The Injustice of Fixing Photos in Photoshop: And An Edit Challenge

Free Photoshop Actions and Lightroom Presets by MCP™

The Injustice of Fixing Photos in Photoshop: And An Edit Challenge

Every so often professional photographers claim that I am wrong to create Photoshop actions. They’ll argue that I enable photographers to fix or enhance photos that are not perfect in camera. I’ve even heard claims that I’m doing an injustice by teaching camera skills, such as exposure, white balance, and composition, alongside photo editing to correct images after the fact.

Why we teach photography and post-processing:

  1. MCP Actions sells editing tools that work inside Adobe’s products: Photoshop actions and Lightroom Presets.  We also teach Online Classes for Lightroom, Elements and Photoshop.
  2. We believe that editing, combined with strong out of the camera photos, make for the best images.
  3. We are aware that not every photographer has the skills to capture ideal images in camera.  In addition, certain scenarios make it difficult to achieve perfection. We teach how to edit, and we provide time-saving photo-editing products.

In the digital age of photography, we believe it is a combination of photography and editing that is important. For newer photographers it is imperative to learn your camera better.  Get to know your settings, the exposure triangle, nailing focus, achieving better white balance, and composing images in a pleasing way.

Experienced professionals who are fed up with people using actions, presets and editing in general, to save photos, why not offer to help?  No good comes from being mean to those starting out?  Everyone starts somewhere; including you.  If you don’t believe in editing as a means to improve a photo, you certainly have that choice. If that is the case, you may not benefit by following our blog, Facebook or Website.

My customers and blog readers range from those who have an iPhone/point and shoot camera to entry-level dSLRs to professional dSLR cameras and lenses. Some have been in business for decades and others are brand new to photography.  Many are hobbyists who just love the act of capturing images. Everyone in the MCP Actions Community needs to respect that each photographer is at a different level and point in their photographic journey.

So why all the hype?

Most Fridays, I share a Blueprint on the blog – a before and after image with step-by-step instructions. Some images are strong to begin with, while others need “help.” When I post photos that need “saving” versus light enhancements, photographers often say, “they need to learn to get it right in camera.” I agree. But I also feel that they can edit and save the image in most cases too.

Recently, a trainee shared a photo of her son and his girlfriend in a MCP Photoshop Class. She knew it was way underexposed. But it was her son’s favorite image of them, in terms of the look and posing.  She wanted to “save” it. So, is that wrong?  Should she tell her son “sorry, but I failed to get proper exposure so you cannot have that one.”? She is not a pro.  She is not selling her work. She just wanted this photo for her son.

Changes I’d recommend on the photography side:

In class we did two things. First we examined her settings and discussed what she could do next time to achieve proper exposure.  Based on the “file info” you can see that the ISO was at 100, the aperture was f/4.0 (which is as wide open as the 70-200 4.0 can do) and the speed was 1/50, which is slow for a focal length of 89mm.

underexposed image

To fix this while shooting, she could have introduced a flash or reflector to add light to the subject.  The brighter background in “portrait mode” tricked the camera. If a flash or reflector wasn’t available, I’d recommend using manual mode.  Then, I would either spot meter on the skin or use test shots, while increasing the ISO.  I would also increase the shutter speed to at least 1/ the focal length, but ideally 2/.  Another option would be to use aperture priority and increase exposure compensation. With photography and editing, there are always many ways to achieve similar results.

Was editing this photo in Photoshop an injustice?

In the Watch Me Work Class, the attendee had one goal: make this photo usable.  To do this we needed to correct exposure, alter color tones, and her son wanted his acne removed too.  Additionally she wanted a slightly urban look, which was also doable.  Here are the steps:

  1. Used Photoshop Actions from Bag of Tricks to fix the exposure – Magic Fill Flash at 100%, then used Magic Midtone Lifter.
  2. Flattened since pixel layers might cover each other up (from the fill flash). Then ran Sunburn Vanisher at 45% and Orange Skin Vanisher at 90% to help decrease red and orange tones in their skin.
  3. Flattened and then duplicated the background layer for retouching skin. Used the patch tool to remove blemishes. Then ran a Magic Skin Photoshop action called Powder Your Nose and painted it on sparingly on the woman’s arm and the boy’s face.  Then flattened the photo.
  4. Ran MCP Fusion: Color Fusion Mix and Match – Set One Click to 51%, Lemonade Stand at 17% and Retro Surprise at 50%.
  5. Finished with a vignette from Fusion and the Eye Doctor action. And lastly a quick crop.

We also did a B&W version. For this, we used the color edit and ran Black and White Fusion Mix and Match.  Since we did this atop a color edit, I turned off all layers in One Click’s folder except the Black & White. Then I activated Peaceful at 61%.

Here are the results:

And here is the black and white:

Now it’s your turn:

Thoughts?  Questions?  Do you feel it’s bad that I edited it? Remember this image is of someone’s child. Keeping that in mind, you are welcome to express your opinions in a nice way.

Would you like the chance to edit this picture? We do edit challenges on our Facebook Page. I have attached the details for this one here too. Download the image here, then edit and share on our facebook wall. You may also share and find other people’s edits on twitter and other social networks with the hash tag #mcpedit.


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  1. June 29, 2012 at 12:19 pm —

    I am no professional (not by a long shot) but I am always trying to learn more and maybe someday, may take that route. Having said that, I must say that in my opinion, photography is an art and is most appreciated by those for whom it evokes emotion and if this couple genuinely love this picture, then I say go for it and go for it you did. Personally, I think it turned out beautifully. Which only serves to remind me that I need to take more photoshop courses/classes. Great job!

  2. June 29, 2012 at 11:56 am —

    I agree with what everyone has said whole heartedly! I would add that in todays portrait world the client demands that their portraits have the POP, that strong color or special effect or contemporary look ONLY achieved in post. So post processing is here to stay! Get over it : )

  3. June 29, 2012 at 11:28 am —

    I think you did a great job. Although every care should be taken to take a photo correct in the first place, sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. We are lucky in today’s day that we have the tools to be able to save a photo that normally would have been tossed in the reject pile. It’s beautiful.

  4. June 29, 2012 at 10:44 am —

    Superb!! That’s what it’s all about…making (or saving!) memories. Since I eat, sleep and breathe Photoshop, I’m all in on “saving” stuff. It’s always emotionally satisfying.

  5. Amber
    June 29, 2012 at 10:35 am —

    I think being a photographer we should def know how to get it right in camera. But we all know sometimes there are images we wish we didnt blow out. Whether it was test shots before the shoot and u love the shot but its way over exposed or snapping quickly chasing kids not having time to change settings to capture a special moment. Or you just blew an image out it happens. I think it is just as important as a photographer to know how to fix these images. Post processing is a huge part of being a photographer. Photography is an art if u ask me theres no right or wrong and everyone us different some like slot of editing some like clean. So i think its all important and there is def not anything wrong with it its just silly that people would say that

  6. June 29, 2012 at 10:31 am —

    One of my fave photographers (Trey Ratcliff), when asked why not just get it right in camera and not use Photoshop (or other editing programs), he replied, “I get it double right in Photoshop.”

  7. June 29, 2012 at 10:19 am —

    Since when have professional photographers “nailed” every shot in camera? I don’t know, maybe never, unless you’re in the studio and your subject stays still. I will admit, my studio work is always “nailed” in camera, but certain times during a wedding shoot or that pre-schooler in the park that won’t stay in one spot? Believe me, on more than one occasion when I was shooting faster than my flash could keep up because of that unexpected expression, Murphy’s Law took over and the “best” shot was taken during the flash’s recycle time.

    Oh, and did I mention the creative darkroom work years ago when I shot film? Go ahead, tweak to your heart’s content.

  8. Holly A.
    June 29, 2012 at 10:14 am —

    As a hobbyist, obviously I need help in post processing to improve poor shots and learn how exposure, white balancing, etc., all play into a beautiful final product. I agree that the artistry of photography and talent of a fantastic SOOC deserves admiration, but, in the end, any editing or SOOC awesomeness is invisible in what ends up on the wall. Thank you for a fabulous post. I do have a question (I’m really still learning so much!). Above you say that the shutter speed should be set “at least 1/ the focal length” (89mm is used above, so 1/89), “ideally at 2/”, which I interpret to mean 2/89, essentially 1/45, twice as long as 1/89. Should it be 1/2 x focal length? I’m not trying to nitpick – I’m just trying to learn tricks to starting points when setting up shots with my dSLR. Thank you for your generosity in helping others learn the craft of beautiful photography.

    • June 29, 2012 at 12:17 pm —

      I think you want to double your focal length to use as your shutter speed to offset camera shake. I could be wrong. I’m just a hobbyist, but I think if I remember right if I used a focal length of 100mm then I would want to use a 1/200 shutter speed or faster. Scott Kelby’s books are wonderful for us beginners.

      • Holly A.
        June 29, 2012 at 4:32 pm —

        Thanks Elizabeth – I think that clarifies it. I’ve seen the recommendation for Scott Kelby’s book on other sites. I guess it’s time to go actually buy it!

  9. June 29, 2012 at 10:11 am —

    I agree with Kelly (above) – photoshop is an amazing tool to make your images more beautiful. I was an artist before I was a photographer and just because I mess up a stroke or color doesn’t mean I’d trash the whole painting. Knowing your camera settings will make editing easier, if needed at all. But never apologize for trying to correct an image you or someone else loves! I have 2 small boys and know that trying to recreate the same image again is virtually impossible!

  10. Lael M.
    June 29, 2012 at 10:09 am —

    I’ve had “debates” back and forth with people over this topic. I can see where photography “purists” (as I like to call them) are coming from with wanting to keep the craft to simply just photography in order to refine & keep a significance to the skills it takes to capture a shot. I understand and am finding out for myself that you cannot be a great photographer until you really get a grasp for not only the artistic, but the technical side.
    After all I’m part of the microwave generation and there are short cuts for everything now a days, which sometimes take out the hard work. But I feel with editing it’s just another level of skill to master in photography, not a shortcut. Do actions help to correct certain camera/photog issues? Yes, they do, but along with photography itself, editing software is both a combo of technical and artistic skill.
    I paint as well and while there are “classical” methods to painting, new and improved tools and techniques come out all the time to improve the original process.Actions are just another tool to help, not to hinder, and to take an already beautiful craft to new heights.

  11. Carolyn
    June 29, 2012 at 10:09 am —

    *rolls eyes
    lighten-up people!
    everyone has their own preferences for the way they prefer to work, how they want their photos to look, etc.

    Bottom line is: your viewers/ clients don’t give a crap at how you achieved the final results.

    Getting all wigged-out about the way other people choose to present their work does nothing to enhance YOUR bottom line. It does nothing to enhance YOUR skills. If you are as good and professional as you say you are then your work should speak for itself, no matter how you achieve your end product. If your clients love your work they will reward you with their business and referrals.

  12. June 29, 2012 at 10:03 am —

    There is nothing wrong with editing an image after the fact. The ability to “save” a photo after the fact is a huge blessing. Every photographer has screwed up a “perfect shot” in their career. Its inevitable, you’re in the moment, forget to check your settings and your white balance is off, or its underexposed. Either you trash the pic or you fix it. Part of being a professional is having the skills to deliver the images you want, and if that means fixing a couple in post…oh well.

    I will say that if you are just shooting blind and relying on Photoshop to fix all your images, then that is a problem. You have to have the knowledge of how to get the shot right in the camera. But if you flubbed a couple and need to fix them in post, there is nothing wrong with that.

  13. David
    June 29, 2012 at 10:02 am —

    Some photographers need to get over themselves. If your standard for your photography is that it needs to be perfectly shot then, by all means, hold yourself to that standard. Whatever makes you feel better about yourself. But why should anyone care what any other photographer does to reach their final image? Because for many of us, it’s the final image that matters, not how much we can pat ourselves on the back for being so good that we don’t have to use post-processing to get the image we want.

  14. Rhonda Scott
    June 29, 2012 at 10:02 am —

    I am sort of a newbie/oldie. I took pictures, just quick snapshots really because I scrapbook, but then photography took hold too and I wanted better photos. I love nailing the look I want in the camera. I just have a problem when someone over processes to the point it looks, well for lack of a better word, Fake. This is just my preference. Also, I have not had the chance to even learn photo editing with Photoshop, etc. I think if you get a photo that is a momeny that surely you will never get back and it is all wrong in the camera, then by all means, if you can save it do!!! That perfect photographic moment when Great Aunt Sara is holding her first great-great nephew is too precious to throw away because the lighting was all wrong, despite your best efforts, and she may not be here 6 months later. Food for thought for all those who would be so critical.

  15. June 29, 2012 at 10:00 am —

    We also have to remember there are photographers and there are digital artists. I respect a lot of the edits because it is an art in iteself. With that, we must remember, too that art is subjective. One person’s favorite image may not appeal to another person. Also, one style of photography or editing may not appeal to another person…and that’s completely okay. Do what you like and enjoy. Learn to do it so you can be at your best and ignore the negativity. Unless a critique is solicited and sticks with constructive points, it’s just whining and it’s mean. If you have an image and you need to save it (and you can save it), then do it. There’s nothing wrong with it. Yes, it’s best to get it right in camera, but sometimes, you can’t always get it just right and it needs a little boost. We have to tools, use them.

  16. June 29, 2012 at 9:59 am —

    Ansel Adams spent just as much time, if not more, in the darkroom as he did in the field shooting.

    Even from a MASTER exposureist (if that’s a word), the darkroom was his playground.

    The digital darkroom is no different and if you can “save” a photo that someone would cherish rather than delete it because it wasn’t perfect out of the box, you are doing yourself and your client a huge disfavor.

    • June 29, 2012 at 10:02 am —

      ment to say, if you delete a photo that can be saved, you are doing yourself and your client a huge disfavor…kind of came out backwards. 😉

  17. June 29, 2012 at 9:59 am —

    I have bought a set of your actions and have so much fun being creative, artistic and really fun using them. And when it comes to capturing a moment that you would miss otherwise if you had to adjust ISO or shutter and you have these tools to enhance this photo, well I say THANK YOU!!!

  18. June 29, 2012 at 9:59 am —

    It’s just silly. Didn’t photographers do similar things in the dark room? Develop a little longer, a little shorter, etc. Photographers have dodged and burned in the film dark rooms for ever. What’s so different about doing that digitally.
    This “purism” is complete nonsense.

  19. Barbie
    June 29, 2012 at 9:44 am —

    Thank you thank you thank you for not being a photography snob. People like you make people like me more comfortable. Because of that we feel like we can improve. And you give us the confidence to do so. I think you made the piawc look awesome. Again thank you for what you do.

  20. June 29, 2012 at 9:38 am —

    We live in a digital age. Not using the tools available to us is silly. Even if this woman had nailed the exposure, I doubt her results would have looked like this beautiful edit. I nail the exposure all the time and still tweak things to make them prettier. There is nothing wrong with loving your sooc shots, but there is also nothing wrong with wanting to put your artistic stamp on them with some digital darkroom editing. This business is tearing itself apart, and I just wish we could stop being so snarky and mean. I love your products, and I’m glad you have been working on increasing positive thinking here.

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The Injustice of Fixing Photos in Photoshop: And An Edit Challenge