Unedited photos are more honest and genuine?

A few times, I have taken photos of someone, edited the photos for color balance and light levels, sent these edited photos to them, and they have asked for and used the unedited photos instead –  even if these unedited photos are off in their color balance and light levels. (I often underexpose my photos to capture details in the lighter areas and bring the exposure up afterwards to make it look more like it did to the eye.)

It may be that they just like these dark and underexposed images. 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 always reflect the camera settings (which may not have been optimal, and the strengths and limitations of the technology. Here are a few 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 wavelengths. 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 heavily influenced by technology and decisions and preferences from the manufacturer and user. It’s edited before the image is even captured on the memory disk, and may or may not reflect what the human eye saw as the image was captured.

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 is usually more honest.

In my case, it’s been slightly frustrating when the recipient choses to use the “unedited” photos even if they are 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 it’s typically 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 mentioned it: The photo above is unedited because it was correctly exposed. It’s one I took a couple of years ago at the cabin in Norway.


Initial notes…..

  • unedited photos?
    • a couple of times, have given edited and unedited photos to someone and theyhave used the unedited ones
    • may just be because they like them more, but some have the idea that unedited photos are more pure, honest, genuine etc.
    • noble idea, but misguided
    • all photos are inevitably edited, even long before they are taken
      • technology, technological limitations, settings etc.
    • goes without saying, talking about basic editing of color balance, light levels, sometimes grain reduction, here (not photoshopping out/in elements etc.)
    • …..

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