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Photo Editing: The Sin of Digital Technology

  • Photo Editing: The Sin of Digital Technology

Have you look at the photos in fashion magazines and wonder why the images look so beautiful? The answer is simple: editing. Almost all the photos you see in fashion magazines have been retouched, and, thanks to digital technology, it is now commonly practiced by photographers. Today, although there are a few photographers who do not edit their photos, it is very uncommon for photographers to show their unedited works.

Without the benefit of photo editing, photographers would have to rely on their skills in composition and their control of light when shooting photos, and that would be a real challenge to many of them. For example, without the ability to selectively expose certain areas on the photos, photographers would have to carefully assess the lighting on the background and the main subject, and use different accessories, such as filters and reflectors, to create the desired effects. On the other hand, modern technology has made it easy for people to do photography, sometimes too easy that people stop appreciating the skills professional photographers bring. Editing software, such as Lightroom and Photoshop, provides the ability to drastically alter photos, making them more appealing to the eyes but also creating an over-reliance on digital technology.

Joanna - Unedited

The original, overexposed picture.

So where do you draw the line?
I set only one rule for myself: only edit to achieve what can also be achieved with non-digital means. For example, if the model I’m shoot has an minor bruise on his face, I can probably wait a few days for it to heal, but I’m likely to just take the picture that day and edit the bruise out. However, I will not doctor his face to make him look like a Hollywood celebrity. Take the photo to the right for example, it was taken in a small restaurant when our friend Joanna came to visit. Because the restaurant was well-lit, the photo was somewhat overexposed, making some of the minor blemishes on Joanna’s face more noticeable. Also, the overexposed background tend to draw viewer’s attention away from Joanna, and it is definitely something photographers want to avoid.


The picture looks much better after some editing.

To address these issues, I toned down the background and brighten Joanna’s face to draw viewer’s attention to her. I also smoothen Joanna’s skin, whiten her eyes and teeth, and removed some blemishes so she looks her best in this photo. I did not, however, alter any features on Joanna’s face to make her look like the girls you see on fashion magazines. As a result of these editing, the photo looks a lot more pleasing to the viewers’ eyes.

Photo editing is very useful to photographers. It helps correcting some of the mistake photographers made when shooting photos and creates effects that cannot otherwise be done. It can also be fun and fulfilling for photographers. What is your opinion on photo editing? Should it be seen as an art and a part of photography, or is it diluting true photography? Please share your thoughts below.

Please share your thoughts...