On Editing,  Tutorials

Should I edit my photos? Is that a taboo?

Should I edit my photos? I am sure quite a lot of you have had this question before. This is in fact one of the biggest struggles for my photographers. To be honest there are two questions – should we edit? And what much should we edit?

Before getting into details, let’s recall some of these occasions.

“That looks so fake!” “Was this photoshopped?” “Can you show me the original?”

“What filter did you use?” “What did it look like without the filter?” Some less harsh comments.

IFC in Hong Kong. “Mate I knew you pumped up the saturation!” But who can hate this tone of blue?

The Essence of Photography

To answer whether you should or should not edit your photos, you have to answer yourself – what is the purpose of photography? Why do you take photographs at the first place? The two most common answers are:

  • For record. Recording one’s daily life, or a trip to a foreign destination, or a special occasion such as birthday or anniversary. Photography as archive.
  • For creation and communication. Creating a piece of artwork to express one’s idea or belief. Photography as a mean of communication and ideological expression.

Oh, by the way, here is one of my favourite quotes about photography.

“When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence.”
— Ansel Adams

Of course some of the photographs should not be edited or modified, for example photographs that are sent to the court as evidence. That goes under Purpose #1 too – photograph as a tool of recording an event.

But what about the rest? Photos of a birthday party, a company event, etc? Well, I would say practicality comes first. Viewers of these photographs, honestly, would not care too much about aesthetic values. What they concern the most is whether they look good in the photo! I used to spend too much time fixing the composition, tuning the contrast and colours of these photos. But at the end of the day, a majority of the viewers would not know what you have done at all! Of course, some obviously bad-looking images, including those underexposed ones, should be fixed. But otherwise, if those photos do not look that bad, just send them to your friends. I am sure they will be more than happy.

However, if the reason that you take photos is to express yourself, then editing, or the question of “whether I should be editing”, should not be hindering you from expressing yourself.

A photo of Buckingham Palace taken by iPhone 5. I used an external fisheye lens, plus a bit of editing to give it a Cross Processing feel.

Means vs Ends

Editing is part of the photography process. It is an inseparable process from things like setting up your camera, adjusting your aperture, or pressing the shutter button. Yes, you do get a photographic product (as a .jpeg file, or a RAW file) after hitting the shutter. But that is not an “end product”. Perhaps we should call it an “intermediate product”, because it is not yet finished. Your camera captured light, and converted these information into a series of 0s and 1s. It then compiled the information in the form of a visible picture. But again, this photograph is to reflect what you think, not what it thinks. You are the creator of it. If the processor, for any reason, fails to give you what you need to express your idea, do whatever you deem appropriate to add meaning to it. That of course includes editing.

Remember, it is you who give these series of 0s and 1s meaning. Without you, they are meaningless.

Oh, by the way, if you take jpeg instead of RAW, arguably you have also “passively” allowed your photos to be edited. Right, the camera (or your phone) did that internally.


Ask yourself why you take photographs at the first place. Is it purely for recording an event? Or is there a message that you wish to express?

For the latter one, editing should not be a taboo. In fact, making good use of editing can sometimes facilitate you in portraying your message. Always remember, you are the creator. Just do what you think you should do.


Comments and suggestions? Let us know below! Also, I would be so happy if you take a look at my work at the “Destinations” section. Cheers!

Featured Photo by Domenico Loia on Unsplash

Administrator of TraPhoner. Based in Asia. Traveller-photographer with just a phone.

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