Is Photo Editing “Cheating?”

There are some old school purists who believe that using photo editing software such as Photoshop is cheating, that it manipulates reality and therefore results in a lie. Their view is “get it right in the camera or delete it.”

I don’t agree.

The fact is that photographers have edited their work since long before Photoshop existed. On their lenses, they attached filters that altered the image. In the darkroom, they used techniques such as dodging and burning. With the advent of digital cameras, the camera did in-camera editing. And what about flash? Doesn’t that edit the image by making it more visible? If photo editing is cheating, then photographers have always cheated.

And photographers certainly aren’t the only artists who edit their work. Don’t you think that the recorded music playing on your iPod was edited in the studio? Of course it was.

I do not think it is ever cheating for an artist to alter the image they want to present to the world to make it exactly what they want. A photograph is the photographer’s attempt to present an image that is beautiful or interesting, and whatever the photographer can do to make the photo more interesting or beautiful is fair.

Here is an example of photo editing.

I made the first photo at a lake in Grand Teton National Park. It is a perfectly serviceable, if uninspiring photo. But it does not show what I remember seeing. So I did some editing — what photographers call “post production” — and turned it into the second picture which I like better. It more nearly evokes in me the emotions and feelings I had when I viewed the scene.

Grand Teton National Park Lake

Grand Teton National Park Edited

Using Photoshop Elements, I made 3 main edits. I added a little blue to the sky and to the water. Using the clone stamp feature, I darkened the distant mountain. And I darkened the rock in the left foreground because I thought the bright white of the original was distracting and drew the viewer’s eye away from the subject of the photo.

Although I don’t think photo editing is “cheating,” there are still many questions raised by this example, such as . . . Is there too much editing? Are the edits poorly done? Which photo is more pleasing or tells a better story?

What do you think?

3 thoughts on “Is Photo Editing “Cheating?”

  1. Phil! I am enjoying your blog! I find your topics interesting and engaging! Although, I don’t meet the over 50 demographic. 😉
    I’m okay with photo editing. I think if you take a photo and then can make a few edits that enhance or portray someone or something in it’s very best light…then why not!

    1. Hi, Blake. Your comment that you are enjoying my blog made my day. Thanks. I don’t just write for those over 50, though. I try to pick topics that would interest, amuse or help anyone, INCLUDING those over 50. (Disclosure: This is my original reply. It was not photoshopped.) Phil

  2. Well, I’m hooked! I’ll be checking back regularly!
    I just started learning Photoshop a few months ago and really have been having fun enhancing my pictures and even playing a few tricks on friends and family. Now, I’m trying to learn how to use LightRoom.

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