What would you think of a chef who presented his latest creation, a soufflé or casserole without baking it in the oven first? Some photographers are proud of their “Straight out of the camera” presentations. My reaction is great, but why didn’t you finish it? Printing photos used to be called photo finishing and it involved a fair amount of editing in the process. Now we have control of an infinite number of variables and the process can be simple, or one could work on a single photo for a week and still leave many possibilities unexplored.
There is a group that considers “Straight out of the camera” photos to be pure and edited photos to be adulterated. Photojournalist and CSI photographers have good reason for joining this club, their job depends upon it. We want our news and forensic evidence to be untainted. However most of are not going to win a Pulitzer Prize or have our photos used as evidence in court, so can we dispense with the reality standard and work on making them look better?
What would happen if we took one of our favorite photos and applied a different edit each day for a year? Very likely you would produce some monstrosities, but it is also likely that at least one of your edits will be better than the original.
We all have different priorities and objectives in editing a photo. This is where we can put our own unique stamp on the work and make it our own. I see many photos posted that are underexposed, tilted, and poorly composed. In just a minute or two the levels could be adjusted, the tilt rotated, and a crop applied to improve the composition. If the photo was worth taking and posting isn’t it worth a couple of minutes more to make it presentable?
I have been as guilty as any of being too quick to share a favorite photo and I have always regretted the result. Often I will post a photo after a two minute edit and then see other possibilities and take the image down and re-edit, and re-post. The problem with this is that people have already seen the earlier version and don’t look at the new improved version. So while I put my soufflé in the oven I often get impatient and don’t cook it long enough before serving it.
I’m now starting to put new edited photos in an incubator file and come back and give them at least a second look before posting. It is funny how that perfect photo develops flaws after a night’s sleep.