This site is about editing photographs. It has a lot of words, and a lof of "before and after" photograph comparisons. I hope you'll take it all in, but, if you read nothing else, please click and read this.
Acknowledging that we edit our photos is kind of taboo. But we all do it do, as we must. We'll dive in soon. But first, you ask, "why are you making such a big deal out of editing anyway?" This is why.
I'm Lee Glickenhaus and I do a lot of landscape photography, primarily on Cape Cod. Being outside in a beautiful place is great, as most landscape photographers will tell you. But, while we extoll the virtues of being in the natural world, we talk far less about the value of being in front of our computers.
And yet, without editing our photos - often a great deal - they would not look anything like what we have come to expect. The reality is that editing is a vital part of digital photography (and, truth to tell, of analog photography as well. Black and White is an editing decision, not a state of nature).
This is especially true when RAW files are involved, since they come out of the camera flat, lifeless and muted; without non-trivial editing they will never come close to resembling the scene we took in with our eyes. We tend not to talk about this: it can be controversial; it also breaks the fourth wall and takes away some of the magic.
So, if editing is necessary, how much is ok? Without going too far down that rabbit hole here, I thought it would be interesting to do some side by side "before and after" comparisons just as food for thought. But, given that some editing is necessary, the rest of the conversation is just about where we each draw the line.
So I edit my photos. Sometimes it's just to bring out what the RAW file lacks, and to try to make the scene look as I remember it. But often it goes far beyond that to deeply transform the original image. I sometimes treat the original image as a lump of clay to be sculpted into something completely new, out of my imagination. Why? And is that OK?
As to the "why", to me it's a form of creative expression like any other. And as long as we call it "art" and not "journalism" or "history", artistic license seems reasonable. An extension of that idea is that, when I transform an image, I do it to try to evoke a feeling or emotional response on the part of the viewer. I may not always succeed, but that seems to be a valid goal in any artistic pursuit.
The "is it OK" part is more complicated, but I believe it generally is. I have ground rules that I choose to follow, primarily if I combine multiple images I have to have taken all of them, ideally close to one another in time and place. And I strive to make the final image look like something that could have happened in that time and place, though there are exceptions to this "rule", primarily for abstracts. Finally, while I don't disclose the extent of editing when displaying the final image (wow, would that be cumbersome and spoil the moment), I am honest when asked. I'm sure there are lines I think people shouldn't cross, but I don't know that I can articulate them, and I suspect they have more to do with disclosure than with editing.
As landscape photographer Mads Peter Iverson put it, in referring to an image he made from a number of exposures: "I experienced all of it and put it all together in one image." I almost always 1) take many frames at a location and, 2) "bracket" my photos to capture different views of a scene. And I regularly combine frames from either the location or the bracketing. (If you can tolerate it, here are a few more words from me on that subject. )
I present this site with no small sense of trepidation. I'm sure people will be upset with me, and it does feel a bit like showing how the magic trick is done. But one of the things that was difficult for me when I started using RAW files was to know which ones had potential and which did not. It's sort of like walking through an unfinished, or unfurnished, home and trying to visulaize how it will eventually look. (Hint: look for good composition. The rest, as they say, con be fixed in post) If these examples can help others with this process, well, that's good.
Here are the results - click the "Photos" link above or below to see them. You may like some of them, or dislike them on aesthetic or philosophical grounds (or both). That's all good. But it seemed worthwhile to pull back the curtain a bit on the "before and after" and let you decide. I also recommend the work and writing of Alain Briot who is most thoughtful on this and other topics. Two essays (this one and this one) come to mind, but his work and writing are well worth your time (as is this one)
Yes, a book of Cape Cod landscape photos. I like it, you may too. Get a free Digital copy with Coupon Code FANDF101.