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Editing vs. Over-editing

Photography purists debate that using software to process an image is cheating. Older converts from film days look on digital manipulation as a means of saying goodbye to stinky chemicals. New photographers, who have never even seen film and think celluloid is the stuff on the thighs of fat people, embrace digital manipulation as part of the process. The diagram at right shows there really is little difference in the two processes of creating a good photograph.

Then there are the countless non-photographers with a camera. Say what you will but cameras are now in the hands of everybody, cell phones being the leader. This trend has opened up a whole industry in photo sharing and photo manipulation apps. Oh, those, well, photo manipulation really isn't the correct description. More like photo abomination.

Hate these photo effect apps all you like, they're here to stay and, like it or not, they do serve a purpose. They also influence trends and, like dominoes, everything down the commercial line--advertising, music videos, and so on.

Look through any magazine today and you are bound to come across images that have been really enhanced. The difference is that these are done by professional artists. Compare that with the countless Facebook, Instagram and other one-click edited images flying on social sites and you'll see the influences. Granted not all the professionally edited images in a magazine are great the majority of them can be used as inspiration. These magazines and photo apps should also serve as a lesson for your own photo editing. Here are six lessons to keep in mind...

Lesson one - I you are serious about your photography stay away from the effects trend. Avoid overusing preset functions, gimmicky apps and all those retro actions that make photos look over processed. Making your photo look like it was taken in the 70's by a Polaroid sounds quaint, but in the long run it's just downright annoying. Trends don't last. Unfortunately modern editing software makes it easy to experiment and really push the limits on digital images. I'm not saying it's not okay to experiment, that's how you learn. Just stay away from the trendy, overused, over processed look that will turn people who are "in the know" away from your work.

Lesson two - Presets and actions are useful tools to speed work flow along, not replace it. They are not an ends to a means. The problem with most beginners is they tend to rely on presets and actions to do the work for them. Unfortunately there will never be a one preset fits all. Don't bother buying them either, because of that reason. Remember, when you buy someone's preset you are only getting a small portion of their work flow. You can find plenty of free ones readily available on the internet, but use them as a learning tool. See how they are built and use that information to make your own to suit your way of working.

Lesson three - Learn form what is trending in today's market. When you find that image that makes you say, "wow!" study it. Analyze and deconstruct the process. Because it is an image that appeals to your sensibilities you'll find yourself spending time trying to decode the process. As your skill with editing tools increase so too will your eye for picking an image apart. After a while you'll be able to understand what tools did what in the image.

Lesson four - Don't dismiss the ugly just because you don't like it. When you come across a photo that has been overdone and you immediately classify it as 'garbage', don't dismiss it right away. Study it. Analyze it and try to deconstruct the process. By studying what doesn't work, you can avoid the same pitfalls and keep to what does work. If you simply dismiss it and move on you will never learn what not to do.

Lesson five - Practice! Practice, practice, practice. Actually, never stop practicing. While you are at it, don't be afraid of making mistakes. You will learn as much (if not more) from your mistakes as you would from your successes. Take lesson three above and try replicating what you see in the magazines. When you can repeat a process that makes your images pop, you know you're on the right track. As you develop your own work flow you will also start developing your own presets and actions.

Lesson six - Step away from your work before publishing it. Give your eyes, and brain, time before you show off your images to the world. This allows your brain to reset and give you the chance to see your work with fresh eyes. You see thing differently when you have that little bit of time separation.

It's easy to get sucked into trends and effects and "that look". It is more difficult to properly judge your own work. It takes experience and you only get that with time.


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