘interpreting’ when you take your shot, RAW does not.

On the other hand, getting it right in the camera (focus, settings, angle, composition, light) remains the way to get the absolute best photograph. I have heard people say that they can “just fix it on the computer”. Maybe, maybe not. Karl and I once sat through a presentation by a photographer who over sharpened every image. It was obvious to us, and to others in the room. As it was nature photography, in addition to being obvious the over sharpening often made the bird or animal look fake or just not right.

Photo editing software also opens up creative realms like photo artistry. I attended an exhibition of a photo artist and she made significant changes, combining photographs, etc. to create multimedia type artwork. Some of this was done in a darkroom in the film days but it can be done by everyone now and to a greater extent.

Be aware that many contests, commission work, etc. have very clear rules on which enhancements you may use. For our nature photography, we work to get it right in the camera, but we do use cropping and adjustments where needed. If I have to adjust a photograph too much I don’t use it or re-shoot it, but that is me.


3 thoughts on “Is Post-Processing “Cheating”?”

  1. Nicely done, Kathleen! I don’t think it’s cheating, provided you keep it to what your eye actually saw. We can’t always get in camera what our eyes saw on the ground. I agree, keep it minimal. Otherwise, it’s abstract art. LOL!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s