Is it WRONG to post process a photo?

Ever since I came back to photography last year, I’ve done my fair share of reading & looking at other photographers photos. Some very good, some not so good. I found that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder. I’ve posted many photos online, either through my Flickr account or via Facebook… sometimes what I think is a good photo may not be nice to another person.

Another thing I realized among photographers is the social norm or the general acceptance of certain techniques or skills. There will be groups of people who dislike post processing, or folks who may be tolerant of post processing but not HDR.

Which brings us to the question… is there a RIGHT or WRONG in post processing a photo?

Folks who prefer to argue day in & day out over forums seem to think so. These people are nothing more than snobs who talk all day long about the technical aspects of photography but don’t have much to show in terms of actual photos. Real photographers know that it is foolish to dwell on forums & online chats when there is so little time for real photography. Instead of debate hours on end on what is right or wrong in photography, real photographers go out & make photographs!

One of the biggest debate that goes on over the internet is on the topic of HDRI, High Dynamic Range Imaging. HDRI or just HDR is a set of techniques that allow a greater dynamic range of luminance  between the lightest and darkest areas of an image than current standard digital imaging techniques or photographic methods. This wide dynamic range allows HDR images to more accurately represent the range of intensity levels found in real scenes, ranging from direct sunlight to faint starlight. Of course all that was just cut & paste from Wikipedia but in every sense, what it means is it is possible with the correct application of HDR, it is possible to mimic close to what our eyes see. The cameras we use have a limited dynamic range… not like our eyes. So what HDR does is simply to address the limitations of digital cameras today.

That said HDR is considered as an advance method of digital image enhancement & really should be done once you have a firm grasp of composition, lighting & exposure. Just like there are good & bad images taken directly from a camera, there is also good & bad photo editing & HDR. It would be foolish to simply write off any form of photography art just because some folks have a bad eye & produce crap which they call a HDR photo.

What is pure?

So some photography purists think that post processing is a sin beyond blasphemy & should be avoided at all costs. They think that manipulating or enhancing an image is presenting a lie to your viewers. To me this is very odd because the act of taking a photograph is already manipulation enough. Like I’ve said earlier, our eyes see different from how a digital camera sees things. It’s quite impossible to take a photo without distorting reality in one way or another. Don’t believe me? Read on…

Let’s take a look at the basics…

Aperture

Yea you read me right! Aperture is one of the first things you have on your camera which distorts reality even before you download the photo onto your computer. Using a large aperture & a shallow depth-of-field creates a blur or “bokeh” behind the subject. I don’t remember ever looking at a person a couple of feet away & having see pretty bokeh circles blurred in the background!!

Shutter speed

Using slow shutter speed to manipulate time & movement is another in-camera way of distorting reality. Oh come on! You’ve never used slow shutter to create streams of lights through the streets at night? Or some motion blur photography from inside a moving car or train? No amount of post processing can distort a photo in that way now can it?

Black & White photography

Ok..ok… Now this is getting stupid! I sometimes see some folks comment on forums saying that they “see in black & white”. That’s dumb! Unless you are seriously color blind or have some form of brain damage, I’m pretty sure folks see in color like I do.

What else?

Let’s see… here is a list that I’ve made which proves that shooting without post processing does in fact distort reality.

1. Fisheye or Ultra-Wide angle lenses
2. Tilt & Shift lenses
3. Picture Style or any form of color/sharpness manipulation from within the camera
4. Multiple exposure blending
5. Filters (ND Grad/polarized/special effects filters)
6. Flash!! – really… I don’t remember having a spot light on top of my head when I look at things…
7. Noise from long shutters or high ISO
8. Reflectors

I think the entire notion of saying that post process editing is wrong shows that folks are missing the point. Almost all people who dislike post processing are confusing bad processing with all processing. As I have mentioned at the beginning of the article, there are bad photographers & good photographers. So it’s logical that we have bad post processing & good post processing. It’s ok to hate badly done HDRs… I hate them just as well too. But there are ones that you can’t quite tell if they were processed in HDR.

I’ll leave you with some images… Can you tell which are HDR & which are not?

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8 responses to “Is it WRONG to post process a photo?”

  1. Alex Tang says :

    All photos are in HDR. Correct me if I am wrong.

  2. chaie says :

    entry yang menarik. berminat dengan pelbagai info dalam blog ni. harap dapat belajar banyak lagi dari blog anda. thanks for sharing.

  3. edwin teow says :

    No 3 & 5 are HDR ! Right ?

  4. Walkalone says :

    Nice article love it thanks for sharing on photography Talk
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