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      Whatbird Forums Rules   01/08/17

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Mark F

When might it be inappropriate to post-process a photo?

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I hope this is not too pedantic. I come from a biology background where there are very strict rules for how an image can be post-processed. Basically, post-processing beyond cropping and sizing is highly discouraged. When post-processing is deemed necessary, every manipulation must be described in precise detail, and images which are to be compared must be post-processed in exactly the same way. Years of these strictures, with which I wholeheartedly agree in the context of scientific publishing, have made me swallow hard whenever I pass an image through Photoshop.

Yesterday, I took a reasonable photo of a pair of Double-crested Cormorants. Today, I photographed the same pair, but the image was overexposed. I then "improved" the photo by using the "gamma correction" function in Photoshop. The link below leads to a composite I made of the unprocessed image from the first day (Day 1), the overexposed image from today (Day 2), and the gamma corrected image for Day 2 as well. I think it's clear that the Day 2 gamma corrected image is more like the unprocessed image from Day 1.

And this leads to my question: When might it be inappropriate to post-process an image, even though the processed image may be more life-like? On the one hand, I thinks it's reasonable to say that I can do whatever I want with images that are strictly for my personal use. On the other hand, it might be very inappropriate to post-process an image that I intend to submit to a photography competition. And then there's the question of what's appropriate for this forum. Do we all assume that we should not be post-processing something we're posting here? Is it perhaps more nuanced whereby cropping is fine but, say, enhancing the yellows of a goldfinch is not?

By the way, the only post-processing I've ever done when posting here is digital magnification and cropping. (Hmm, I may have increased the "Exposure" with Photoshop for one photo.)

Your thoughts are most welcome.


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I think it all depends on what you're after. If you're doing scientific work and have a required structure for post processing or entering a photo contest with similar post processing requirements, well then you are bound by the rules of those specific events. If you are looking to improve your photo and make it look the best that it can look, whether you're going for a realistic look or an artistic flare, well, then set your self free of those other restrictions and post process until you get the image you're after. I think most people would agree that realistic looking birds are preferred, but I don't think anyone really cares if the exposure, contrast, saturation, etc., has been adjusted or not if the end result is pleasing to the eyes. This thread, Creative Edits, shows some of the photos I have manipulated beyond the basics in post processing, which should make you feel more comfortable if you want to enhance the yellow on your goldfinches. 

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