“That’s A Nice Photo, Was It Edited?”

This is a sentence that many photographers, particularly hotel photographers, will have heard. A lot. While it seems straightforward, the questioner is often actually asking, “is this photo genuine?”, and the answer to that is a lot more complicated than a simple yes or no. It’s more of a philosophical shrug. Is there reality in photography?

Every person taking a photo makes editing decisions long before pressing the shutter-release button, or even the iPhone touch screen.

Every person taking a photo makes editing decisions long before pressing the shutter-release button, or even the iPhone touch screen. Choice of subject and framing are editing decisions. If your child has been throwing tantrums non-stop all day, but you choose to capture the moment they smiled, that is editing. You’re also editing when you choose to take your photo so it crops out the chocolate bar you’re holding as a bribe to get your child to smile.

Even if we limit the definition of editing to those decisions that actually manipulate the appearance of an image, there is still no such thing as an unedited photo. The most basic smart phone will process an image as it’s being captured to balance exposure and make colors more vibrant.

Film cameras aren’t a more genuine choice either.

Decisions when choosing film – like speed, contrast and grain qualities, warmth, color or black and white – affect the image. Even more decisions are made in the developing process. The computers or people controlling commercial machines will adjust color and exposure to ensure a better final image, and many of the editing tools in Photoshop today are digital adaptations of darkroom techniques. Ansel Adams was a master of darkroom technique, and once reportedly said, “Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.”

The motivation for any sightseer seems obvious, but it’s not the sight we’re chasing; it’s the feeling of awe.

So, if there is no such thing as an absolute reality in photography, what is a genuine photo? I often say that every photo is an opinion, so, for me, it follows that a genuine photo depicts a genuine opinion – a real experience – and often that’s not what comes straight out of the camera.

If I was to walk into a hotel room and be immediately blown away by the view (which happens a lot in my job), I believe it would be more genuine to create a photo that communicates that view, no matter how much lighting and manipulation it takes to overcome the technical limitations of any camera taking that photo. If my experience of a hotel room is that the textures are incredible, the colors are rich, and the details are intricate and delicate, then surely it is more genuine to manipulate a photo to communicate these experiences, rather than be happy with whatever comes straight out of the camera.

So, has this photo been edited? Yeah, of course, that’s part of my job. Does that mean it isn’t genuine? I don’t think so.

YouTuber Jamie Windsor talks more about this subject in his video Are these photographers CHEATING?

More on This: Video by Jamie Windsor

Our hotel photography before and after lighting:

Hotel Baur au Lac Suite Interior – before and after lighting

7132 Silver Restaurant Interior – before and after lighting

Kengo Kuma Room Interior – before and after lighting

Christmas Living-room Lodge Interior – before and after lighting.

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