Since the digital imaging formats have become massively popular, so has the many areas of questions that arose on its wake. Probably one of the most heated discussions on the subject is the matter of digital image processing, as to what extent it is acceptable and what is considered as image processing (or editing) and what is not. I’ll start this topic by defining majorly two schools of thought considering photography


Original Photography

This is defined by small-to-none image editing, apart from simple color or contrast adjustments, nothing really changing or profounding is applied to the image. Many regard this as the true form of photography, while edited images being mere fakes and only concealing the inability of the photographer to capture naturally appealing shots. Many believe that too much editing will depart the viewer from the truth that lies in the image, and shift the appearance of the image too far from the original.

Interpretative Photography

Second school of thought is interpretative photography. Here even large-scale image processing is acceptable, and the extents of processing lies where elements are being added or removed from the image. This is not regarded as image processing or editing anymore, but photomanipulation which is a different category altogether. Sometimes the practitioners of interpretative photography simply make the features of the image stand out more, for example colors or details. And some edit the image to a form, which can divert from the original in terms of color and atmosphere, which they feel represents not the reality of the camera’s scene capture but more how they felt the image as it was taken. Often when photographer encounters a scene or a subject, it is merely a surface of the emotionscapes the photographer experiences. Often there are feelings and memories associated with the subject. And sometimes the atmosphere is felt in a way that the original image is not suitable for expressing it in it’s true form. General philosophy among photographers seems to be that it is fine that you edit your photography, as long as you admit it. There have been cases where images clearly edited are claim to be unedited or edited to a really small extent, and by it the photographer has suffered a loss in reputation

If we go into philosophies about editing, a important question to ask is that what is considered editing and what is not? Or that is it always a most truthful image as how it entered into the sensor. For example, when shooting with RAW-format, one needs to open the file in image-processing program in order to transform it into a more conventional image format such as JPEG. When the RAW image is opened in let’s say Photoshop, an automatic value adjustments are applied into the image. So it can be said that the photograph is edited in the instant it is opened in a software like Photoshop capable of RAW-processing. If the image captured by the sensor unedited is the reference frame, then yes even opening a RAW will not fall into the unedited category. If we look at this from the reference of human visual system, the view changes. Human visual system yields far more superior dynamic range than most camera sensors. Dynamic range is the amount of different shades between darkest and brightest point of the image. This means that in any given exposure time or parameters, an image captured by these sensors, will always have less dynamic range than the signal that enters from eye into the brain. There are countermeasures for this, one which is called tone-mapping. In tone-mapping the contrast values of the image are adjusted to better retain details in the highlights and in the shadows. Many times a single RAW-file contains the information for these adjustments, but the adjustments still have to be made inside an application, and then it’s not unedited anymore. Other method is called High Dynamic Range Imaging, or HDRI for short. HDR-imaging aims to avoid the problem of dynamic range by combining three or more shots of a subject with different exposure value, in attempt to combine all the dynamic ranges from one image into a floating-point format image, which should yield dynamic range closer to that of a human eye. This could be said to be image processing to its truest form, but what if the resulting image can be closer to how the eye sees than any single image the sensor can capture, is it more truthful or not?

However, apart from photomanipulation, if the picture is appealing and touches the viewer, then the question of was it edited and if it was how, will become less important.