Is editing images cheating?

Creative Photography with a seasoning of Mindfulness.

Is editing images cheating?

Image editing is almost as old as photography.

The Question
Having been asked more than once now, I feel it’s time to address the question; ‘Is editing images cheating?’

After all, so the reasoning, you are changing the reality of the moment of image capture.


We all love snapshots. Images taken long ago or pictures taken with a cellphone, selfies.

I am very fortunate to have some snapshots from the early 1960’s. A very dear friend of mine in America found them and was loving enough to send them to me.

Snapshots are usually not edited. Cellphones and the auto mode of modern cameras do a pretty good job of giving us a picture we can use. However, you are reading this because you want to take your images to the next level.

Professional photographers visited a darkroom back in the day, Amsel Adams and many others even had their own darkroom. The images created there were edited.

The cropping, exposure, contrast and color tones were corrected in the chemical development process. Nowadays, we don’t know how good we have it, development and editing from digital images has never been easier.

The goal
The main goal any creative photographer follows is to get the shot as right as possible. This calls for taking time for each image capture. The less editing you need to do the better. In addition, if you know anything about mindfulness, it will become a very rewarding creative art when you learn to practice mindful photography. That said, many images will need editing.

My editing work-flow
Let’s begin with a snapshot and go from there.

I created this ‘snapshot’ on purpose. There is a some editing to be done here, but to make it perfectly clear; the goal remains to get the image as right as possible in the field.

•    Crop
The first step is to see if I need to crop anything out or perhaps I want to focus on a certain area of the picture.

•    Exposure / contrast
Sometimes I capture too dark or too light on purpose. Other times – especially outdoors – the image will not allow me to get the exposure I want; think merciless afternoon sunshine or movement here. Rivers and streams come to mind. I could, of course, go home and come back in the evening for better light, but let us assume that this is not possible.
So for this image a little less exposure and more contrast gives the look I want.

•    Vibrancy and Saturation
Plus saturation causes the colors to become more intense in the image, a complete negative saturation leads to a monochrome image. Saturation works linear.
Vibrancy works nonlinear and can be seen as a fine tuning of saturation.
I rarely pump any specific color up or down. I do however carefully add to the Vibrancy and saturation of all colors.

•    Vignette
At times, as in this image, there may be something distracting at the edges of the image. Even the crop above didn’t get rid of it all. The crop was good, but somewhere – mostly in a corner or on one side – there is distraction. You can use Vignette to correct this.
Another use of vignette – actually the same thought – is to direct the viewer to what is in the center of the image.

•    Watermark
Is all else done, I set the watermark that you see in the bottom right of my images. For this image, I moved it to bottom left. This is not a prerequisite, it is however like an artists signature.

The key point to remember is to edit sparingly.

Dynamic Range
In photography, the “dynamic range” is the difference between the darkest and lightest tones in an image, generally pure black and pure white. It’s more often used to talk about the maximum dynamic range a camera is capable of.

The best modern cameras can achieve just under 15 stops of dynamic range in any one photo.

Dynamic range is one area where the eye is often seen as having a huge advantage. If we were to consider situations where our pupil opens and closes for different brightness regions, then yes, our eyes far surpass the capabilities of a single camera image (and can have a range exceeding 24 f-stops). However, in such situations our eye is dynamically adjusting like a video camera, so this arguably is not a fair comparison.

At any rate, what you see when capturing an image is not what you see when looking at in post-production on the screen.

Light and shadow, vibrancy and saturation, exposure and contrast are not as alive as that which you saw when capturing.

This is the reason for editing and this is also why I can conclude with;

Editing – thoughtful editing without overkill – is not cheating.

What do you think?


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