One of the things I hear frequently from others who see my unedited work is that the images I take are perfect the way they are and don’t need any additional editing. My response is that there is always adjustments to color, contrast, light temperature, blemish and hair cleanup, dust cleaning, flare cleanup/enhancement, and the like that needs to be done. We even did stuff like this in the darkroom. At some point, though, you stop being a photographer and start being a graphic artist. If you do highly edit your images, they will dismiss your work as something produced by a graphic artist and not a photographer. When is too much? What should I be producing and doing?
The reason for this blog is that I try to get images captured the way I want it in the camera when I capture it. I don’t add things to images that aren’t there. The images are as real as they can be. With digital, I have on occasion removed a pole, leaf, sidewalk, bright spot, or similar – but those times are very rare. On some images in even rarer situations, I have changed the model’s shape and form slightly because of concern from the model, and is more to smooth out their lines than change their lines. Other photographers are more drastic, changing everything about the person they photograph so they are no longer who they started – giving the model the “Hollywood Eyes” treatment, stretching parts, compacting others, and the like. I have to admit with one model that I have completely repainted her face because her complexion just wasn’t what it should have been for a shoot and I wasn’t going to throw in the towel on the image.
Even so, one thing you will hear from most people (including me) who are successful in photography is that you should always get it right in camera when you take the image. From the people who have been shooting in the past eight years, a lot of the people have the opinion that it doesn’t matter as “it can be fixed in post”. With digital, it seems to breed this attitude that the individual capture doesn’t mean much because almost everything can be fixed later on.
Something else you will frequently hear from old timers and pro photographers is the “five minute rule”. This is simply saying that post production work only takes five minutes or less. If it is going to take more than five minutes to edit, the image isn’t edited. I can’t say that for my images – even though the editing that I do is significantly more subtle than most people’s editing, it isn’t unusual to spend an hour on an image getting it just right. There are other images that I have spent upwards of 20 hours editing because I just wasn’t happy. As a pro, though, you need to have a cut off. For most, that is typically five minutes. There will be exceptions, but know you should have a reasonable limit on your edit time.
What you should be taking away from this post is that as a photographer, you job is taking pictures and not being a graphic artist. Yes, with digital, you have to be a graphic artist to some extent when you edit images. You should try the best you can to get the image the way it needs to be in camera when you click the shutter. The editing you do should be very minimal to what you capture and have a specified time limit as a guideline to how much editing you will do. As you find yourself shooting more and more, you will find that if you don’t, you will only be overwhelmed with work to edit.