Why Your Photography Needs Photoshop And Editing

 

You’ve probably heard it before: 

“I don't edit my photos.” 

and

“A good photographer should be able to get the perfect photo straight out of camera.”

That's cool and I won't try to convince anyone who thinks like that otherwise. But! I don't believe that it's true and don't agree to one word of it. Since the early days of film photography, photographers have been editing photos in the dark room. Bringing back dark shadows, adding contrast or trying out different processing methods to achieve certain colors.

Photos with strong backlights almost always need some help from Photoshop or Lightroom.

Photos with strong backlights almost always need some help from Photoshop or Lightroom.

In short, there's nothing wrong with editing your photos and using Lightroom or Photoshop. The best photographers in the world use it to some extent. Some more than others, depending on which genre of photography they do. 

But travel photographers and photojournalists also edit their photos. Mainly basic adjustments of course and in no way it's right to alter photos by removing objects or stuff like that. But editing colors and contrast is totally fine. Here are some reasons and tips for when and why you should edit your photos with Photoshop or Lightroom. 

SOOC files are not all that

Cameras are great these days. They’re capable of performing incredibly well under difficult circumstances. Still, even if you get everything right: Exposure, white balance, shutter speed,... the resulting RAW file won't be real lookers. 

Difficult light.

Difficult light.

Especially for my travel, landscape or documentary photography, those straight-out-of-camera files won't work at all. They miss contrast and the colors are sometimes off, even though they should be correct according to the camera settings. Overall, SOOC photos just look flat but you can fix that by editing in Lightroom or Photoshop in a few seconds, so why not?

In the old days, everything happened in the dark room. Now, Photoshop or Lightroom IS your dark room. There's absolutely nothing wrong with adding contrast or adjusting the colors to your liking. Photographers have been doing it since the beginning of photography. I don't think there are a lot of SOOC photos published in magazines or anywhere else. If you want to get great results when you're starting out with photography, you'll have to learn how to edit photos. There's no way around it...

Related read • Why It’s Important to Shoot Street Photography While Traveling

Expressing a vision, mood or atmosphere

A lot of times this happens to me. I take a shot somewhere when I'm traveling and I can already imagine the awesome result. Then, I get home, open the file and... booh! Disappointment. It's nothing close to what I envisioned. It looks like crap. This could mean two things:

photography-photoshop-editing-night.jpg

One. The camera just didn't capture what you saw and got it wrong.

Difficult circumstances or the wrong settings can cause this. The only solution is to fix it in post. Fire up Photoshop or Lightroom and adjust everything so the photo shows what you saw at the moment you took it.

Two. And this is what some people see as 'cheating'. The camera shows reality as it was but the atmosphere or what you felt at the moment is not there.

The colors are correct, but you don't like them. The photo doesn't show the viewer what you wanted to show.

In the old days, photographers used different types of film or processing methods to achieve certain colors depending on what genre of photography or what the photographer preferred. As a photographer, you want to express yourself and that means the colors and contrast of your photos don’t always have to be an exact representation of reality. It's like impressionist painters showing a 'different' reality by using different colors or techniques. 

There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. Do you want to make the tones a little bit browner because it supports what you've captured and goes with the mood? Don't hesitate and go for it. Again, it's all about not going overboard with editing and Photoshopping. 

Bombay, India.

Bombay, India.

Some projects just ask for screaming colors and sometimes you want to tone everything down because screaming colors don't go with the subject or mood. You’re an artist. Express yourself!

Related read • 7 Travel Photography Tips & Tricks with Examples

Photo editing to ‘save’ a bad photo 

Of course, I don't mean -bad- photo. Let me explain. Sometimes it just happens that your settings are way off. You take the shot and... black. Underexposed as f*ck. Mistake. 

It could also happen that you had to underexpose on purpose because of the circumstances. It happened to me when photographing this view on the town of Cemoro Lawang, Indonesia during the sunrise over Mount Bromo. I had no tripod, the sky was too bright, the ground dark. The sun just started to rise. I decided to underexpose to be able to shoot handheld with a comfortable shutter speed. The thing is, I already knew when taking the shot that Photoshop would be needed to help me save the photo.

Before.

Before.

After.

After.

In these cases you have to use Photoshop or Lightroom and it doesn't mean your a bad photographer. In fact, exactly the opposite. You have to know your camera and how many stops you can underexpose without losing the shadows. Being a good photographer is a lot more than just getting the right settings on location. Sometimes you have to improvise and adapt to the situation and rely on experience. 

 
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I’ve launched an online platform for photographers. Join me there for tips and behind-the-scenes information.

 

Converting to black & white

An obvious one but still. Even if your camera has a black & white setting, you're going to have to edit in Lightroom or Photoshop or any other program to get the result you want. Contrast, bringing back shadow areas, calming down highlights. I'm just adding this because it had been a long time since I converted some of my photos in black & white. So, here’s a portrait I shot in the desert of Jaisalmer converted to black and white.

 
photography-photoshop-editing-portrait.jpg
 

Conclusion

Using Photoshop or Lightroom does not make you a bad photographer no matter what anyone says. Don’t listen to them. I agree that you have to use them right to get good results but saying your photos are not good just because you've edited them, is plain stupid.

I'd like to see some of your edited images. Do you use Photoshop or Lightroom?