A couple of times, I have taken photos of someone, edited the photos for color balance and light levels, and they have asked for and used the unedited photos instead. Even if these photos sometimes are off in their color balance and light levels. (I often underexpose my photos to capture all the details in the lighter areas, and then bring up the exposure afterwards to make it look more like it did to the eye.)
It may be that they just like these dark and underexposed images more. But more likely, they have the idea that unedited photos are more pure, honest, and genuine.
That’s a noble idea, but misguided.
All photos are inevitably edited, even long before the shutter button is pressed.
They are always strongly influenced by technology and technological strengths and limitations, settings, and more. Just to take some examples:
Our cameras are designed to reflect our particular human perception of light. Other species perceive other regions of the light spectrum and would make cameras reflecting their own perception. (Of course, since the photos are meant to be seen by humans, this doesn’t matter. But it does show that the photos are strongly edited before they are even captured.)
Before color film, photos were “edited” by technological limitations filtering out color, and converting different wavelengths differently into black and white. That’s the case today as well, in other aspects of the image. (For instance, most cameras have a far lower dynamic range – the span between black and white – than human vision due to technological limitations.)
There are many decisions and assumptions built into the cameras from the manufacturer’s side. Other decisions and assumptions would make the images look different, and sometimes very different.
The settings from the user’s side also heavily influence how the image looks. The image may be set so it will be under- or over-exposed. On digital cameras, the colors may be set to be more or less vibrant, or to emphasize different wavelenghts. The depth-of-field may be short or long, determining how much of the image is in focus. The grain level may be set to be high or low. (And that, in turn, influences degree of motion blur.)
When it comes to basic aspects of the image, such as color balance, exposure levels, depth-of-field, and grain levels, the idea of a pure or unedited image is misguided. The image that comes directly out of the camera is directly and heavily influenced by technology and decisions and preferences from the manufacturer and user. It’s strongly edited before the image is even captured on the memory disk.
It’s, of course, different when it comes to photoshopping to delete or include elements that are not in the original image. In that case, the original may be more honest.
In my case, it’s been slightly frustrating when the recipient choses to use the “unedited” photos since they are often far too dark. The edited version is often much closer to how the scene looked to the eye. But I also realize that it pleases the recipient, for one reason or another, and that matters more. That makes it OK.
I have also noticed that only people less experienced with photography seem to prefer the unedited photos, so maybe some education is in order. That’s partly why I chose to write this article.
And just to have said it: The photo above is – more or less – correctly exposed. It’s one I took a couple of years ago at the cabin in Norway.