To edit or not to edit?

This has been the big discussion between me and one of my photographer friends lately.

Should the photos you take stay in their pure state, or is it alright to use image editors to tweak and saturate and brighten and retouch and so on and so forth?

On the one hand, I've been in favor of the former - take the best photos you can in the moment, and be happy with the ones that really turned out just as you wanted. When we get into adding things that plainly, simply were not a part of the original surroundings or atmosphere, or even a part of the picture at all, it's like integrity has been compromised.

I've seen photos of beaches and waterfalls that have been so altered, I almost feel let down because I know that were I to want to visit that place, it would be impossible. The altered state does not exist.

On the other hand, in order to compete in today's photography business, you really have no other choice but to do what it takes to get your work to stand out. Colors have to pop. Contrast has to be stark. Subjects must be foreign. Unless you've captured a singular moment in the universe that will never be replicated and therefore contains value on its own, there's no getting away with Just Plain Photos.

So where does someone like myself draw the line?

My friend doesn't even believe in adding a little color saturation. It doesn't represent the true "moment" in which the photo was taken.

However, I gotta be honest, color saturation is awesome. So is adjusting the color temperature...and tint...and contrast...and brightness...

I have plenty of pictures that I consider to be the pinnacle of my current photo-taking abilities, and I have found no need to tweak them at all. Others, though, have benefited. Consider this aging, molding fence post. On the left is the unaltered picture, on the right, the contrast has been highly adjusted (no color saturation).


(Nikon, f/13, 1/640 sec., ISO-800)

The left photo is very cool; the right photo can compete.

Another comparison, working out the frustration that water is often not blue and using tint to rectify:


(Fuji, f/7.1, 1/320 sec., ISO-100)

The left photo is "oh, well, I'll take the picture anyway..." The right makes me want to drink the water.

Another confession...I've spent a lot of time the last couple of days picking out shots that didn't turn out spectacular and making them better. It has been fun. Do they represent the reality I saw through my lens? No.

But, isn't there a place in a photographer's stash for a second vision? For a world that maybe doesn't exist but is fun or exciting to look at regardless? I read books that are in no way grounded in the real world - but they have value because through a "different lens" the reader is allowed to relate more fully to his or her own world by being exposed to a wider view.

And anyway, there's no getting around the requirements to, as I said before, really compete with one's photography. I will not budge and compromise when it comes to music or writing, but I feel like I'm only adding to the beauty that's already there when it comes to things visually stunning.

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