I am a beginner in photography and I have started post-processing. The pictures look better after post-processing, but I feel like I have cheated! Is it okay considering post-processing as an integral part of photography, and not worry about the fact that my photos look much better after post-processing than before?

  • 1
    Is your question that you think maybe beginners should NOT post-process so that they learn more quickly to get good results in-camera? And not cover up bad technique with fixing in post-processing?
    – MikeW
    Aug 16, 2013 at 6:37
  • One might also argue, that you learn thru postprocessing, for example how much better the photo looks when exposed with +1 EV. Trial and error is so time consuming method of learning. Aug 16, 2013 at 7:55
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    I sometimes find that the direct-from-camera version just doesn't look like what I saw or how I perceived the scene. Sensors don't have the same characteristics as our eyes, not to mention some of the illusions the brain creates. Neither do screens have a comparable dynamic range. By post processing you can sometimes get an (at least subjectively) truer representation of the scene as you saw it. (This is especially true with high contrast scenes.) Of course you can get something entirely different too.
    – Szabolcs
    Aug 16, 2013 at 17:36
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    Images are always post-processed. The question is, do you want to control the result or let a programmer who wrote the embedded camera software control it? He or she didn't see the scene. One way or another, the information from the sensor is getting turned into a photo.
    – Joanne C
    Aug 18, 2013 at 12:38

7 Answers 7


oh, I do hope the "you shouldn't photoshop things" meme dies soon. But it won't.

taking digital pictures and not doing post processing on them is like taking film pictures and looking at the negatives. You can do it, but you'll miss out on a lot of the good bits.

With film pictures you'd typically want to print them out and enjoy them. That doesn't mean you need to build a darkroom and get all geeky doing the printing -- but you can if you want.

All of the post processing part is part of photography. Doing basic post processing is part of that. So is getting really deep into the technical parts of post work, just like some of us built wet darkrooms and did our own printing back in the day. Or you can just take what the camera spits out and use it if you want. That's what most folks with camera phones do now, and that's fine if you're happy with it (just like back in the day, most folks sent their film to the drug store and were happy with commercial lab prints)

From the sound of it, you like the images better when you do some work on them. So do some work on them and enjoy it. you haven't cheated, and anyone who tries to tell you that you have and you can tell them I said so. There's a lot of "you're not a real photographer unless you do it my way" crap that goes on. My suggestion is to not listen to any of it, even if it comes from me. Especially if it comes from me.

Do what you like. Build photos that look the way you want and that look good to you. Enjoy it. Ignore anyone who tries to tell you you're doing it wrong. If you want to learn more, then ask questions. If you don't, then ignore people who try to tell you you must do it this way or you must learn these things or that things. That's all bogus.

What matters is that you take pictures, you like how the pictures look, and you enjoy doing it. And follow wherever that takes you, ignoring everyone who tries to push you in a direction they want you to go instead of where you want to go.

Just shoot and enjoy. Share with friends, and don't worry about what others think. Worry about what you think.

(nerd alert: for the sake of keeping this simple, let's please not worry about slide film, okay?)

  • Nerd Force strikes back - Shoot film slides = JPEG. No, good answer and +1, only that I don't agree with the "film negatives" part ;) Aug 16, 2013 at 7:02
  • :)... you are right, I do pay enough attention on taking good pictures already, but since I am a beginner It won't come out THAT well! and I am sooo happy when I post process it into something that makes it look better. Hmmm... * folding my sleeves * I won't give up on improving my skills but along my learning curve I do deserve a bit of enjoyment with postprocessing, Thank you for making me understand that!!
    – user21504
    Aug 16, 2013 at 14:07
  • esa, nice analogy, and spot on.
    – chuqui
    Aug 16, 2013 at 23:10

You can't avoid post-processing nor pre-processing. Maybe except for compositing and outright image content editing after the fact, the core of photography is the processing you apply.

  • Tell your subject to smile: you just "added" something that wasn't there.
  • Take a step forward before clicking the shutter. Oops: you just cropped the image.
  • Fire a flash in a daylight photo: you are manipulating image contrast! Do the same indoors, and you change color temperature.
  • Select your camera's portrait program instead of macro: your jpeg is now differently sharpened, the colors and contrast are softer
  • Your display device (or printer and paper) has its own color gamut, contrast and glossyness: consciously or not, you are modifying the image.

The examples are endless. You ask whether it is okay to consider postprocessing an integral part of photography, and I hope to have illustrated that it is indeed.

In fact, it is unavoidable and learning to photograph is learning to manipulate more and more factors. This applies to the scene, the tools (bear in mind that photo graphein is greek for writing with light: get a flashgun and some variants of a reflector), all the way (at least) to the point of presentation.

As a beginner, it might be tempting to lean solely on one part of this. Being careless in the field and sweating in photoshop is maybe an example of what noone really "should", but academic excesses aside: apply common sense and master all parts of the process. Including post.

  • BTW: Me being a little too trigger happy with posting on this matter, I didn't notice that this is discussed a lot here already. See photo.stackexchange.com/a/1775/21629 for an example arguing more or less the way I do. Aug 16, 2013 at 11:48
  • :D That is nicely said, Thanks and I have done all of that, except asking someone to smile, for some odd reason I don't like taking pictures of people especially if they pose, is that bad?
    – user21504
    Aug 16, 2013 at 14:12
  • I don't think "badness" applies in this matter, the point is more that the [pre|post]-processing is just that: a part of the process, and each step is a skill one should get better at - pros and beginners alike. Aug 19, 2013 at 14:23

Post production is a critical step in any digital photography and it SHOULD be done. It is the modern equivalent of the dark room process in the film days. This is why many products designed to help with post production workflow (like Lightroom and Aperture) are called digital darkroom software.

The only thing you should try to avoid is overdoing post production. The thing to understand is how to separate the tools from the need of the photo. Any post production technique can either help or harm your image if used incorrectly. Learn to understand what will improve and help the image and apply it as necessary.

Don't simply apply something because it "looks cool", but if it adds to the image and makes it tell the story better or to look more like you envision the image, then use the tools at your disposal to accomplish your vision.

The use of tools simply because they "look cool" regardless of if they add to the image is part of where the "don't Photoshop" or "Photoshop is cheating" mentality have come from. Particularly with the birth of things like Instagram, you will see a lot of hostility in the photographic community from people that understand how to use tools that don't like seeing them horribly misused to the detriment of images.

I think that ends up giving off a vibe that the tools are bad, but that isn't the case at all. It's simply that the tools are not being used correctly in many cases and some photographers that are more experienced see it as a detriment to the state of the art, while others are simply glad that people are trying things.


It depends on what the purpose is of the shots you take.

  • As a learning exercise. There is something to be said for learning to create images in-camera that are optimized as far as the camera will allow. This is especially true in terms of exposure and composition. Getting color temperature/white balance, contrast, saturation, and even sharpening right in-camera also becomes an issue if you ever need to shoot JPEG instead of RAW for any one of a variety of reasons. The reason being is that the closer you can get to your vision in-camera the more latitude you will have when you do get to the post processing stage. There are exceptions, such as exposing to the right for example. But even there you need a very precise understanding of exposure to pull it off without going too far to the right. There are many different types of photos that will look better when shot correctly to begin with than radically altered in post. Even with the ones you do eventually radically alter in post, a better starting point will almost always lead to a better end result.

  • To be enjoyed and shared. Here all bets are off. Do whatever you need or want to do to the image to make it look the way you want it to look. The final photo is an expression of your artistic vision. Depending on how far you eventually want to go with photography there are a few exceptions here as well. If you are doing photo-journalistic type hard news reporting, for example, copy/paste and other forms of image manipulation that change the facts communicated in an image are strictly off-limits.

  • Honestly I want it to be both, I want to learn but at the same time I want to enjoy learning and show it off to my friends, and whenever I do so, I have always felt guilty when people say they like that picture when my original shot doesn't look that good. Thank you for your advice I will concentrate more on taking the shots correctly!
    – user21504
    Aug 16, 2013 at 14:16

Forgetting all the pseudo intellectual mumbo jumbo about why you should/shouldn't post-process, I'm going to go out on a limb and say:

It's your work, you do whatever the hell you you like to it to make yourself happy and screw what other people say.

On the other hand, as an artist it is critical to understand the processes that you are invoking when you manipulate your work - and one good way to do that is to experiment and try different things.

  • * thumbs up * Yup I will keep that in mind, Thank you
    – user21504
    Aug 16, 2013 at 14:18

I don't think post-processing is essential for beginners in itself — there are many things to learn, and many approaches to getting there. However, it is essential to review your photographs with a critical eye. If you just take hundreds or thousands of photos and dump them all into a big gallery, you're not really going to progress beyond doing that. Go through your images and choose the ones you like, and think about why you like those, and what worked and what didn't.

You may choose to post-process some of those. But you might not. It's the selecting that's important.

  • as a matter of fact, I also have one other doubt, some time back I was taking roughly 6-7 pics for a scene and would select the one I liked, But then I felt like I was being careless and easy going, so I decided to concentrate on a single shot, take time and perfect it (like one does with a film camera in fear f not wasting a frame)! Then is my recent way of thinking is wrong?
    – user21504
    Aug 16, 2013 at 14:33
  • That's a good way of thinking too — but even then, review your results and think about what worked and what didn't.
    – mattdm
    Aug 16, 2013 at 14:58

One of the strongest objectives, I think, in HDR and post processing is getting a camera image to look like what the eye saw. Too many think photoshop, etc., is fakey, but for me, fooling somebody is not the point of post processing - realism is the point. That includes greening up a distracting brown spot in the lawn. The brown spot would de-rail reality more than show it.

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