Grok Photography

Photos and words by Petter Senften

Debating the editing

Just the other day I published a new naked portrait. I’m very pleased with this one, and very pleased with several other things as well. I’m very happy that my father showed me an interesting way to light subjects, which I used in this session. I’m also very pleased with the simple fact that I get better at doing this, and each time I take a portrait not only do I get more keepers but also I get more in sync with my own artistic visions and my confidence as a photographer become better.

There is some debate regarding editing. Me, I’m very candid with my own opinion that I consider editing my photos just as important as taking them. I often jokingly claim that I’m actually better at editing photographs than taking them. But occasionally I encounter photographers who have a somewhat snobbish attitude that editing is “cheating” and that “real” photographers do it in camera and “get it right” the first time. Ken Rockwell is famous for this attitude.

Me, I think it’s a load of bullshit. Even back in the days of film, most photographers worth their salt spent more or less time in the darkroom. Some photographers less, and some more. The darkroom, just like the camera, is a tool in the process of creating an image. Digital technology have enabled us to do the same things much easier, quicker and with more grace and power, but the underlying framework is essentially the same as in the darkroom filled with paper, chemicals and the photographers vision.

I draw a strict line between editing and retouching. Editing is the same thing as done in the darkroom – correcting levels, adding a bit of saturation here and there, dodging and burning. Retouching on the other hand is manipulation.

Again, I’m very candid about what I retouch in my photos: I remove temporary blemishes such as a pimple or a bruise but I never, never remove scars, cellulites or anything that is permanent. Editing a photo is important to my creative process. Without editing, I would not reach my photographic and creative visions. With that said, I dislike over-edited and plastic-looking photographs. I don’t like when overzealous editors or retouchers have turned people into botox-looking plastic zombies, or when editing is used to wildly manipulate an image into something it wasn’t from the start.

Finally, let me show a comparison. It’s the same image but on the left is how it looked straight out of the camera. To the right, after some basic editing in Lightroom. What has been changed? Exposure has been adjusted, levels have been adjusted and I added a slight vignetting around the image to enhance the face. Some other very minor tweaks. Is it too much? I think not.


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