The Importance of Editing

I process ever digital image I use or share or deliver to a client. Almost. I think I shared one #nofilter shot from my phone recently in Iceland because the colors looked beautiful without tweaking and I couldn’t do a lot to improve it. But that doesn’t mean it was necessarily an amazing image.

A pastor commented a couple of years ago that I always edit each image. He didn’t mean it as criticism and at the time I simply agreed. But I was thinking afterwards that to send out an unprocessed image would be like the pastor meticulously preparing his sermon notes, the message, the emphasis, the introduction and conclusions, then just emailing it out to his church. There’s a step missing, the final presentation, the care in connecting with the audience in the most effective way.

In processing there’s the opportunity to remove or reduce distractions, to crop a little or a lot, to emphasize the mood or the subject or the story of the image. Not everyone enjoys time at the computer, but it’s part of the job.

One counter argument is always that you should ‘get it right in camera’. Which is true. Get it as right as you can, regardless of whether that takes multiple attempts to achieve. Get it right but leave a little room around the edges, especially for a genre like street photography or sports with plenty of movement going on. We have plenty of pixels to play with. Getting it right doesn’t mean that it can’t be further improved though.

Another counter argument is that an image shouldn’t be about the processing. And this is where things get complicated. I generally agree. Content makes for a stronger image, generally. But so does emotion and editing can create or enhance emotion.

Relatively heavy processing is so common now in social media, less so in gallery exhibitions. The boosted contrast and de-saturation. The bleached backgrounds. Not that those are bad, but makes me wonder how we’ll look back on these images, whether they’ll age well. But maybe that isn’t the point. It’s in our culture, it’s pop culture and it’s what many brands want to be associated with. It doesn’t necessarily make an individual image more successful but it brings a mood and a consistency across images.

And color processing is used all the time in movies and tv of course, color grading to enhance the ‘feel’ or the mood of the imagery. We don’t always notice it when it’s done well and maybe that’s the key, that the editing doesn’t become what the image is about. The edit is there to support and strengthen the image, not turn it into something else.



(I've shown the image above a few times because it's a more dramatic change than most of my images which are usually about more subtle adjustments. At least that's the intention, it's easy to get carried away occasionally!).

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Headshot, portrait, street and documentary photographer in NYC and Jersey City

alastair.arthur@gmail.com

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