Does Editing Your Photos Make You a Bad Landscape Photographer?

There is often debate about how much editing crosses the line of having an authentic photo. Does the image need to be straight out of the camera with minimal adjustments to be genuine? Does more editing ruin the authenticity? This video discusses where the line is for the right amount of editing.

In landscape photography, people have different ideas of how much editing is too much. Some lean towards near straight out of the camera, and others will make significant edits to their image to give them the look and feel they want. Other photographers fall somewhere in between. In this video, Todd Dominey talks about how much editing is enough.

Dominey begins with his struggle to come to terms with how much editing is true to the image and the scene. He strongly desires to capture images straight out of the camera under extraordinary environmental conditions and scenes with only a minimum of edits needed. Dominey continues to touch on his internal conflict when he makes more edits to a photograph. Did it cross the line? Was it too much editing?

Dominey references Werner Herzog's work and thoughts several times during the video with the concept of ecstatic truth and what that entails. Does editing in photography simply embrace that ecstatic truth at the expense of absolute realism?

I found the discussion of editing and landscape photography interesting as I continue to consider the point at which a photograph loses authenticity. Where do you draw the line for editing and photography?

Jeffrey Tadlock's picture

Jeffrey Tadlock is an Ohio-based landscape photographer with frequent travels regionally and within the US to explore various landscapes. Jeffrey enjoys the process and experience of capturing images as much as the final image itself.

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Most photos are of course edited at some point either in a darkroom or on a computer, they pretty much aways have been to get the photographer's vision onto paper.
I guess to be more "honest" folks could used slide film / E6

Sorry if you covered this TLDW the entire video.

Yep! If we photograph in raw as is the common recommendation, you practically have to do at least some editing. And if you shoot in jpg, the camera is then doing at least *some* processing on the file to whip it into shape.

I did dark room work for three decades. I don't recall doing any editing in there. Maybe I did, it was a long time ago.

You may not have but there books published on darkroom manipulation include sky replacement.

Never needed.

I don't think it was a case of everyone in the darkroom manipulating their photos, I know my photos from my film days were usually done in a photo lab and I didn't really have control over the process, never had a dark room at home. But, there were photographers who practiced dodging and burning in the darkroom.

In the darkroom, did you burn, dodge, crop, adjust contrast, tone, mask, etc? That's what I mean by editing (which different meanings for different people). Similar things are done in the adjustment's panel of PS.

Seldom. Out of the roughly 10,000 prints over 14 years, the intense lab part of my career, I maybe dodged or burned in on less than 100 prints. I did everything in camera because of a cinema (real film cinema) background. Little to no cropping and the decision took moments. Contrast was set to a normal setting. Basically what I was looking for then was quality in the negative. Even vignetting was done in the camera. Mostly was was used to shooting even more slides and you really had to get that right in the camera.

I usually figure if I can't adjust my photo within one to four minutes then I'm wasting too much time adjusting my photo. There are exceptions to that where I need to remove something that I don't want in the photo but that's an exception to the rule I usually do what I did when I shot film and just crop out what I don't want to see. That's just me and I'm an old fart.

I totally get that! I prefer the process of going out and photographing over editing. While I spend more than a few minutes on a photo, I don't spend hours on a photo. And there is a point for me where it becomes more like "saving" the photo than "tweaking" the photo - and then I have to decide if I just put it aside or determining if the photo is worth saving!

Are you trying to capture the experience or trying to make art. Personally I think most landscape photos are edited to the point that they no longer feel real, Although visually they look great, I wonder what the point is.

I think there are lots of styles out there of editing - with some a near documentary approach, some just enhancing what was there or what their eye saw, to some on the far side of the scale with much more digital manipulation to pull out colors, add light, enhance or swap, skies, etc.

Every digital (raw) photo that is treated with more than one standard development as with slide film (E6 or K14) is no longer a photo. It is a digital image, and the creator of this image is not a photographer but a digital artist. It's as simple as that. As a digital artist, I don't have to be able to take photographs. I need to know how image processing works and should know what makes a good image (not a photo). Just like a painter, you visualize the picture as you imagine it. Wonderful. But then it's no longer a photo and has as much to do with photography as milk has to do with ice cream.

I would challenge that difference between analog and digital.

When the first print was made of an photo, I read of two different opinions. The maker believed he could make the print a lot sharper. A contemporary loved the soft focus effect and wanted to continue using that.

When photography was used commercially, there books published on how to manipulate the photo in the darkroom including changing woman's features for advertising plus sky replacement.

So, in my mind you still have the question of what is a photograph and was is derived art.

I don't think my line to moving from photographer to digital artist is quite as early as yours, but I think that line (or at least darker gray area) exists.

A raw file can be pretty lifeless and while capturing the "data" of the scene, it doesn't really reflect the scene as our eyes do. Simply a limitation of the camera and technology. A "standard development profile" might not be universally applicable to each and every scene. (and what is a standard development? That could vary as to what a person thinks is standard and what goes too far).

Sounds like sour grapes. It matters not if it was captured with film or digital, so long as it was captured with light. A digital artist is one that extensively manipulates and adds elements that was never there. A large moon in the background for example. Or, uses AI to generate an image.

I highlighted a few key elements in the definition of photograph. I'm aware you know of the wiki version, but, somehow you still didn't get. So, I present to you a simpler version.

Comment doesn't sound "elitist" or snobbish at all. 🙄

I too have been concerned about authenticity of a photograph especially when I hear that there is no authenticity any longer. My personal approach is to watermark my images as either 'Photograph' or 'Digital Art from Photo' to let the viewer that, personally, I feel my editing has crossed the threshold between the two. I've struggled with if that threshold can be quantitatively defined and have come to conclusion that, in the absence of any competitive rules, it is a photographers own conscious that makes that determination. I feel that the discussion is important so that the concept of an authentic photo is not lost in the future.

I do the same. For the very few images I publish with more extensive editing, I'll indicate that it's a "digital composite using original photographic images" or something similar.

I think that's the big thing - simply saying or noting that an image is a composite or had extensive editing is an important designation. Sky swaps, large object removal, etc are all things I think start to cross that line and start to necessitate calling out the more extensive editing.

It is tough! We all have a different comfort level of how much is too much and at what point does the photograph move from a fair and accurate representation to more of a piece of digital art.

When I have been in other online communities it is easy to start a conversation feeling like I know where that line is, only to see other points making me question if my line is actually authentic or not (and I feel like I don't make over the top edits, beyond maybe a little *too* contrasty).

Either way - with more powerful editing tools, simplification of what used to be more complex tasks (i.e. sky swaps, etc), and the rise of AI imagery, I think finding some rough ballparks of authentic, where the lines are, etc is going to become more important for the photographer community to agree on.

The approach to this argument surely depends upon the purpose of the photographer. I aim to get the best from the image without altering too much. In other words I may remove an intrusive piece of plant but a Marketing photographer has a brief to produce an image that may be based upon a true scene but which needs to be dramatically altered to match the brief. AI is intruding into reality, nowadays, I find it truly amazing in being able to remove items from an image but I don’t introduce AI into my photos beyond that usage

I feel like that is similar to my approach. In the video it talks about "ecstatic truth" and I feel like that is where I like to take my images. I see a scene, my much more capable eyes see the scene in some form or fashion, my camera sees the scenes, but does not see it the same, my editing aims to bring out that "ecstatic truth" - the dodging and burning to help guide the eye to what I saw, the contrast to help the image, and maybe some color luminance changes to make colors I saw at the scene stand out more.

agreed, there is kind of a spectrum. on one end is a record of what the camera captures (and of course all the choice we make in camera and framing etc, are edits to reality) and then you have story telling on the other end. And every product fits in different places on that spectrum.

While I wouldn't comp in the Moon, (even though NASA has better photos of the moon) I'd certainly remove things that distract from the story I'm telling.

I do struggle internally a bit with how much removal is okay. Should I embrace the chaos of the woodlands theme, or clean up those edges?

I mean, if modifying exposure with dodging and burning in the darkroom is cool with Ansel Adams, it seems fine to bend some things in our images. I'm sure as hell not gonna get on my high horse about his editing ;)

I jest, but unless you are crime scene investigator, the accuracy of our landscape photos isn't as important as the story we are telling. thats why its ART.

I agree, I think there is room to work with a photo to help emphasize what caught your eye for the scene. Usually through some form of dodging and burning, slight luminosity mask on some element or contrast tweaks to maybe help the dark tree bark show a bit more prominent compared to the leaves or something like that.