Yesterday I shot a few very good pictures, went home and post-processed them. After a few hours, I showed the results to my friends. They told me "you did that with Photoshop", as I which is true, but nothing special: changed saturation and contrast.

But the point is, to them the value of the picture has gone because I've used Photoshop, and everything else (composition, colors, time, picture motive, technical skills) are not so important.

How do I explain to them that post-processing is an important step of producing good photos?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Just out of curiousity, how much did you crank up the saturation and contrast? \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 13:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Photoshop and post processing aside, did they like the result? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 14:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ You DONT explain! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 15:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ There is an excellent article on photo-legitimacy by Errol Morris. Some things to consider though: Is posing that different from Photoshop? What about artificial lighting? Waiting for bystanders to move out of frame? opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/09/25/… \$\endgroup\$
    – aslum
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 16:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think I didn't crank saturation. Maybe contrast was little bit high, but nothing unnatural. \$\endgroup\$
    – D4Am
    Commented Feb 9, 2013 at 10:36

4 Answers 4


A photographer that claims an image is complete after taking the picture, is like a doctor saying you are healed after diagnosing your illness - it requires treatment.

Use the example of film. Back in the day you used to select your film stock, chemicals, chemical process, paper stock, cropping, and printing methods. These all had huge effects on the outcome of the photograph. It was an essential part of creating the final image - the "click" of the shutter is but a fraction of the process. Today, digital still mimics those processes, along with all the newer techniques available to a photographer.


One thing you might try is asking them to show you an example of a great photo that hasn't been "'shopped". If you define it as any photo that wasn't exactly as it appeared when the shutter was actuated, they probably can't. Just as the decisions made in the darkroom had a great effect upon the finished product in the film era, the decisions made at the computer monitor in the digital era do the same thing.

Art critics have called Ansel Adams' photograph of "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico" one of the greatest photos ever. Art historian H. W. Janson called this photo "a perfect marriage of straight and pure photography". Yet if you examine some of the over 900 prints that Adams produced from the negative himself it is very clear that over the course of more than two decades he produced a series with a remarkable range of variation. Adams explored the relationship between the various elements in the scene until he finally seemed to have found what he was looking for. The prints we now view as "definitive" did not appear until the 1960's. Adams snapped the image in 1941.

If your friends are not aware of the history of photographic technology there probably isn't a whole lot you can say that will change their minds. A picture that has been "photoshopped" is viewed as less than legitimate by the uninformed masses. Many people today will view a photo and instantly label it as "'shopped" so they can refuse to accept whatever statement the photo is making, deny the historical event it depicts, or reject the premise that such a photo could be produced without "photoshopping" it if they can't understand how it was taken.

In the end the only person you must satisfy as an artist is yourself. Did the final product realize the vision you had when you took the shot?

Welcome to the lonely world of the "Artist"!

Artnet.com article about the history and current market values of "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico"

Wikipedia article for "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico"

A photo of Adams late in life posing in front of two prints of "Moonrise..."

enter image description here

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    \$\begingroup\$ Adams also likened the negative to a musical score, and the print to the performance. I think that analogy still holds up in the digital era. \$\endgroup\$
    – coneslayer
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 14:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ On the other hand, Henri Cartier-Bresson was famously indifferent to post-processing. He had others do it for him, and rarely even cropped. And, I think there's general agreement that he produced a number of great photographs. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 17:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm: If Cartier-Bresson had not hired someone to do his darkroom work for him he would have still taken just as many great photographs - which no one would have ever seen! A big part of the difference between the two is that Adams concentrated on landscapes where there is often a lot of dodging and burning to be done. Henri's street photography was all about catching the people in his photos at the perfect instant. There's no doubt he was a genius at reading the light by eye and setting his rangefinder without bringing it to his eye until the instant he wanted to expose the frame. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 18:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm: But HCB's prints were still made by skilled printers, and reflected his preferences. Even if he wasn't doing the work himself, the situation is not analogous to an unmanipulated, "straight out of camera" file. theonlinephotographer.typepad.com/the_online_photographer/2010/… \$\endgroup\$
    – coneslayer
    Commented Feb 8, 2013 at 19:21

You might have walked into the trap that I and most others have: we overdo it!

Because we have seen the dull, almost monochrome, raw image, developed from default settings, we really feel the need to crank up the "power" (saturation, contrast), to make it vivid like those film posters and arty photos we see all over the place.

A good start is to crank it up and then take it back 50%. And if you are colourblind like me, take it back 75% :)

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is true. I think people call a photograph "photoshopped" only when it looks artificial to them. Of course, sometimes this is the intention of the photographer, but in some other cases the term "photoshopped" may indicate that a photograph has been edited badly. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 7:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am also subject to overdoing saturation and contrast. My tip to control myself is to look at my edit the next day. Almost every time I then reduce the effect. More importantly though is to find meaning in your photographs, other than producing pretty vibrant colors, which is trivial to accomplish. I think a killer subject and composition will blow away your friends much more than saturated images. \$\endgroup\$
    – Fer
    Commented Feb 12, 2013 at 21:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yes, and the vibrant colours can be part of that meaning - like a paradise photo of the Azores, or maybe less saturation than original might be better, like if you visited a Czech concentration camp. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 13, 2013 at 9:02

Although an answer has already been accepted, I will allow myself to add one more unsaid argument.

Post-processing is a very important step, especially in the field of digital photography. The point of post-processing is to a) correct photographer's errors (horizon line, exposition), b) enrich a photograph with specific mood by altering its color gamut or introducing cropping, c) make it look natural. At least the last point requires some explanation.

A digital camera has a different working principle than a human eye. It captures light linearly (light is captured by a counter by every pixel on the sensor) whereas human eye sees more detail in light areas and less so in darkness. We say that a human eye has a non-linear color gamut. This is why mid-day shots appear so burnt-out when shot with a digital camera. White balance is another similar story where camera has to apply algorithms to deduce the correct white balance. Human eye adapts automatically. One could say that post-processing is a built-in option in human brain.

To make a photograph look "natural", we alter the light curve, change white balance, enrich saturation and play with a number of other settings. If this is done qualitatively enough, a person unfamiliar with photography will not notice anything. For him/her this will be a standard, maybe "good-looking", photo.

Post-processing is fully justified in cases when it remains unseen (like in the photo by Ansel Adams quoted in the answer by Michael Clark) or when it adds artistic effects. When neither of these applies, when people can not see artistic in the photograph, they tend to seek for the natural. I am afraid that when you hear people tell you your photo has been photoshopped it might indicate that you have altered it far too much so that it looks neither artistic nor natural.


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