Learning To Go Lightly On Post Processing
Products like Photoshop, GIMP, LightRoom and AfterShot Pro are amazing in the functionality they deliver and the power to manipulate images. Background elements from one photo can be extracted and placed into another photo; people can be added, removed, or altered. With some of the newer software products it's possible to create photorealistic images out of nothing.
The old saying about a picture being worth a thousand words would need an asterisk today, some fine print at the bottom. Before we could start expressing the thousand words, we first have to know if the photo we're looking at is authentic and if it has been manipulated.
This is not to suggest processing is bad, it is really just another depth of artistic expression in photography; another tool in the box for people who paint with light and digital sensors instead of a canvas and brush. But in photography there is an expectation in some circles that the images we're looking at have not been "artistically" enhanced and too much unreality changes our perception of an image.
More than one assignment photographer have lost their jobs because of improvements as simple as making the smoke over some buildings a little thicker. In those instances anything beyond simple color correction and adjustments to color saturation, brightness and contrast puts your career at risk.
The next level down would be advertising photography. Most people accept that advertisers shamelessly alter images to the fullest extent of the software's capabilities. Yet even advertisers can go too far as Shelby American found out back in March when they doctored a photo to make it look like one of their cars was pulling a wheelie off the starting line. They had to shamfully admit to USA Today and several large car sites that their stock models can not perform that maneuver.
There's also the disappointment everyone notices when they reach a travel destination only to find the promotional photos had been drastically altered. It starts their vacation on a sour note and in travel reviews, comments that start out with the suggestion that the destination did not look anything like the photos is a powerful deterrent to those shopping for accommodations.
When it comes to photography, there is a certain minor disappointment in finding out a scene that does not actually look like the photo. Part of the viewing experience is placing yourself at the vantage of the photographer with the thought that you were standing in that exact spot, you too could see that image.
In photography there is an unspoken expectation that you're being the eyes for someone else. So using Photoshop to add seagulls to a desert scene, adding a sunset to an eastward facing photo or filling in trees where none are growing can be unnecessary distractions.
Just because post processing software gives you unimaginable power to manipulate images, does not mean you have to use it all the time. Your best photos and those most appreciated by viewers may be the ones where you go lightly on post processing and create compiling images out of the reality anyone standing in the same spot can share.