Thoughts on Photo Editing

Every once in a while, someone on scrapbook.com asks whether or not it is OK to edit photos.  Should a photographer crop photos?  Adjust color?  Blur the background?  What about removing wrinkles, or erasing pimples?  Fixing crooked teeth?  Adding people that weren't in the original photo?  Removing 50 lbs?  Where is the line?   

It is an interesting question.  As you might expect, there are as many opinions as there are people. 

I do not heavily edit my photos.  Part of the reason is because I don't have the skills or the proper equipment.  I use a point and shoot camera and free photo-editing tools (Picasa), so some things (like putting myself in a setting where I haven't been, or erasing my farmer's tan) are beyond my abilities.    

But even if I were able to do so, I wouldn't.    

I do crop mercilessly- cropping doesn't alter what was really there, it just changes the view of it.  I will take out red eye, as it wasn't really there to begin with.  As for everything else, my simple rule of thumb is whether or not it is temporary.  If it's a permanent/semi-permanent part of someone (like a mole, extra weight, crooked teeth, a scar), it stays.  If it's temporary (a pimple, a piece of lint on someone's pants, one strand of flyaway hair on a windy day) and is distracting from an otherwise good photo, I don't feel wrong fixing it.

Here's a typical example of the photo editing I do.  The photo on the left is straight from the camera.  I cropped it to remove Trevor's classmates' feet.  (If their faces were in the photo, I might have kept them in it, but unidentified feet do not need to stay).  I also used the retouch tool to remove that tiny circle of light shining on Trevor's cheek.   

What are your thoughts about photo editing?  Where is your line of what is OK and what is not?


  1. I love to play with photos, to the extreme sometimes! Do you remember the one I did of Kylinn and Trevor where I cut the gymnastics place out and put them in a pretty garden? :)

  2. As a photographer, I'm generally against editing of photos unless the photos are utilized/marked as digitally edited art (in other words, don't represent a photograph as "truth" if you've edited it).

    Things like cropping, removing lint, adjusting color cast and so on I don't consider editing, I consider these things "developing". Fact is, when a film photographer goes into the darkroom to develop a print from film, they have to make all sorts of choices from cropping, to contrast, to how dark the print is, which only gets more complicated when you put color in the mix. Things like burning in or dodging (which is the same as what you did to the light on Trevor's cheek) are standard normal techniques. So none of these things are "editing" to me, they're just the normal course of producing the end photograph. Even after the photo is developed, spotting out dust marks with special pens or ink and such is normal.

    Using the computer on photographs is great: it lets me "develop" a photograph and then be able to reproduce it exactly the same every time. Doing that in the darkroom is impossible.

    Where I draw the line in my work is actually altering the subject matter in the photo: moving subject to a different background is an example. Developing is fair game in my work, but I just don't do altered art. In the very rare event I do play with those things, I make sure it's very obvious from looking at the art that it's been altered.

  3. I only use Picasa to crop/saturate/straighten (if needed) and sharpen... and that's it for me :):):):):):):):):):):)

  4. I agree with you. Permanant things stay. Moles, Birthmarks... etc. Pimples and fly away hair are fair game. As I'm getting older I've been having a hard time drawing the line on how many wrinkles to soften/erase. LOL So far, I've managed not to take them out but let me tell you that it's getting very appealing! I don't do the weight loss thing AT all. I will do some skin smoothing if it's a portrait sometimes, but I don't go for the whole super plastic alien eye look. I try to stay pretty natural if that makes sense?

  5. Cindy, is it any surprise that I agree with you, lol. Steve, I love hearing your insight. It sounds like I never edit my photos only develop them :)
    I sometimes don't like cropping out the distracting backgrounds because that is real life and later I may laugh about Devin's toys all scatter about or be interested in what was on my counter at the time.


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