Modern Photography/Editing

Editing is the process of selecting and/or modifying captured images to obtain a final output. In the preface to The Photograph Collector's Guide (1979), Alan Shestack summarized:

Even the best photographers do not produce masterpieces every time they click the shutter; they edit their own work mercilessly, discarding unsuccessful negatives or selecting primarily effective details for enlargement. This process of selection gives shape and meaning to the photographer's work every bit as does the initial camera work. In other words, for the photographer, editing is an expression of aesthetic judgement.



The simplest of all modifications is cropping, that means removing (rectangular) parts of the image at any border. There are multiple reasons to crop an image:

  • You may want to create a certain aspect ratio, one that is considered more aesthetic, balanced, or to isolate picture elements even more, creating farther distance.
  • You can also eliminate disrupting elements: Imagine, you accidentally included a short part of a twig’s distant end, but the tree itself is otherwise not visible. This is usually disturbing: “What is this? Where does this come from? Where is the tree?” By cropping the image you guide the recipient’s focus to more relevant subjects.


Recipients may feel a faint sense of unease if an image is just slightly crooked. It is expected that vertical lines as regards to life experience also appear vertical in the picture. Correspondingly, horizontals in the scene are expected to appear horizontal, too, parallel to the upper and lower borders of the image. Therefore, take care of the camera’s orientation already during its composition. It is best to either maintain proper orientation or go noticeable off so it is not regarded as an “unintentional flaw”. Sometimes, e. g. to purport a snapshot character, you may want to break this “rule” nonetheless.


Horizontal mirroringEdit

People, especially if they grew up learning to read left-to-right scripts, “read” an image in the direction of their primary scripts they are exposed to. You can use this fact to your advantage. This will not work, though, if the image contains any hints about this type of manipulation, for example scripts or vehicles driving on the “wrong” side.


Retroactively adding color to images is called colorization. Using a solid color for mapping gray tones is not called colorization. Only if there is another color beside the monotone brightness shades, colorization takes place.

In the 1925 USSR movie Battleship Potemkin the red flag was manually handtinted red in the otherwise black-and-white film.

External considerationEdit

Editing your photos may raise some ethical concerns. In the context of documentary/press photography any alterations (except inevitable to produce a viewable image) are considered bad style. The problem, though, already starts at capturing the scene, because the photographer’s perception and choice to take a specific picture are very subjective.

File:Lev Kamenev and Leon Trotsky disappearing from the photo.gif
People “disappear” in the retouched version.

Photo manipulations have been used for propaganda or other political reasons.

Unusual manipulations may elicit humor.

Obvious manipulations, however, are generally accepted (even in the context of politics) as they do not try to deceive the recipient, but the manipulation is regarded as a means of expression causing the viewer to wonder about some issue or other. Nevertheless, there are some schools of photography that reject any manipulations (other than “in camera” effects).