On Postprocessing

Aka Photoshopping.

I’ve been participating in a discussion about photoshopping on a photo forum. It’s been quite interesting because everyone has a different take on what’s okay, what’s not.

Photographers seem to generally fall into one of the three camps.

Those who see nothing wrong with being heavy handed – HDR is fabulous! Vignetting make everything better. Skin-smoothing in one fell sweep is awesome! Screwed up exposure? No problem.  The image editors are there for us to use to its fullest, so why not use it? (I know I’m laying it on a little thick).

And there’s those who think postprocessing should be done minimally, and that photographers should strive to get their images as close to perfect as possible right out of box (ie, while shooting).

Finally, the third group – the gray group. The ones who fall somewhere in middle. They view photoshop as a tool that has its place and time.

by Zombie Photography

I myself fall in this group, though perhaps leaning a little toward minimalist group. My one foray into HDR makes me wince (see pic above). Look at that grass! I don’t think I’ve ever seen that shade of green in nature. I do occasionally use textures and various postprocessing effects to enhance my images – sparingly though.

I’m curious about your take on it. What’s too much? What’s okay in your book? Where do you draw the line? Cloning out zits? Using liquify to slenderize? Curves or exposure levels to correct exposure?

Do you like HDR? Hate? Like Hipstamatic? Hate? What’re your pet peeves?

Let’s hear it.



  1. I tend to side with you on the whole ‘to photoshop or not to photoshop’ debate… I think as a tool, photoshop has its place much like my ND filter or speedlight. I don’t need it for every shot but I know that it is there should the need and occasion arise.

    Currently, my primary post processing ‘tool’ is Lightroom. If I can’t adjust my photo with the tools within then I move on to the next shot or shoot again.

    While Photoshop is a very powerful piece of software to those in the hands of those who know how to use it, it can quickly become a crutch for the novice user. The temptation to overdo adjustments like eye whitening (alien eyes), sharpening, saturation, etc is too often the result. I am of the mind that less is more – the casual observer should, for the most part be unaware that any kind of post has been done.

    Now having said all that, there is another ‘spin’ to put on this debate and that is what the purpose of the photograph/intention of the ‘artist’ is. To create a piece of art and to realize the vision of the photographer (who in this case is an artist) Photoshop often plays a much larger role. This is when the extreme photo manipulations and adjustments are required and desired.

    At the end of the day though does it really matter how a photo was edited? A good photo will always be a good photo and a bad photo a bad photo regardless of whether it was edited in Lightroom, Aperture, Photoshop or GIMP. It’s not the journey that matters it is the destination.

    hopefully this is somewhat coherent… just my two cents

  2. Excellent comment, and yes, coherent. Infact, I think you articulated it better than I did.

    I neglected to consider the artist aspect while writing this post, which is very blonde of me considering that a lot of the featured artists I select rely on heavy postprocessing to execute their visions. I’m glad you mentioned that.

  3. I dislike altering pictures, but I can see the advantages to it. An image can go from okay with a few minor faults to almost stunning.

    I don’t believe in slimming people down or changing eye colour to something completely different. I’d guess I fall into the middle camp borderline minimalist. I tend to think if a photo needs major editing to get balance and exposure right then the picture hasn’t been taken properly. Might be a tad extreme but I recognise it in my own work as to how I need to improve.

  4. Well, not wanting to retype what I had posted on another blog on a similar subject, I’ll cut and paste here:

    “There’s always this perspective: Everything is edited, whether it’s done in post processing by you or by the application (by its interpretation of your RAW file), or mechanically (in camera). There is no such thing as a photograph that is not edited. If a photog chooses jpeg output then it’s the algorithms “in camera” that make decisions and compresses your photograph. If a photog chooses RAW output, variable such as exposure, white balance, filters come into play. Those are all forms of edits. And who’s to say those variable were exactly right? Also, depending on what you use in post (Lightroom, Aperture, Photoshop, etc.) the application’s interpretation of your RAW file varies. Both Canon and Nikon RAW formats are proprietary which means unless you’re using their post processing app (Nikon NX, Canon DPP) you’re using Adobe (Lightroom) or Apple’s (Aperture) interpretation. So by not editing your photographs, you’re allowing someone or something else edit for you already even if you do nothing else to the photograph.

    As for things like HDR, I like using it to see what I can bring back, but I’m not a big fan of the over-processed psychedelic HDRs. But then again, that’s just my preference.”

    Now witt that being said, I’d like to get as much correct out of the camera and do as little as possible in post. Unless there is a conversion to B&W or some HDR, I don’t spend more than 2-3 minutes on a photograph in post via Lightroom. That mean at least a couple of things. I’m getting a lot right out of the camera than not and that my general dislike of spending time in post is forcing me get it right in-camera.

    Maybe if I had any skill in Photoshop, I would use that more. Yet, I still wouldn’t liquify to slenderize unless asked.

  5. I’m *so* on the fence about this issue. I definitely take a strong stand against too much photoshopping (using liquify to change the way someone’s body or face looks, for example) but I’m okay with fixing little blemishes because I don’t *always* have a huge pimple on my chin! But people sometimes take photoshopping way too far. Trying to get good results out of the camera is a productive exercise, but I’m not against enhancing sharpness, increasing exposure, and heightening contrast in photoshop either.

Comments are closed.