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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 12:40 pm —

    Really good photographers are still going to take really good photographs and be in demand for their skills (in-camera and post-processing). But for the rest of us who are still learning how to get those really good photographs in-camera, we’re very likely practicing by photographing what’s around us, largely: memories. When I botch the exposure on a shot that perfectly captures my kids in that moment, I am grateful for the chance to “save” it in post-processing. And let’s face it: perfect photographs SOOC require perfect lighting, which sometimes is out of your control due to the time/place/moment/event, but that doesn’t mean (in my mind at least) that you shouldn’t make any effort to capture that time/place/moment/event. If editing makes those shots possible, I’m all for it.

  2. June 29, 2012 at 12:41 pm —

    We live in a digital, hi-tech age. I believe not using the tools available to us is doing yourself and your client a disservice, especially if you’re choosing not to use them because of some threat to your ego. Every photo can use at least some editing work and if you shot it in RAW (which almost ever ‘pro’ claims to do) then you MUST do some sort of editing to sharpen the photo, adjust saturation and contrast, etc. Taking it a step further and doing artistic edits is purely a matter of style. If it’s not your style, that’s fine. But don’t bash people who use it successfully.

    The other thing that frustrates me about this debate is the fact that NO ONE ever shot on film and produced the image without some sort of ‘editing.’ You have to make prints out of the negatives and if you make your own in the darkroom (like I did for many years) you are inevitably doing some sort of editing when you decide exposure time, whether to burn/dodge some areas, whether to get creative with toning or textures, etc. Part of me just things that those photogs who say you have to get it right in the camera every single time and not do any editing are only saying that because they don’t actually know how to edit.

  3. June 29, 2012 at 12:43 pm —

    Exceptional post, I completely agree with you…and I just love how this picture was saved though your loving editing.

    The view of the “purist” photographers reminds me of when I was pregnant…there were those who held the view that I was missing out on the birthing experience because I was not going to be delivering my baby through natural childbirth but through Cesarian Section. I assure them now that the experience I had at the birth of my baby was just as special to me as their perceived “higher” experience because they did things “naturally”. My experience was not artificial, just different and I believe in allowing everyone to choose their own methods in experiencing life and photography and celebrating our differences.
    Viva MCP Actions and the fact that your talents (and words) make our world of photography options so much more diverse!

    Thank you for this post!


  4. June 29, 2012 at 12:51 pm —

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with wanting to “save” a poorly exposed picture! We can’t be perfect all the time, and even professionals might take a poorly exposed picture when trying to capture a moment – you can’t have control over all aspects of a shoot at all times. I think if you happen to catch the subjects at a great moment, but had incorrect settings, then there is nothing at all wrong with saving the picture.

    I use actions on all of my images to give them polish that I can’t achieve with my level of dSLR. Using the actions has actually taught me how to use my camera better – I try to imitate the outcome of the actions on the photo in my camera!

    I love what you do, and I love that you are willing to not only sell a great product, but teach right along side it.

  5. June 29, 2012 at 12:57 pm —

    I have never cared if someone wants to “save” an image…I have done it plenty of times…yes, as a professional, I want to get the best shot SOOC and edit it slightly (or more artistically if I feel like it) for the simple fact that time is money, and the more time I spend on an image the less money I make! 🙂 I couldn’t be successful if I were randomly taking shots and saving most of them to try and sell. But we aren’t talking about that…we are talking about taking a shot that for whatever reason needs to be saved…whether it is a client image or a personal one. Do whatcha gotta do!

  6. June 29, 2012 at 1:50 pm —

    I think this is amazing. What a gift for this mother, and for her son and girlfriend, to be able to improve this priceless shot. I am of the mind that being a professional photographer involves so many components – even if we were all handed the same tool box of tricks to “fix” our imperfect shots, those with the vision to catch the perfect shots in the first place are the ones that will rise above. I love that you offer such a wide spectrum of support for professionals and hobbiests alike!

  7. June 29, 2012 at 2:14 pm —

    I also believe presets aid in learning your camera better. You see the result you really wanted and can apply that change next time you shoot. You also have to train your eye while editing to be subtle. Not easy at first.

    I love getting a perfect shot sooc, but will tweak it artistically and present both to clients.

  8. Mickie
    June 29, 2012 at 2:45 pm —

    I agree with most of the comments, I’m learning (not a pro!) and without these actions and your advice, would be farther behind than I am now. Every time I edit, I think about what I should have done in camera and try that next time. Sometimes I’m just editing photos of my kids that were taken by family on point & shoots too. Sometimes with them I’m just happy someone caught the moment and that they were in focus!

    I LOOOOVE this shot, the posing is great! So glad you could help her save it. They look stunning! (Also, I got a kick out of the fact you called him a “boy” and his girlfriend a “woman” in the steps)

    • June 29, 2012 at 2:57 pm —

      Mickie – I did not notice that but you have me laughing now. Hmmm – not idea why I said that but … I must have thought she looked older in my subconscience 🙂

  9. June 29, 2012 at 5:16 pm —

    I think it’s silly not to use any and all tools at your disposal. I totally agree with Mickie that it’s often a teaching tool about what should have been done better in the first place.

    Creativity is the real skill of a photographer and that can’t always be taught or “saved”. In my opinion, people should stop worrying what everyone else is doing and focus on improving their own work.

  10. Teri Walizer
    June 29, 2012 at 5:17 pm —

    Jodi – you obviously have a GREAT following (me included) and network of photographers–the pro’s and those who are just aspiring to become better photographers…KUDOS to you!! Please keep doing what you’re doing and forget about the nay-sayers.

  11. June 29, 2012 at 5:50 pm —

    I am really tired of how ‘photoshopping’ has a bad name. If I were a photographer in the age of film with my own darkroom and the skills to manipulate my images, I would do it…just like all of the other film photographer/developers did. Do people really think that the film photographer ‘greats’ just snapped and sent them off to a developing service?

    I applaud ‘saving’ an image if it is near and dear to your heart whether it is for personal or professional use. Why should only my family benefit from my ‘darkroom’ skills if the image has appeal.

    Personally, I like the b&w of the example best and we really don’t shoot b&w with digital, so some post-processing is necessary anyway.

    I have learned so much from your video tutorials, blog posts, etc. Thank you and please keep up the GREAT work!

  12. June 29, 2012 at 6:58 pm —

    In my opinion, what we did in the chemical darkroom, is enhance imperfections of film out of thr camera. So what is doing the same thing digitally any different. The only problem is HDR. Some go over the top with its capabilities. I personally don’t care for it, but it is up to the composer to show his/her impressions.

  13. June 29, 2012 at 7:55 pm —

    Great job- I see nothing wrong with taking a not so great photo and making it fantastic through PS. I love what you did with the picture- and I’m sure the person who took the photo is thankful for you as well. nice job.

    I too struggle with getting the shot perfect SOOC sometimes and am thankful for PS and actions to help improve the look

  14. teresa
    June 29, 2012 at 10:12 pm —

    Beautiful capture and stunning edit. Hands in the air to the rest of the post as well…I agree wholeheartedly. Please keep doing what you do!

  15. June 30, 2012 at 7:35 am —

    Beautiful edit! I think it is a huge benefit to be able to edit photos that I may not nail in camera! My goal is to nail them…but it doesn’t always happen that I get it right in camera. So, I am super thankful for editing tools like yours! Keep up the great work!

  16. cally
    June 30, 2012 at 7:41 am —

    Love how you taught her to save this image… of course we should always work to be better. But we are stiil human right? I just had this happen to me with my kids, easter I wanted to take pictures of my 3.5yr old son and my 11 month old daughter. Well I realized afer a few pictures I needed to adjust my settings form the previous spot with just my daughter. However after trying for another 5~10 minutes to keep my kiddos happy they were lossing it and my fav picture was one that my 11month old was washed out and had hot spots. Between your actions, google, layers, cloning the picture that was right I now have that fav pose hanging as a 20×20 in my living room.

    So thank you I follow your blog to get better, to try new things and to sometimes save me from myself.

  17. Carlita
    June 30, 2012 at 10:24 am —

    Just have to say, I actually really liked the picture before it was edited!

    I think that people should just take pictures the way they want to, and if they want to edit them, go for it. Do what makes you happy, and don’t pay attention to anyone else.
    Besides, if you can’t take it, don’t dish it out. The world would be happier if we would choose to be happy.

    And if people think all the great photographers through history just “nailed it” in camera, they don’t know their history!

  18. Shellyf
    July 2, 2012 at 7:50 pm —

    I for one am very thankful for your talent Jodi. Even though we all strive to get it as close to perfect as we can in camera…it doesn’t always happen that way. Please ignore the anti-action-followers.

  19. Jean
    July 3, 2012 at 1:24 am —


  20. EFletch
    September 11, 2012 at 4:17 pm —

    As a very novice aspiring photographer, I really had no idea that post processing could be so dramatic. I am not really sure how I don’t know this… Although people have always told me I have ‘the eye’ for composition, I feel intensely guilty to make even minor post processing edits. After reading this article and realizing the extent to which my work could be improved by putting in the effort to learn photoshop or light room in addition to improving my ‘out of the camera’ shots, I don’t feel as bad that many of even my favorite shots are incorrectly exposed etc. It is nice to know that my self-perceived shortcomings are likely shared by a sizable proportion of photographers at all levels of skill. Thank you and I will be reading your blog regularly now!

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