To capture or to create? – That is the question. At least as regards all matters photo editing. Is it ok to alter reality in a photo? Does that make it a fake? Or are you missing out, if you don’t enhance your image? I recently had to adjust my own views on how far I go in editing.

Adjusting the Image in Editing

Usually I don’t change much in my images. I adjust light to create the moody feel I like. (This is done both when I shoot the image and also in editing). When doing portraits I also do mild editing – removing blemishes, sharpening eyes and the like. But nothing that alters the image.

Lightroom or Photoshop?

I do my editing in Adobe Lightroom. It has much fewer functions than Adobe Photoshop. This is a huge advantage, in my opinion. If you don’t want to alter your image, or if you’re new to editing, it’s really nice not to be overwhelmed by the endless possibilities in Photoshop. In Lightroom you can make all the adjustments to a photo that you need, but you can’t make major alterations. The furthest you can go in Lightroom is to remove unwanted elements in your photo. This is where it overlaps with Photoshop. You can read more about when to use Lightroom and when to use Photoshop here.

Creating the Image in Editing

If you want to make dramatic alterations, you can do that in Adobe Photoshop. The possibilities are endless. You can change the background or combine several images into a new one (Compositing). You can add elements (with Brush tool). You can do just about anything you fancy. But does that mean that you should?

Perception Versus Reality

In photography, as well as in life, there’s often a gap between perception and reality. Even if you intend to create a realistic image, you sometimes have to choose if you want to be true to your feelings or to your eyes.

The Fairytale Garden & The Ruthless Viewfinder

Let’s take a closer look at this photo I took of my mum’s garden. The garden is a wild Paradise, a fairytale garden. When you’re in the garden all you see is plants, wildlife and a cute little cabin. You are encapsulated in all this natural gorgeousness and don’t notice the traces of ordinary life. The laundry pole, recycling bin and other ugly mundane elements are not there. All you see is magic. But when you look at the photos afterwards, oh boy, are they there. Suddenly the ugly elements disrupt the magic and demand your attention. 

The viewfinder is ruthless. Details you don’t notice in real life, demand your attention when you look at a photograph. So sometimes you need to alter reality, in order to be true to the emotional reality of an experience or a place.


Altering the Image in Editing

In order to capture the emotional reality of the garden experience, I had to alter a number of things.

    1. Adjust the light
    2. Tame greens
    3. Remove unwanted elements
    4. Fill out gaps in trees
    5. Create focus with vignette

1 – Adjust the Light

As much as i love bright, sunny days in real life, I much prefer dark and moody photos.

2. Tame Greens

The same goes for greenery. Being surrounded by greenery is good for the soul (it’s even scientifically proven). I love greens when I’m outside, but when I look at the photos afterwards, the bright greens hurt my eyes. So I always adjust greens in editing. In Lightroom there are several possibilities when adjusting colour. Under the HSL/color panel you find hue, saturation and luminance. I often use a combination of all 3 when I edit greens.

3 – Remove Unwanted Elements

When creating an image I always choose what viewers should focus their attention on – both when I compose the image and when I edit it. If you can avoid attention stealing details by paying attention to your framing, by all means do so. But this is not always an option. If you end up with elements that disturb, remove them! Your image will be the better for it.

4 – Fill Out Gaps in Trees

In moody photography you use darkness to frame and direct attention towards the light in the image. This means that only elements you want to pay attention to should be lit. Insignificant details should not detract attention from what’s important in the image. In this image the light between the branches in the canopies in the upper left corner bothered me. I wanted the focus to be on the cabin and the wild sea of flowers in front of it. So in Lightroom I closed the gaps by using the spot removal tool.

5 – Create Focus with Vignette

When you want to direct attention in an image, a vignette is your best friend. It frames and guides the viewers attention. In Lightroom there are numerous possibilities to play around with, until you have created a vignette that suits the image.

To Capture or to Create? That is the Question

I used to think that capturing an image without changing it was somehow more pure. But I had to reconsider this view. Editing this photo made it clear to me. Purely capturing the garden meant loosing the feeling and atmosphere of it. And atmosphere and mood are more important to me than documenting. This is, after all, not a documentary, but an artwork. I guess that leaves me somewhere between capturing and creating – at enhancing.

So where do you stand? Are you a purist capturer, a ruthless creator or an enhancer? How far do you go in editing? and why?

I’d love to hear.  

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