The fetish for endless editing

With digital photography we got used to the fact that we can shoot and then change the picture in all kinds of ways.  We can make it black and white with endless variations or try to simulate a film look and so on. This created a sort of fetish for having the best RAW possible and then deciding what to do with it later.

We somewhat require that the camera sensor and the lens show no personality. We are thought to go after a general concept of quality and confide in the editing capabilities of the produced RAW file. YouTube photography channels and blogs push on the myth of the most pure, sharp, clear, abstract quality, because such a quality will let us do so much more after we capture the photo. The magical moment when we capture our image went from being the most important to just being a starting point for something much more important that will happen later.

Does this make sense? When shooting film, your photo depends a lot on the film you use. The same happened for cinema, before digital. Many masterpieces of cinema have that special look because of the film choice that was made or that had to be made at the time. We accept and experience the whole creative process that went into that creation. The final movie is a whole. Do we think “I bet Stalker would have looked better if they used this film instead”?

I am not saying that we need to copy the way things worked before. We need to be men and women of our times.

What I am saying is that we must make choices. We need to learn to take a photo in that particular black and white because that’s our vision. We need to embrace what our tools offer us and focus on that instead of surrending to what we will do later, in post production.

Post production exists since when photography was invented. It is part of photography. But there is a difference between using post processing for achieving a vision and using it for testing many ideas until something sticks, which is what photographers are pushed toward in an era of filters, apps, after shot focusing, etc etc.

First comes the vision, then the tech for achieving that vision.

If a camera has bad high ISO performance, maybe we need to learn to shoot with it embracing that limit, instead of hoping some hours of Lightroom will save us and will let us get rid of noise and artificially extend the dynamic range. Maybe this would mean having a photo with full black areas and just few data in the parts with more light. And that could be just fine.

The perfect RAW we can feed on like vampires is a myth. If you work as a professional you are probably required to shoot in the best possible conditions, because you are selling a product, you must follow requirements and so on. In that case yes, you need the best RAW you can afford — but, here comes the big but — you need the best RAW for achieving your existing vision, not for starting a hunt for a filter or preset that will make it look good. I believe this shift in behavior and attitude is a sign of maturity and respect for photography — and to be photographers we must respect photography.

2 Comments

  1. True. I’ve recently have changed my work flow and archiving – so that my last post work is how the photo will be preserved. But still you are right… with all these tools to save one from actually practicing to be a better photographer – it’s easy to get lazy and fix it later. Lightroom saves us from our photography sins. Even simple ones like framing. Oi.

    1. Author

      I agree with your comment. The general attitude I see floating around is that since technology allows us to do something, then we are supposed to be doing it. This way we always want to own the latest technology and to use all the software possibilities. Technology made the images infinitely malleable, and this can often save our jobs — but as we move away from the necessities of the photographic profession, it is then that this endless editing starts to hurt the photography and shifts it from what matters to what is ultimately an exercise in playful exploration — or to plain lying, depending on the level of honesty!

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