Friday, December 11, 2009

Photo Editing: How Much Is Too Much?

First Snow Fall

This morning many areas of the Greater Vancouver area saw the first snow fall of December. There has not been a lot of snow yet, not even 1cm, but it is cold enough that we are expecting a few cm of snow over the next three days. The light snow fall gave me a chance to play around with 14bit files from my D300. I have not worked with 14bit RAW files very often before, because my MacBook Pro's hard drive just was too small to shoot that way very often. Yesterday I upgraded my hard drive to a 500GB 7200rpm model though, so I have a little more room to work with. I shot both in lossless compressed 14bit images (16MB average file size) and uncompressed (25MB file size). The lossless 14bit files give you more room to work with in shadows, and does lower noise, but when you work with the uncompressed files you get even more headroom. All this playing around made me start to think about how much editing of a photo is too much.

A few weeks ago I took an image of a few birds that I liked, but there were some ducks in the background that stool the thunder from the photo, so I just took the clone tool and removed them from the image without too much effort. Looking back, it feels like destructive editing like that is just too much. Where should we, as photographers, draw the line in how much we remove or enhance an image? Although I tend not to like high dynamic range images (HDR), they can at least remain realistic if done properly. I do not see HDR as being destructive, but rather constructive, so I'll not touch on them again. Is there a point where editing a file takes away from what the image should be? Is their any pure photography? Where does the line between art and purity of form meet? To me, I think the line is gray.

I say that the line between too much editing is gray because the amount of editing is up to each photographer. It is up to you to choose how much is too much. There may be some cases where editing is not considered acceptable, such as in photo journalism, but for the most part editing is okay. The first choice to me is to get the best possible image right out of the camera, and only edit the file as little as possible. That being said, there are times when more intense editing may be needed. In the example of the bird shot that I noted earlier, the ducks behind the crane would have spoiled the image, from my point of view. It is true that I could have chosen an image from the same batch without the ducks in it, but sometimes the best frame, does not always have the best elements. To me, it is not a moral dilemma , and I will continue to edit my files as I see fit.