Couple of weeks ago, my former student who is now studying graphic design and photography in New York, sent me a set of photos he took and asked me how I would process the image that would look like those in magazine pages.
In the lecture I did for the Photography Club of Ateneo de Cebu high school students, I tried to explain the role of post processing and its relationship with photography. My first question is, “Is photo editing cheating?”. I got a mix of answers but it was quite clear that they all agree that it is cheating.
My next question was, “Ansel Adams who is one of the pillars of photography, did he edit his pictures?”. The answer was a solid no. I said, would you be surprised to know that all of his photos are edited? Ansel Adams was a master in darkroom editing. He would even burn the negative so the only image seen is the printed result.
Post processing is a means of stretching the limitation of the camera and enhance the image with bias on how you want the image to come out. In my opinion, post processing is part of photography. The moment you start applying picture style in your camera, you are already choosing a preset on how the image will be processed.
The case of photomontage or composite editing is probably outside the area of photography. These are what you call digital art and classified as another medium of art. There is nothing wrong with digital art as long as you don’t claim it as a photograph. Whether digital art or photography, both require a certain level of expertise to practice.
Don’t get me wrong. You have to start with a good photograph in terms of composition, lighting, perspective and many more before you start editing. You have to shoot with the end image in mind while trying to achieve it as close as possible during the shooting stage.
You can never edit expression. Visual perspective and optical compression are just some of the things you cannot manipulate during editing. But editing has gone a long way since the time they were editing it in darkrooms. The possibilities are just endless and a good understanding of the tool can help you tremendously.
You probably don’t want to overdo it. In the case of Miss World Philippines, it created a worldwide outrage over the severely photoshopped portraits of the candidates. It was clearly a work of an amateur retoucher. Keep on shooting everyone!
Text and photos by Albert Pedrosa