Is post work cheating?

When I started to seriously dig into photography about a year ago, I often wondered “How do they do that?!”

I looked at pictures from people I met on G+ and in those I liked, there simply was more color, more depth, more detail than I ever got. And I was sure, if I would have been there with my camera at the same time, same place, taking the same shot, it would have looked different.

Did they use better gear, a better lens, a better camera? Sure, choosing a good subject, gettng the composition and exposure right is important, but even if I though I got it right, the shot just still wasn’t there.

And then I learned: They were cheating! Or, to put it more politely: It’s all about post production, dummy!

It is actually very rare that you get that stunning shot right out of camera. Now, don’t get me wrong, unless you heavily photoshop the picture, about 90% is about composition, light and exposure. And no, not your gear. One of my highest rated photos on Google Plus is actually taken with a cell phone.

So, how do you give your shots this last polish, how do you make them shine?

First, take your shots in RAW format. I can’t stress that enough. Only if you shoot RAW, you have all the digital light and color information available your camera was able to record. Shooting JPG is faster, uses less storage and your camera might do some adjustments for you, but if you need to adjust highlights or shadows, you’re pretty soon out of luck

Then you need to spend some money on software, so you can work with these files. I recommend you get Aperture, if you’re on a Mac or Lightroom from Adobe, which works on Windows and Mac. Both allow you to work on your RAW files in a non destructive way (just think of endless undo) and are quite good at organizing your shots pretty much the same way you organize your music library in iTunes. Actually, I highly recommend them for that ability alone!

Using the global adjustments on your picture will get your picture to this level:



Not bad, but it could still use some punch, couldn’t it? To push it further, you have two options: You can either spend more time in Aperture or Lightroom and do local adjustments. Or you spend some more money, head over to Nik Software ( and get some of their plugins. They work with Aperture, Lightroom or Photoshop, handy, isn’t it?

I recommend you get Viveza and Color Efex Pro if you do color photography and Silver Efex Pro if you do black and white. These plugins are very easy to use, powerful and can do anything, from helping you doing subtle local adjustments to making your shot look as if it is enjoying an LSD trip.

And then, with spending a couple of minutes, you get your good shot to this level:



Is this cheating? Maybe, if you’re a purist. if you think so, just don’t do it. And if you’re just wanting to give your good shots your extra little polish to make them shine, go for it. Do post work with whatever tools you’re comfortable with. 


8 thoughts on “Is post work cheating?”

  1. If you take your photos in RAW, you HAVE to spend time in PS or LR or Aperture, if you shoot in jpeg the camera does a lot of that work for you.
    I have another suggestion, shoot with FILM, and you get gorgeous result from the beginning! Good huh? 😉 😉 😉
    Have a great day!

    1. Good.. but only if you pick good film 🙂 I began by using Fuji Superia and had tons of postwork to do to get rid of the color cast.
      Now, with Kodak Ektar, I saw the light (and have a roll of Porta waiting for some sun to be tested)

      1. Isn’t that kinda weird? When I use Superia, it is clear and crisp, no color cast and sooooo easy to scan, naturl beautiful colors, and when I use Ektar I got a very ugly magenta cast every time, and it is almost impossible to get rid of.
        Btw, when you’re talking Art, is it possible to “cheat”?? 🙂

  2. I edit every single one of the photos I post, I don’t consider it cheating, because even the best camera is unable to capture things the way the human eye can. I’m sure you’ve sat watching an orange sunset fade into a gorgeous purple, only to be left with these kind of washed out photos. What happened to the color?! Well, it was there, and its just the way your eyes and camera process stuff are sometimes different.
    So, I think editing it fine, it just restores the photo closer to how it actually looked.

  3. I enjoy the making of a picture as much as the taking……and then it starts to get interesting because when you find an uninspiring shot you say to yourself….I know there’s a great picture there somewhere…and that’s always a fascinating challenge.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s